Kenya, January 18, 2003
Watch your back in Nairobbery
|Nairobi has a well-deserved reputation as a den of thieves and con artists, and until today, I've been quite immune to their attacks. I always walk forcefully and quickly, and even if I am clueless, I never stop to look at my map in public or ask random people for directions, and recently I've even taken to wearing my movie-star dark sunglasses.
While the shades do keep people from seeing where I'm looking, or not looking, they are a slight anomaly as no one in Nairobi wears shades or even regular glasses. That might be why yesterday, this tall reasonably dressed man walked past me and did a double take, like he knew me.
Not recognizing him, I kept walking while he explained that he was the cook from the hostel that I was staying at, and he was about to walk all the way back to the hostel because his car ran out of gas and he forgot his wallet at home.
In and about, he asked me if he could borrow 1080 Kenyan Shillings, or about $14 for gas. He would then give me a ride back to the hostel and endear myself to the hostel manager for being such a kind soul.
While I was trying to do the mental math to figure out how much 1080 Shillings were in Dollars, it struck me kinda odd that gas was so expensive in Kenya. Right about then, he said that he could actually get by with 880 Shillings. That's when I started to wonder what was up.
I asked him again what he was doing in town and he explained that he was buying food for the hostel's kitchen when his car ran out of gas. That's when I remembered that the cook that I've seen at the hostel was a little shorter than I was and they use a taxi driver for errands.
Testing him, I asked him what I had for dinner the night before and the name of the manager. He didn't get either right, but had a good story for why he didn't know. Now, he was the personal cook for the hostel owner. Oddly, I'd never seen her, or heard anyone talking about her, so I started to get suspicious.
I told him we could share a taxi to the hostel, where he could get money from the manager, and get back to his work. That's when he upped the pitch, accusing me of not trusting him and lowering his borrowing need to 180 Shillings. We were across the street from a petrol station, when I suggested that we go buy the gas together then. He was adamant that only he could by gas, for I would be charged income tax if I did, as I am a mzungu (foreigner).
As I turned to walk up the hill to the hostel, his pleadings became more intense, and he implied that I would be kicked out of the hostel for not helping him when he told of my actions. I reminded him that he was the one who ran out of gas, and he shouldn't transfer his anger with himself to me.
That's when he went from pleading to demanding. Telling me that I was a bad person for not trusting him with 180 shillings (about $2.25) and calling me cold, he made his long legs carry him past me and up the hill at a quick pace. Then he stopped and waited for me with a pained look on his face.
Pointing out the big hotel on the hill, he asked for phone money to call the hostel. Laughing, as it's 1 shilling for a call, I bid him farewell and good luck.
Once I made it back to the hostel, I found that he'd tried that scam on several hostel patrons recently, and I was the only one not to succumb to his tactics, though I have to admit, he was close to having me a few times. If only he had petrol can, walked me to the car, or... well, was legit. Then it would've been a different story to tell.
Postscript: I saw him two days later, and just smirked with satisfaction when he recognized me.