Dispatch Africa 2013:
Crossing the border today from Kenya into Tanzania was a hot, boring, and uneventful affair, except for one exchange with a couple of locals which I feel compelled to confess. While waiting in the car for our papers to be approved by the border agents, or some other such business no doubt being deftly handled by our driver, and about which I knew little and cared even less, I was approached by a decrepit old tribal woman bearing trinkets for sale. She was an oddly cute, slight little woman, and her face was as leathery, shiny, and black as an old shoe. She wore the distinct bright red garb of the Maasai tribe, whose lands stretched from Nairobi, Kenya, some two hours to the north, deep into Tanzania to the very base of Mount Kilimanjaro, which lay to the south and was our planned destination. Her long, hoop-like ear lobes, which were colorfully adorned with charms and beads, dangled in the warm, dusty wind. Her eyes were unavoidable. They had the distant, glassy look of the blind, but there was little doubt she was closely watching my every move, searching my face, demeanor and gestures for the faintest of buying signals. She smiled as she walked, stretching out her arm to me, holding handmade bracelets and other curious items that I could not readily identify. She said, with the sweet and humble drawing back of her chin into her chest, “You buy.”
Politely, I said, “No, thank you,” and smiled back warmly.
She continued to approach and said, “You buy.”
Politely, I said, again, “No, thank you.”
With both her hands now well into the car through the window, she said, “You buy.”
“No, thank you.”
This went on for two or three more exchanges, and then she abruptly changed her strategy, adding, “You buy fo Mama, I take pik-chah,” (picture).
Not knowing whether Mama meant my wife or my mother, I thought to myself, “This is getting personal.” I kept smiling. She kept smiling and trying to hand me the trinkets. Then I said, again, this time with a really solicitous tone and as delicate and syrupy a grin as I could fashion, “No, thank you.”
She set her jaw, and deadpan, said, “Tawn doolahs,” which I took to mean, ten dollars. Another tactical adjustment. She was a no nonsense pro.
Just as I said, “No, thank you,” again, a second old Maasai woman, only slightly younger, approached. She also started handing me things and negotiating with me. I figured she was called in as back up. They probably have some signal or something.
I asked the first woman her name, and she said, “Mama.” Since she was Mama, I now was wondering if she had been asking me to buy the trinkets for her all along. I felt as though I had stumbled into one of those Abbot and Costello routines. I asked the other woman her name, and she said something unintelligible, so I tried to mumble it back to her. She frowned. They both closed in. More one-sided negotiating with their prices now randomly moving up and down with nothing from me but a grinning and polite “No, thank you.”
I bobbed and weaved; they thrusted and parried. I remained pleasant and calm; they didn’t bat an eye. Two or three more ‘you-buys’ followed by two or three more ‘no-thank-yous’ and I finally said, “Look ladies, you need to work on your sales strategy here. You have not sufficiently created the need. That’s your trouble. You must first create the need in the customer’s mind, then fill the need with your best solution, then answer objections, and then ask for the sale. You’ve gone straight to the close. This tack is not going to work with mazungu (white man). If you had offered me, let’s say, an icy cold Coca-Cola, or maybe a big juicy Fuddrucker’s hamburger, I’d have said, ‘Now you’re talkin,’ because I’m getting hungry and thirsty out here in the hot wilderness, but you have rushed headlong into error. Tisk, tisk, tisk. Fools rush in.”
They both stared at me for a half a beat and then the older one said, “You buy fo Mama, tawn doolahs, I take pick-chah,” and then the other one started in.
Seeing right through it, but with my head starting to spin, I ignored this new triple combination tactic, and with a wry eye inquired, “Mama, do you know Jesus?”
She said, “Yes.”
I asked, “Are you a Christian?”
She said, “No.”
I said, “You are not a Christian?”
She said, “Yes.”
I said, “You are and are not a Christian?”
And with a winning smile and a confident nod of the head she said, “Yes, you buy.”
She would not be deterred. She had assumed the role of Abbott; I was Costello. By this time, Stuart, who was sitting in the back seat, was wetting his pants. He was slapping the seat in front of him, slowly shaking his head and whispering, “You slay me.”
I said to the older woman, “If I could can your tenacity, I could conquer the world.”
Just then, our driver popped open his door and dropped into the driver’s seat. He said, “We are ready to go,” and then fired up the engine and drove us through the border crossing into Tanzania.
From the back seat, still holding his belly and chuckling, Stuart stammered out, “You just broke every single rule of evangelism.” I was strung out and exhausted and couldn’t think of a snappy reply. So, I just settled back into my seat and thought of far away places as we sputtered down the road toward our next adventure.
Like it? Don’t like it? Leave me a comment!