Thursday, March 23, 2006

More on Ethiopian Customs Authority

An earlier post regarding Ethiopian Customs Authority stirred some people (apparently someone reads my rantings) to e-mail their own experiences, and what they dread each time they land in Addis. High on the list was being directed to that special window where you may empty your wallet paying import taxes on an extra electronic gadget found in your luggage. I for one recall an old cell phone stuffed into my carry-on luggage as I rushed to catch my plane, cost several times what I paid for it on arrival in Addis, at least according to the gumruk bible the lady kept looking at. Jetlagged and furious, I was just about to open my mouth, when she took another look at the phone, and with a "Aha, k'oy ande...," she turned and began punching a few keys into a computer. I thought, surely, she realized her mistake and will return with a more sensible figure, but I was forgetting where I was. Lesson number one: Having hope in Ethiopia is a set-up for bitter disappointment, at least with official matters. My beat-up cell phone had a built in camera (standard nowadays) which did not even work after being dropped one too many times, but would now cost twice the earlier quote, argh! There goes my vacation money. And here's the kicker, I could either leave the phone with Customs, or take the phone out the airport, but either way I had to pay the same full amount...Huh? Lesson number two: Never ask why to Ethiopian government workers, they take it personal.

I was instructed my payment of 200% tax may be refunded in full, but only when requested twenty-four hours before departure, a little clause they hope you pay little attention to. A near miracle is what it takes for anyone to get necessary signatures and appropriate receipts from individuals at the airport and officials at Customs' Gergie warehouse before you ever see your money again. All this to be done on your last day, no less. The Gergie warehouse is a giant corrugated iron facility subdivided into various departments and offices, and if you're lucky enough to find the appropriate office, you'll find the same ancient excuse, "just stepped out," or possibly in sebseba, "meeting,"...At the tea house, I'm sure. And so you wait, and wait, and after waiting some more, wonder if it's all worth it. But damn-it, that's exactly what they want, and I can understand why travelers will give-up the chase early in order to spend the last few precious hours with family prior to flying out. I persevere, but only because I was informed earlier of what to expect from Customs, and had finished all personal matters prior to departure.

Two more officials later, I finally get to the desk where my refund is to be issued. The Customs agent is very personable, even asks me to take a seat and offers to call for tea, or coffee...I guess not too many travelers make it this far, I politely decline his offer. He then asks if I want my money in the form of a check to be cashed at a bank in town, or in cash upfront...Although not at first, I realized he was not kidding. "Cash, please!"

Lesson number three: Leave cell phone behind before flying to Addis.