Mastering the Art of Opportunity

It’s dark and about 0 degress celcius at 6 AM. Although it’s July, it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, so the sun doesn’t rise for another half hour or so. As I drive John to the airport, I can’t help but notice that at every robot (traffic light) I see someone selling newspapers. There is a guy at every main intersection in town, standing in the freezing cold, with a stack of newspapers in his hands. As cars pull up and stop at the red light, he runs from car to car, handing out papers, counting change, and then running back to his post on the street corner. These guys HUSTLE. They put the dudes standing in front of Home Depot to shame.

Living outside the US has given us this whole new perspective on doing business. A good friend of mine once called it “the gray area” where real business is done…under the surface. This isn’t black market stuff. This is everyday people, using every chance they can to make a buck. These people have mastered the art of opportunity.

Another great example of this is parking lot attendants. Nearly anywhere you park your car, be it on the street, at the grocery store, or at a restaurant…you’ll find someone wearing a bright green or orange vest. These guys watch your car for you. They help you find a parking spot. They even help you back out and watch traffic for you. In return, they ask for a small tip, usually $1-5 ND (the equivalent of 10 – 50 cents US). Sometimes they are employed by the city or establishment that they are working for, but sometimes they work freelance. I recently saw a handicapped gentleman, who provided this service from his wheelchair.

If you dig deeper….you’ll find other types of opportunists.

John and I ended up stuck in Etosha National Park with no reservation and no camping spots available. We spoke with the guard at the campground and offered to pay him the full amount for a campground in cash. Although hesitatnt at first, he finally agreed and we got a place to stay. It was awesome. And it was an experience that you’d never have “back home.”

If you need your visa extended, you meet with an “immigration agent” who, for around $85 USD, will grant you the gift of time. Technically you’re only allowed to stay in the country for 90 days, but around here, if you know someone and you have a little extra cash, you can buy most anything. Although, when I picked up my newly stamped passport, the immigration agent said to me:

“Can you bring me something for lunch? Cause, I’m broke man.”

Obviously, she knew she had me in a bind. I couldn’t say “no, that’s ridiculous,” because I needed my passport back! So, I grudgingly brought her N$70.

It all seems very shady for a person coming from a western country. But, it’s just how things are done here. It’s only after a few weeks or months of living somewhere do you find that out.

It’s certainly one of the many interesting experiences of living abroad! Have you encountered any master opportunists while traveling? What was it like? Was it a positive or negative experience?

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