Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 February 27-28: $5.47

The average income of a tuktuk driver after expenses here in Sri Lanka is just 700 rupees per day.

$5.47 a day.

$164 a month.

$1969 a year.

This is what I learned yesterday from our tuktuk driver in Puttalam.

Not possible, I thought. That means that to outfit our house for the five months that we are here and buy a week's worth of groceries, I spent almost two times his monthly salary. Even buying the cheapest of everything I could find - old habits die hard - I still spent 39 000 rupees...$304. This man has five children. Four of them are school age. He makes $164 a month.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Well, I thought. Perhaps this is just the life of a tuktuk driver. So, I looked up the Sri Lankan Department of Statistics.

Average monthly household income: 46 207 ($361 US)

Median monthly household income: 30 400 ($237.50)

Average monthly per capita income: 11 932 ($93.22)

Average household size: 3.9 persons

Makes you think, doesn't it?

What about these facts?

Average monthly basic food expenditure per household:
Rice, flour, bread, dhal, coconut, onions, sugar: 4592 ($36)

Average monthly non-food expenditure per household: 25 529 ($200)
Housing : 4533
Fuel and Light: 1724
Personal Care and Health: 2228
Transportation: 3607
Communication: 891
Education: 1430
Entertainment: 546
Household non-durable goods: 552
Clothing: 1342
Household durable goods: 1099
Other expenses: 6837
Liquor, drugs, tobacco: 738

Nine dollars per person for basic food staples. Fifty dollars per person for everything else.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

As a foreigner, you often hear about the so-called 'skin tax', the extra charges added to prices for everything from food to transportation to attractions for people not from Sri Lanka. You hear tourists complaining about it as you walk down the street. You read about it in just about all the tourist guide books. You are warned about this scam and that scam and where to shop so you don't get taken advantage of.

I ignore it. I pay what they ask, unless it's truly outrageous. The extra 50 rupees that they charge means nothing to me, a paltry 39 cents more for my tuktuk, but it means an extra pound of vegetables for his family.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

When we went to Muthrujawela Marsh the other day, it cost us 3000 rupees for the tuktuk - $23. We were gone for almost five hours. The driver took us the 22 km (14 miles) there, waited over two hours for our tour to be done, waited again while we ate lunch afterwards, and then brought us back to our hotel. Where have you gone recently where the taxi driver charged you less than $5 per hour? The last time I took a taxi, it cost me $4 before I even went anywhere!

On our return, the other drivers on the street were teasing him - "Oh! You finally decided to come back!" We told him they were just jealous. "I know," was his response with a slight smile. I didn't realize until today just how true that was - our trip to the marsh was more than four days pay for him.

Makes you think, doesn't it?