2nd Day in Nairobi: Jan-1-2014

I ordered breakfast to be delivered to my room--I hung the order on my door handle last night.  I guess when Stephanie had left she had 'checked out' and told them she was in room 329 (my room).  Becuase of this they assumed the only person in room 329 had left so they didn't delivery my breakfast.  I called after 10 minutes of waiting and they told me it would be right up.  I called after another 30 minutes and told them I still haven't received it.  It finally came, but my order was missing the eggs and bread.  Cereal and fruit will have to suffice.  I relaxed a bit and repacked my bag.  I dropped off my stuff with the front desk and met up with Vince and Debby to go into town.

We walked into the center of the city but there wasn't much going on--actually almost everything was closed for the new year.  We found out that the Maasai market was actually near the airport and would require a 6km taxi drive.  I will do that later (it's 1:15pm now and we're eating at our hotel's restaurant.)

We were talked into going to a "Maasai Market Workshop" somewhere off the street.  We were there for 30-45 minutes and I had picked out a bunch of bowls, a small wood carving, and a dozen or so keychains.  I would ask how much for a given item and he would take it and say I will add to your basket and we talk later.  I got so frusterated, but just went with it.  I finally said I was ready and asked him to go through each item and tell me how much?  For the first bowl he had asked 6000 shilling (well over 70 dollars).  I told him no way and said I would pay 3500 tops for everything.  He looked at the other man and laughed.  I got up and walked away.  He followed me and said, "ok, ok, we talk".  I said I am set on my price and then walked over to Debby and Vincent--they were negotiating.  They paid 4000 shilling for a carving and a painting.  It was WAY too much, but it's their money.  They followed us to the ATM as Vince and Debby needed to get out more money.  The guy had continued to negotiate with me but I told him that I was firm.

There wasn't much else in the city and unfortunately I learned that the post office was closed today.  I will not be able to send my Maasai Sword (Seme) home.  I think it will get confiscated at KLM customs.  I'm pretty upset becuase I want it but the more and more I read online leads me to believe I'm pretty much screwed.  I'm going to try to take some snapshots of some website stating the historical significance of the blade and that it's very old, thus an antique and not a weapon--I give it a 25% chance of success.

Camel ride at a festival in downtown Nairobi, Kenya
We continued to walk along the main road.  Men on the street kept harrassing  us about taking their safaris, taking their taxis, etc..  We stepped into a 'city market' but it was just a meat market that smelled like death's evil cousin.  We continued onwards and found a park with a festival.  There were camel rides, icecream cones, face painting, boat rides, and a few other rides.  It was a very 'budget' festival but we walked around and took a brief rest on the grass alongside a pond.  We people-watched for a while.  We were the only white people in a field of no less than a thousand locals.  We were getting stared at as if we were exotic animals.

We walked back to the hotel and on the way back I bought a bowl.  I dind't really want it but they kept harrassing me and I said I have no money but I will take that bowl for ____.  And I offered a VERY low price.  They said no but continued to bother me as I walked towards my hotel.  They came running towards me and I bought it for 150 shilling (<$2 USD).

We arrived back around 12:30 after a nice 2.5 hour saunter throughout the city.  I joined Debby and Vincent at the bar for a while and searched the web for information on how I could 'get' my Maasai blade into Amsterdam.  I said goodbye around 1:00pm and planned on taking a taxi to the Maasai market, which moves around every few days.  Yesturday it was in the city center but today it is out near the airport.  The taxi at the hotel said it would be 1000 shilling each way.  This was around $24 and it seemed like a bit much.  I told the guy no thank you, but then he suggested a great idea.  He said my friends, meaning Debby and Vincent, are going to the airport at 2:00 and that I could join along and get dropped off en route.  I said thanks and that it was a deal.

I headed back to the bar and explained to the two that I will be joining them.  Now I'm just relaxing, writing this blog, and waiting until 2:00 so that I can leave for the market.  It's open until 5:00 or so.

