Thursday, February 14, 2008


The van pulled up to deposit us in front of the central train station. Swarming men in red shirts, both young and old, some obviously strong and powerful and some very decrepit. White people with large, heavy luggage! An opportunity to make many rupees. They are always willing to pay. Big smiles. Heads bobbling. Then Heyer Paul Rebba stepped out of the van last. The smiles suddenly disappeared. The white people, obviously incapable of haggling for themselves, had brought their own Indian negotiator! The money would not flow as easily now.

Eight bags. Eight! Count them again. Eight! No! Count them louder! Still eight! Another red shirt comes to help count. Holds up all five digits on one hand and the thumb, index and middle fingers of the other hand. He agrees. Eight! Heads bobble. It is agreed. All parties settle on eight bags.

Red shirt, “1,000 rupees.” Heyer Paul, “200.” Red shirt walks away. Turns around. Comes back. “Eight bags! (I thought we had already decided that!) 1,000 rupees!” Heyer Paul, “200.” (Right now there are about 39 rupees to an American dollar.) Red shirt’s hands fly into the air. I can’t understand a word but I argue his case in my mind. “I have a family to feed! A wife! Kids! What would the missus say if I moved eight bags for less than R1,000? Look at you in your nice western shirt and pants and white friends! You haven’t worked hard one day of your life! You won’t even miss R1,000! Get your whites to pay for it! Look at them! They don’t even know what I’m saying!” Heyer Paul says nothing.

A new red shirt arrives. Younger. Bigger. More bossy. Thick four day growth of beard. Must be a higher up. He takes over the negotiation. Five minutes later we’re walking through one of the busiest train stations in the world, Chennai Central Station. Small groups of people squatting in the middle of the station eating something or just waiting. People sleeping on the floor.
As we walk I lean over to Dee Rebba, our Indian friend, and ask what we ended up paying for our eight bags. R400. About $10!


At 12:04 PM, Blogger Faith said...

Isn't there a temptation to give the baggage handler whatever they ask since poverty is so prevalent? Life in India is almost incomprehensible.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Shiloh Guy said...

Hi Faith! Oh boy! Let me tell you! When I'm traveling in India with my Indian friends they don't let me do anything at all. They look at me as if I'm giving away the store when I slip a beggar R20! These poor guys at the station work like crazy. I would have given them the R1,000 and then a big tip on top of it! So my friends don't let me haggle at the train station either. I think it is some kind of a matter of honor for them.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Doulos Christou said...

Wow. Anxious to hear more. I'm afraid I'd be right with you in handing out as much money as quickly as possible... but how American in my thinking! Not to say that there isn't that need there, but the real need is so much greater, and the economic need can be a distraction - for me and them (Matthew 13:22)!


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