I don’t know if it’s my white skin or the lack of Y chromosome in my genetic setup that makes them think it’s perfectly acceptable to harass me, to follow me and to shout obscenities at me should I refuse to get into their stupid little metal box on wheels. It’s probably a combination of both to be honest.
Tuk-tuk drivers around here see me and other foreigners and they don’t see people, they don’t see customers.
They see dollar $ign$.
And that’s okay. Overcharge me by a few rupees – I guarantee you that the difference between the actual ‘local price’ and what you tell me is the local price but is actually massively hiked up probably isn’t even enough to buy me a Freddo these days.
I don’t mind losing a few pennies in a country where people get paid as little as £80 a month in some cases. That’s fine.
But I’m not going to lose those pennies to aggressive, rude and pushy tuk-tuk drivers who seem to prey on single white girls walking around.
Because I’ve watched.
They don’t stop and ask local girls if they need a taxi. They tend not to stop and ask foreign couples if they need a taxi. They don’t stop and ask single white men if they need a taxi.
It’s just the women. The foreign-looking, single women. And that’s not okay.
It’s not okay to intercept someone as they try to cross the road, or at the end of a narrow lane, with a sickly sweet smile plastered on your face and a “taxi, miss?” knowing full well that you’re blocking their way to anywhere but your taxi.
It’s not okay to grab someone by the elbow and try and lead someone to your vehicle when they’ve already said that no, they do not want a taxi.
It’s not okay to follow somebody back to their hotel and wait there the next morning.
It’s not okay to repeatedly ask if somebody wants a taxi and when they stop answering after the fifth time, it’s not okay to shout “HELLO! STOP IGNORING ME, ANSWER ME LADY” in the middle of the street.
It’s not okay to take advantage of somebody who doesn’t know their whereabouts by driving around and around in a circle just to rack up the metre. Google maps doesn’t need WiFi.
It’s not okay to pick a random number off the top of your head, three times the actual price, hoping that this alien will be stupid enough to pay it.
If somebody says they don’t need a taxi, nine out of ten times it means they do not need a taxi. Meaning that you can safely drive off and find someone else to bother. It doesn’t mean that you should follow that person up the road, slowing down when they slow down. I don’t know what they expect – maybe for me to keel over at any minute in the heat and be all like “yes, strange tuk-tuk driver, be my knight in shining armour and take me away on your overpriced ride”.
On a forty-five minute walk from my hotel to the India Visa Centre, I was stopped twenty-nine times by different drivers. That is unreal.
At one point an older Sri Lankan lady had to come to my rescue when Driver Number 21 wouldn’t stop following me up the road, insisting that I needed a taxi and he would give me “good price”. I have no idea what she shouted at him, but she was mad. And I swear, if she had a cane she would have been shaking it around like it’s nobody’s business.
I know there are a lot of worse things that are happening in the world and that could happen to me, but this makes me sad.
I love Sri Lanka, but in years to come I don’t want to look back on my time here and have all the good tarnished by my final few days which seem to have been nothing but being harassed and followed by strangers in metal boxes.