Friday, September 4

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Buying bootleg DVD's

Work at an orphanage that is home to over 100 children is exhausting. Big surprise. And, as fun as living with the children, eating with the children, teaching the children, putting the children to sleep at night, waking the children up in the morning and playing with the children can be, we occasionally need time away from them.

That is why we instituted Surprise and a Treat Night. The treat is biscuits or crisps or some other goodie with a British name. The surprise is a bootleg DVD. One of us chooses the surprise, the other the treat. And then we switch the next week.

When my turn to find the surprise first came around, I was, I am ashamed to admit it, more than a little scared. The problem was certainly not finding one. This isn't the black market where you need to know the right people and use the right hand jive at the right time. To say that bootleg DVD's are abundant in Nakuru is a gross understatement. If you spend any time in the city whatsoever, you have to go out of your way to avoid the street vendors. They set up shop in front of every store whose owners do not ask them to move on, and there are at least three on every block, both sides of the street. The selection isn't bad either. Hollywood releases appear on the streets within two weeks of opening in American theaters, and so long as you like star-driven films, there is a rich catalog to choose from. They even have the taste to package all of the Godfather movies on a single disc, even if they use the cover of the video game to advertise it.

No, my concern was looking like at idiot tourist while flipping through the selection and being ripped off. Bargaining over two hundred shilling, rough equal to $3 American, may seem like the height of arrogant Western tourism. That's change. You can't even buy a full meal at a fast-food joint in the States with that much, but the Kenyan on the street could eat for a day on it. Still, knowing you're getting cheated is a more than disquieting feeling, and when you intend on spending a few more months in the city, you don't want to be setting a bad precedent for future exchanges. My original strategy to deal with this was to watch the vendors out of the corner of my eye while walking by at full speed. If I saw one I wanted, the plan was to stop, grab it, pay and get out. No time for haggling or being seen. That never worked. On the rare occasion I actually saw a DVD I wanted to pick up, I had already passed by. Turning around would only smack of desperation and kick the price up a few notes.

I realized this Friday afternoon. Then I humbled myself to stop in front of a vendor and flip through their selection. There was no hard sale. She pointed at a few options on display that I might like. Classic Schwarzenegger Films? Ultimate Horror Movie Collection Vol. 3? I settled on a collection that included Revolutionary Road. 200 shilling and a handful of my popcorn? Sold. I think the woman laughed to her friend and I definitely heard her say “two hundred” as I walked away, but that's still better than anything Demetra had paid.

One note, only buy your bootlegs from Dubai Digital Movie. They fill their DVD's to the far edges of the disc with at least 12 films on each. These things are high quality. No worrying about jerky cameras that inexplicably periodically go out of focus while filming a static screen. Dubai gets its rips from promotional copies as often as possible. My only complaint: who decides who selects the films for each set? I really want to meet the person who thought there was a demographic desperate to have Twilight, The Wrestler, The Alphabet Killer, Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia, and Slumdog Millionaire all on the same disc. Maybe it's a family collection, something for everyone?

1 comment:

Don said...

Hi Chris, sorry to see you getting ripped off for the DVDs. Here's my suggestion: bring one of the older children or Kenyan directors with you when you make the buy. You can both thumb through the selection, but let your companion (only) know which DVD you are interested in purchasing. Then either walk away or feign indifference while your partner completes the purchase. Of course you can tip them for their efforts. That's how I'd do it. Let me know how it turns out. Take care and say hi to Demetra. Don