It's 4:00 and I just got back from the Maasai market and am at the hotel's bar drinking a Pilsner Lager (Kenyan Beer).  It's the best local beer I've had since I've been in Africa.  The Maasai market was a thrill of a lifetime.  I cannot even start to imagine how to put into words my experience.  The market was outside and there were 3 or so rows of vendors.  They sat on the ground with their products, which were layed out in front.  The very moment I stepped up to the first vendor I realized what I was in for.  The first place was run by a woman who told me today was very slow and that I was her first customer.  Not sure if she was being truthful--however, other than myself there was probably only 8 other people shopping around (2 others that were white).  I looked at some keychains and asked how much.  Like EVERY OTHER person there she would not give me a straight answer--she told me that she will hold everything and then give me a price after I was done looking.  I said thanks and that I will look around at every 'stall' and will come back later.  She grabbed my wrist and said, "OK!, I give you good price".  I told her thanks but that I wanted to look around. She continued, "Ok, ok, 150 but you have to buy more than 1."  I said I would pay 700 for 10 and she laughed and countered 1500.  I said I will pay 800, which is close to a dollar a keychain.  I went on the tell her that I will not negotiate any more and that I will walk away if she countered  I learned that it didn't matter what I said.  To be fair, most ignorant tourists walk around with a wad of cash in their pockets ready to buy, buy, buy!  It's utterly disgusting and the Africans have learned how to exploit that weakness.  They call out, "Hi, my friend" as they offer you their hand.  We, as polite tourists, take their hand and say hello.  They use a gentle but persuading tug on the arm to tug you towards their shop and tell tell you that they'll give you "good price" and "new year price" or "first customer price".  They demand you "look at [their] stuf" while calling you "[their] friend".  They inquire where you're from and try to relate to you somehow.  They smile and act casual.  I always told them I was from the US but I also told them that I've been in Africa for a month and have been through over a dozen cities and know what's a reasonable price.  I wonder if this made any difference at all?  Maybe?  Probably not.

Maasai Market in Nairobi, Kenya

That first lady wanted to also sell me an oil painting "something else, please, anything else".  I told her I will come back if I was interested and gave her the 1,000 shillings for the 10 keychains.  She tried to say 900 and asked me to pick something else out.  I stood firm on my 800 and said I'll take the 200 please.  I told her, "Asanti" and was on my way.  Immediately I was beckoned by a man just opposite of the vendor I was at...still at the entrance of the market.  I told him I wasn't interested, shook my head at him, refused to make eye contact and continued walking away.  He wasn't that bad, he only followed me for 2 minutes before retreating to his place of business.

I walked the rows, harrased, as how I imagine a playboy model would be as she strolled through a federal prison.  I was being shouted out and told to come look at their stuff.  They were very aggressive and seemed to take offense that I told them "No!".  I wanted to buy some hand carved wooden bowls but only two people carried them and neither of them had the type of detailed carvings I wanted.  The prices and selection in Malawi were leaps and bounds better than here.  I walked away from both vendors without any bowls becuase they wouldn't accept my offer.  I didn't even ask what they were asking...it didn't matter.  I am in a dessert with a village of people without water and I have a purified gallon of water--my bargaining power is extremely high, these people will have to impress me to take any of my money.  Ok, this may be the worst analogy ever but I'm trying to liven this up.  Anyways, the prices here are inflated because Nairobi is a relatively a popular place for tourists and their products can demand more money--simple economics.

I probably talked with no less than 40 people while at the market.  Many were very nice despite the fact that I walked away from them as they were still talking to me.  I ended up buying some napkin rings for Kim, a couple of hand carvings for my family (or maybe I'll keep one for myself), keychains for friends and family, and an oil painting.  I almost didn't buy the painting as I had negotiated with half a dozen people and walked away from all of them at least once.  As I was walking back to meet my driver two of the vendors had tracked me down.  One had claimed to be the artist but I took note of the arists name on the bottom of the canvas and I put pieces of the puzzle together and decided he was not the artist.  Having done a fair amount of negotiating I had a vague idea of the go/no go price point that the vendors would consider.  I knew Debby and Vincent had paid ~4000 for a painting and a carving.  The painting I had wanted was larger than theirs.  The vendors had started at 12,000 shillings ($160).  It's funny becuase I never even asked, "how much".

It's a VERY typical, and extremely successfull, marketing tactic that corporations have been using for decades.  Setting a certain price and then charging a different price causes the emotional mind of a human to make a comparison--not on the 'value' of the product and final cost to the buyer but the 'price' of the product versus the original price.  The irrational mind assigns the 'original price' to the product's 'value'.  Just walk into a TJMax--all those price tags with 'retail price' listed just above their sale price.  The value of the product does not depend on its 'original price', but too many people get swindled into this tried and true marketing ploy.  It's called pegging.

