Hey everyone, I am absolutely ecstatic that Caroline has decided to do a second guest post here on tDA. For those who haven’t read her first guest post, check out Would You Play a Game of Russian Roulette. If you would like to share your immigrant story and use this blog as a platform (thanks as always to those who have already done this), contact me and I shall see what we can do. Mwangi here signing out and leaving the floor open for Caroline Atieno
When the deal is too good think twice…
By Caroline Achieng Otieno.
Have you ever heard of the English proverb ‘Look before you leap?’ Bet you have, it was one of my favourites as a child, however, most times I thought of it in terms of jumping into a muddy puddle if I didn’t look, so it was literal for me. Just before leaving Kenya years back, there was an interesting commentary in one of the dailies that came in weekly that bears similarity to ‘look-before-you-leap.’ It was tagged, “When the deal is too good, think twice…” It was quite interesting, to some extent hilarious and was a narrative of guys who had fallen victim to some of the conmen prowling the streets of Nairobi. Granted, things were pretty tough that time in Kenya, structural adjustment policies were taking a big chunk out of people’s pockets and there was a lot of hustling and jostling going on. While some folks were really trying hard to pull in that valuable shilling, other folks were busy trying to offload the same valuable shilling through clandestine means.
Now, gone were the days that conmen filled bags with newspapers and looked for desperados who wanted a miracle so bad they would close their eyes and give them cash that would double, triple or quadruple and get back to them that way. Due to hard times, and an audience that could see through their trickery, conmen had metamorphosed into skilful con-artists. Their modus-operandi was sophistication; not going solo but in two’s or three’s, not exclusively male- but of mixed gender; well polished, articulate and highly intelligent. If any response was needed to outdo these con-artists, it was to be as damn smart-ass as they were, fight fire with fire so to speak.
Scenario 1: I recall one time rushing from Kenyatta hospital where I had come from visiting a sick friend. A handsome well-groomed gentleman stops me. I enthusiastically returned his greeting, wondering whether I know him, and step aside to walk on. He waves a hand bearing a gold-watch, and motions for me to sit with him on the pavement.
Would he have a word with me? Sure, I thought, ignoring my rumbling stomach’s pleas to be fed. I listened to a long tale of how he came from a nearby country, and how he was stranded here, and about the love of God to His children. Well, as he is yammering on, in a conversation that has neither head nor tail, out of the blue a pretty damsel barges in and greets him with enthusiasm and acts like she hasn’t seen him for a long time. They carry a brief conversation before he motions for her to join us, she introduces herself to me and does so. Great! Now we are a trio. The conversation continues endlessly, going round and about in circles, and I finally realize that there’s something these two are after. They are by no means interested in my conversion to any religion; rather in how much money I am willing to part with. For the love of all things bright and beautiful, I don’t have squat on me. Not a penny. As soon as they hear me out, they suddenly and abruptly end the wonderful conversation, begging to be excused. They have an urgent matter to attend, and they leave like a harsh dog (Mbwa Kali ) was nipping at their heels. I shrug, scratch my head, brush off my skirt and take off to the nearest bus-stop. My tummy is rumbling twice as loud as before, I have to get home. It strikes me then, the couple are con-artists.
Scenario 2: I am accosted by two women on the streets of Nairobi, at the City Centre. They see something on my forehead and feel I need prayers as to avert some disaster ‘waiting-to- happen. I have to sow seed so that they can pray for me. I see their insistence. I go to the one ATM type in the wrong number, and get my card rejected. I signal to them that this ATM is not working, would they wait for me to get to another ATM. I hurriedly take off in the opposite direction leaving our sisters gazing into space.
Scenario 3: I now live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I am house hunting and doing so rather desperately because the days are speeding on, and by no means would I like to be out in the cold harsh winter. I tell everyone I know, and place adverts in the supermarket, on the websites, you name it. Everyone knows I need a place to stay. A quick response comes in from a man who has read my advert on a site for English speakers in Amsterdam. He writes me a wonderful e-mail, he is a Russian engineer working in London, and has a one-room apartment here in Amsterdam that would be ‘just-right’ for me. The price blows me away; 1000 Euros is way above my budget. I carefully pen down a response that I cannot afford it but if he has alternative accommodation, I can pay for half the amount he has asked for. I add on my number as he has requested it.
Lo and behold the gentleman calls me the next day, “Have you seen the pictures?” is the opening question.
“Um, no, I haven’t, I have to get to the office,” is my response.
“You don’t have internet at home?” he asks sounding perplexed.
Feeling a little bit ashamed yet not daring to lie, I respond, “No, I don’t.”
He continues on and on, about the apartment. He can give it to me at the amount I can afford; all he wants is someone to take care of it.
“You see, my wife and child died, so the garden is in their memory,” he says, “It’s really not about the money, my contract is 1 year here in London, so I really need someone to be there in Amsterdam, and take care of the garden and house as I have already paid for it.”
“I can take care of your garden,” I respond trying not to sound very enthusiastic.
He asks me to call him as soon as I have seen the pictures.
The pictures of the house are beautiful; it really is a dream home.
I call back and say I’d like to take the apartment immediately, when can we meet?
That’s not a problem,” he responds. “I can ask my contact person in Amsterdam to hand over the keys, and you can send the money here, as I cannot come now to Amsterdam, I have just begun a new job-contract and I cannot leave until after six months from now.”
“Very well,” I reply, and hung up the phone, doing a little happy jig.
Somehow, I am not completely at rest. Is this an answer to my prayers? I don’t feel it in my inmost being. People say that you should always listen to your inner voice, the instinct or gut-feeling. Well, my gut is not feeling with this apartment, and eventually my communication with the Russian guy goes about in circles. He states that his contact person is on vacation right now, can I send the money for him to send me a set of spare keys? The next day, he’s talking about his wife; I think okay, his wife is alive now? Into the week he expresses his worry about the keys getting lost in the mail. At the end of the day, my dream house was really, “in my dreams!” A deal that was too good to be true. We always have to think twice. It doesn’t only apply to conmen, it may be a relationship where someone is promising the world, and failing to deliver, it may be a business partnership, whatever the case, Think twice!
I hope someone has learned something, I just did!