On Recent Drive From Europe to Kazakhstan, The Writer Was Impressed To Discover the Innovative Ways in Which Locals and Officials Made Their Living
An expat in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, solemnly assured me that to become a police officer in this country you have to pay a steep ‘admittance fee.’ The theory being that, upon taking office you earn so much from bribes that your investment is quickly repaid.
In Central Asia, corruption was accepted as an immutable fact. Like the weather or the local cuisine, it was unlikely to change, and the expats who made their living in this part of the world were not concerned by it. Indeed, in my own encounters with corrupt officials along the Silk Road, I’d been positively impressed by the grinning audacity with which ‘unofficial fees’ were extracted from me and my traveling companions.
But the odd bribe here and there is just one of the novel ways in which the Western traveler is liberated of their Minat, Som, Rial and Tenge. In an environment where political and economic strife make ‘conventional’ means of earning a living impossible, people rapidly develop more creative ways to line their pockets and feed their families.
Incase it may interest the fellow wanderer or perhaps even inspire one to contemplate a change in career, here followers a curated brief of the more creative hustles witnessed on my recent travels, and advice for rapid advancement in your newfound profession:
The Corrupt Official
Despite what you may read in state run media, corruption remains a growth industry, and presents limitless opportunities for the enterprising official. For those considering a career in corruption, a straight face will be your number one asset. Look serious as you demand cash from passing tourists, and remember to use the word ‘fee,’ never ‘bribe.’
More experienced travelers may hold tightly to their wallets. In these situations, it helps to have a stack of official looking forms handy. As you busily scribble in your native language, the tourist’s bravado will quickly turn to fright. When you then say that this scary looking form can be ‘overlooked’ for a small fee, they will be only too happy to accept.
The bane of the corrupt official is the word ’embassy’ which invariably has even the most hardened members of this profession extinguishing their cigarettes and waving their quarry through unscathed. It would be an asset to the profession if someone would please look up this word and provide appropriate translation, so that we may better learn how to combat this mysterious force.
Popular Vacancies Include Traffic Police, Border Guard and Immigration Officer. Please send CV and cash (US dollars preferred) to cover admission by unregistered mail.
The Unofficial Parking Warden
A man stands beside a busy street corner in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. He wears a sharply ironed collard shirt, with a pen and pair of reading glasses sticking out of the top pocket. When he notices a car slow down and attempt to maneuver into a cramped, street side parking place, he sprints up to it. Gesturing furiously, he helps guide the bemused driver into the parking space. He then stands expectantly by the driver side door, awaiting his hard earned fee.
I had opportunity to observe this man at some length on a balmy evening in early August. Frequently, our unofficial parking warden would arrive too late; the car would already be stably and safely parked. Unperturbed, then he would throw in a few gestures anyway, and then enthusiastically give the driver the thumbs up, celebrating the team effort, before taking up his usual post by the driver side door, palm outstretched.
Gone are the days when the carpark industry required one to have a position of authority or, even, jurisdiction over a carpark. Indeed, as you read this cars may be parking on your very own street without the benefit of supervision or guidance! It is up to you to recognize and seize this opportunity before your neighbors cotton on.
Application Not Required – Begin at Your Leisure
The (Un)helpful Fixer
One of the many delights about a trip through the Silk Road is the exceptional kindness and generosity of the locals. On many occasions we were helped out of tight scrapes by smiling locals who wanted nothing in return but a handshake and, occasionally, a selfie to show to their friends.
There are, of course, a few enterprising folk in most countries who have decided to charge a fee for such services. The ‘professional guide’ can smell a confused foreigner from a mile off, and will hasten to involve themselves in the traveler’s affairs, while chasing away other – perhaps better intentioned – passersby.
What the opportunist lacks in actual usefulness they make up for in barnacle-like persistence. While genuinely helpful locals have been known to conjure what the tourist needs – be it a bed for the night, a hot meal or an auto-mechanic – seemingly out of thin air, the ‘professional’ would struggle to find a loaf of bread in a bakery. They will follow the tourist for hours on end, the veneer of friendliness slowly fading as the day wears on, until they are reduced to weakly repeating ‘money’ like a prayer or mantra.
For those considering a career in the unsolicited advice industry, it is recommended that one rapidly divests oneself of any local knowledge one may have unwittingly acquired. It is helpful speak a few phrases in English, but on no account must you understand any of these phrases when they are spoken to you.
Application Details Available at Your Local Tourist Information Center
Coda on the Opportunities for Unscrupulousness
As one travels East from Europe into South and Central Asia, the locals become kinder as the officials get worse. At present, corrupt officials hold a near monopoly on the fleecing tourists industry, but even they are in the minority. The staggering majority of locals and even officials I encountered more trip were kind, helpful and honest. For those interested in changing this humbling status quo, I hope the above advice has been of value.