Another ploy they use here, also extremely irrational, is also employed by: car dealers, cable companies, gym memberships, and so many others.  The concept of 'getting more for your money' is used but in fact people end up paying for more products.  When a car dealer bundles rust proofing, delivery, etc. charges into the final bill the end buyer has trouble assessing the true 'cost' of the product.  Suppose a cable provider offers you 94 TV channels and high speed internet for $88.  Now suppose you get 'limited time' offer that is for 500 trillion channels, super-high speed internet and 3 phone lines for only $99.  How much are you paying for the faster internet?  What about the extra channels?  How about the 3 phone lines?  Case in point--they just want you to focus on 'how much you're getting' and forget the fact that you really only need high speed internet and your typical cable networks.

I offered 300 for the napkin rings (~$4 USD)--I had offered $5 at that overpriced market several days ago and they just laughed at me.  This vendor said 1000 shilling.  I told her no and that 300 is my final offer.  She said how about all 12 for 1000.  Did you catch the tactic she just used.  I only want 6 and she's trying to 'bundle' to make it seem like I'm only paying 500 for each set of 6.  But I only want 6 and I wouldn't have taken the 12 for 301 if she had asked for it.  YOU MUST BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY AND NEVER GET EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED TO STUPID MATERIAL ITEMS!  That lesson is free, it's too valuable to buy anyways.  She said ok 300, but you have to buy something else--I told her no!  It's 300 for only this or I walk away.  I'm not sure if I ended up walking away and had her chase me down or if she just agreed...it could have gone either way.

Hand carved figure I bought in Nairobi, Kenya
I picked out a hand carved figure that I liked and told her I will take two for 600 and she said 1 costs 1500.  I told her 2 for 600 as I walked away.  She kept grabbing my forearm each and every time I walked away.  I hate using these negotiation tactics but many of the skills I typically employ only work when both parties are  rational and educated.  She said 2 for 1500, I said no.  2 for 1000.  No!  2 for 900.  No!  She then took them and wrapped them and gave them to me and said ok.  I asked she clarify that she was accepting my initial offer of 600 for both of the carvings.  She said, "Fine, 800".  I walked away and she grabbed me once again and said, "you wait here I have to ask my boss".  She came back and said ok 4 for 1200.  Can you see which tactic was used here?  If you answered BOTH then you're right.  We played this game for a while and I stayed firm on 600 which, mind you, was a completely arbitrary number I had chosen.  She finally complied and I told her she was a good business women.  "Asanti" and I have her a hug.  Then I kept mooving.

Long story short--I bought an oil painting that I had walked away from previously.  Luckily the vendor tracked me down because if I had come back to him it would have seriously hurt my bargaining power.  He told me to give him my best offer.  I told him I didn't want to offend him and that I'm sure his piece of art was worth every amount of $$ that he was asking.  I said I had limited funds.  I pulled out my entire wad of cash and credit cards in my pocket.  Well, actually, I did this after 10-15 minutes of bargaining.  He had started at some very very high number and after 15 minutes he was down to 6000 shilling.  Then 5000, 4000.  This is when I pulled out my wallet.  Mind you, I had planned for this in advance.  I made sure to put the rest of my money in another pocket and pulled out the most I was willing to spend on this painting.  I offered him 'everything I had' which was 1250 shilling (~$15 USD).  He looked unhappy and continued to ask for more.  He saw that I had $20 USD in my pocket and said he would take the 1250 shilling + $20 USD and that 'we would have a deal'.  I made up some bogus excuse about how I needed that money for airport transfers between connecting flights.  I essentially just kept talking about my travel plans until I had him lost...it worked.  He said, ok how about just $5.  This went on for another 2 minutes--have you ever counted 2 minutes when you were in the middle of a high-stress environment, it's actually quite a long time.  He finally agreed and he wrapped it up and handed me the painting.  Its of 2 Maasai men jumping, as they did for us when we visited them in their village.  $160 down to $15, I would call that at least average bargaining skills.

My last dinner in Africa in Nairobi, Kenya
I did walk away from alot of things I really wanted, but getting good deals involves having discipline.  Some may call this cheap, some frugal, and others just 'too much'.  But I ask you this, why is it that 'people' are 'willing' to pay so much more for products than I am?  It is likely their ignorance, lazyness, or maybe their lack of understanding the true value of a dollar.  But it most certainly is, at least in part, that people form some irrational connection to a product and they believe this product is somehow connected to their happiness.  This really saddens me!

It's 5:10 now and I'm going to grab a bite to eat at the hotel's restaurant.  I am going to post this now since I've written so much.  I'll finish up today's 'adventures' in tomorrow's posting.  Cheers!