Beware of These Pickpocketing Moves in Ethiopia

March 30, 2014
Beware of These Pickpocketing Moves in Ethiopia

foreign-correspondent badge final As intelligent and experienced travelers, we know to never keep anything in our pockets when traveling. That’s rule number one. But even when obeying rule number one, our bags can still be likely targets.  My mom recently came to visit me in Ethiopia. While walking around the city on her first day, I made her aware of rule number one and told her to watch her bag. Even with the warning and an awareness of potential pickpockets, she still found herself an almost-victim. The pickpockets were unsuccessful, but had I informed her of their common techniques, she could have better prepared herself.

Here are four of the most likely pickpocketing scenarios:

Beware of These Pickpocketing Moves in Ethiopia

The Spit and Shift

Be aware of children coming at you straight on, especially if they seem to have something in their mouths! They might be gearing up to spit on you—a nasty, large lougey that makes you stop and chase them. Beware if you do! Profuse apologies will pour out as the child makes a show of wiping the spit off of you while using another hand to relieve you of your valuables.

Best way to avoid the “Spit and Shift”? Keep walking and carry some Kleenex. Your pride can recover.

The Look-See/Extra

Street kids sell all sorts of things: gum, tissues, phone cards, etc. The scam? While approaching, they to try to sell you their wares by shoving their small box, handful of goodies, or magazine at you. Beware! While one hand is waving small items in your face, the other hand will be searching your bag and pockets. Another variation of this includes a piece of paper or cardboard with illegible writing on it. The culprits—adults or children—will insist you read what they show you, often shoving it into your stomach above your bag so that you feel the pressure on your body and not on the hand reaching below for a quick grab.

Best way to avoid the Look-See? Walk into a store, café, or building with a guard while carefully guarding your bag. An alternative option to use if the pickpocket is caught in the act: Knock the item from their hand forcefully and yell, “Thief!”

The Transport Trick

Public transportation is an easy and affordable way to get around a city. But it can also be the most likely place to get your phone or wallet lifted. Besides being cautious in tightly packed subways and large buses, be alert while riding smaller vehicles like vans and rickshaws.

If sitting by a door, beware of a loose track or a door with latch issues. If the door is falling open, and you are responsible for closing it, be aware that those moments are often arranged to distract you and provide the perfect opportunities for pickpockets working in line with shifty drivers or doormen.

Best way to avoid the Transport Trick? Don’t sit next to the door if possible. Otherwise, keep those hands on your bag!

The Crowd Caper

Street performers are often some of the most interesting and unexpected delights of walking around a new place. When in large crowds whose attention is focused on something else, pickpockets like to crowd in and squeeze close, as if they are also watching the show.

Keep your wits about you, because what they’re mostly watching is your sightline and for your attention to move from your belongings to the entertainment.

Best way to avoid the Crowd Caper? Keep both hands on your bag…or at least one if you insist on taking pictures!


Beware of These Pickpocketing Moves in Ethiopia

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Do you have traveled to Ethiopia? What were your impressions? Email us at for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Photo for Beware of These Pickpocketing Moves in Ethiopia by Unsplash.

About Nora Kreml

Nora Kreml graduated Drake University with a degree in Art History and
International Relations. She is currently serving in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps attempting to improve English language instruction in local primary schools. She has an ever expanding 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon index in her head and can play a mean game of Scrabble and Quirkle.

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