Ramallah, January 27, 2013
The 51 year old Mohammed, in the official residence of Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the catering of the presidential guard (the photo on his wall shows him as he shakes Abbas's hand), has a word for that special man, whom all travelers to the East fear like nothing else: Ali Baba. For Mohammed this is the name of the guy who as a devious taxi driver will double the fare for the unsuspecting tourist. Ali Baba is the clever waiter who at the end of the meal will have all sorts of dishes on the bill that the tourist has never eaten. Ali Baba generally means the local who knows to make the naive stranger pay prices that he is used at home and not the so much cheaper prices of the host country. Muhammad has met Ali Baba particularly during his trips to Turkey, and I acknowledge laughingly that I have seen him there, too.
But then Mohammed gets serious and shakes his index finger vigorously in the air: in Palestine there is no such guy! Completely unknown here! The Palestinian respects and admires his foreign guest and he would never charge him more than he would charge one of his countrymen.
And in fact - we have not paid a single bill in Palestine where we were in doubt whether a local man might have come to the same value at a cheaper price.
On my first trip from the Israeli border to Jenin - about 10 km - I had paid 25 shekels (€ 5, -) last year what seemed a good bargain to me. Likewise in this year I've never paid more than 50 shekels, even for longer trips. The locals have told me that one should ask the taxi driver (who never has a meter in his car) before starting the journey. The price then said would be generally fair and at market ratesG
Gradually, we have learned to love the taxis that are not only found in the cities but are also commuting between the villages. We see them as our little yellow guardian angels. They would have found us in a case of emergency even in a remote spot, they would have brought us safely to the next town. The Palestinian taxi fleet consists of canary-yellow cars from which, in my observation, a good three-quarter are Skodas of the class "Octavia". I always felt at home when climbing such a car because in my garage a same Octavia is waiting for me, a blue, however.
Mohammed has been in many countries of the Middle East, he was as a young man a soldier in the Jordanian army. On his road trips through the endless deserts of Saudi Arabia, he has always felt safe. He fears nothing. Except Ali Baba.