When the Deal Is Too Good Think Twice

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!


No Comments

  • By Carol A.Otieno, October 6, 2008 @ 3:44 am

    The first time I talked to the Russian gentleman, one red-flag was that his english sounded African, if all you miros know what I mean. I was just looking forward to seeing the apartment, and decided to brush off any cynicism. By the third time he talked to me, I could tell that this was no Russian, and I had to realize that my dream home was exactly that! A dream!
    I have never fallen into the trap of con-artists, and pray I never do, but truly sympathize with anyone who has!
    Comments are welcome,


  • By Kelly, October 8, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

    I guess a fitting example of the same would be the pyramid schemes that made away with people’s millions of shillings last year, and a certain lady in the cell right now for almost conning her way out of her hotel bill.

    As a rule, I’m too suspicious of strangers who are too nice.

  • By Mwangi, October 8, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

    @Kelly: I used to have the exact same attitude and I actually brought it over with me to Australia.
    I remember when I first arrived, this nice, wide-smiling, middle aged guy came and sat next to me and just started talking to me and getting to know me. At first I kept thinking to myself, “What does he want?” and kept giving him eyes that sent that message. A few minutes later, I came to a weird, startling, disturbing conclusion, “This odd foreign man just wants to chat and get to know me.” He showed me his family, his kids and when his stop came, he got off and walked out of my life.

    Considering I come from the same place you do, that one came as quite a surprise.

  • By Kelly, October 8, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

    Mwangi, I thought the blog had changed hands as I received an email that was welcoming me to tDA :D
    It’s sad that’s what our country has turned into, but what to do?
    It’s not even advisable to shake hands with strangers.

    BTW, not to stereotype but white folk are more genuinely friendly than the black.

  • By Mwangi, October 8, 2008 @ 8:30 pm

    @Kelly: All races of people are friendlier here, its the environment. I would actually stop and double back to go and help a stranger now if they were lost because I have no fear they have an agenda, they are not desperate to take anything from me.
    Even when I left it was like that, the word of advice in the City Centre was, “Kunja sura na uendelee tu mbele! Mtu akikuita umlape ka haujamskia na uendelee na nyayo” ( If someone calls you, completely ignore them and keep walking)
    Btw tell me if you received the same email the second time you left a comment, its only supposed to send one message the first time you leave a comment

  • By Kelly, October 9, 2008 @ 12:25 am

    lol the last time I heard the word ‘mlape’ used was a while ago. Now I’m not sure it did, but I think it sent a shorter version of the same. Will get back to you on that.

  • By Kelly, October 9, 2008 @ 12:27 am

    I got a blank mail with this as subject:’Thank you very much for leaving a comment’

  • By Mwangi, October 9, 2008 @ 12:30 am

    @Kelly: Me be old school like that :)

  • By Mwangi, October 9, 2008 @ 4:09 am

    @Kelly: It wasn’t blank. I think Gmail deleted the content because you received the same email twice. However, I think that shows the software isn’t working……sigh, if it becomes problematic let me know. I get a couple of complaints and I’ll get rid of the software.

  • By Carol A.Otieno, October 9, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

    Hey guys,

    @ Mwangi, it really is nice to go out of your way to help guys out. I try to help new comers or prospective comers who’d like to join us guys ‘out-here.’ The best ways to help is give the much needed advice and show people the way, these are two things I never really had and would have made a lot of difference to me had I known stuff before. And it’s pretty much the purpose of your blog-site, tDA, to help people not make the same mistakes that you did.
    Westerners are pretty much like that guys you mentioned. They’ll show so much interest, ask you questions, strike conversation and the next time you bump into them, they’ll pass you like a concorde jet, so you pretty much get used to that. Some Europeans I noticed take further interest in you if they pretty much have noticed something in you that they can benefit from.

    @ Kelly, I feel sorry for guys duped by the pyramid scheme. Some so called pyramid schemes do work, for example the one that you join to sell health products, I joined one but for the love of God I’ve been out here so long that I not only have forgotten some people’s names but I’ve forgotten the names of important stuff like the food supplement pyramid I had joined. One guy who joined early made so much beck/quid/money out of the same, and would earn bonus points that would grant him gifts like flying to Greece and taking tours in South Africa and so on, so some pyramid schemes are genuine, others are just ‘pulling a fast one’ at someone’s pockets. It takes alot of foresight to see which are genuine.

  • By Carol A.Otieno, October 9, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

    Ah…By the way, the title of this post was meant to be “When the deal is too good to be true, think twice.” There are good genuine deals but these need to be separated from the “too-good-to-be-true.” Because face it folks, there are many deals we have on our desks that are like a dream, and that is the deal you have to question and watch out for, over and out.

  • By Mwangi, October 9, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

    @Carol and Kelly: Since we are on the issue of pyramid schemes. Pyramid schemes are part of the reason this blog got started in the first place.
    When I moved to Sydney, I moved to start a movie production company from the ground up.
    Once when I was in a cyber cafe looking like a hot mess, I met this woman who was two things, quite narcissistic and determined to prove her worth and interested in acting.
    We got to talking about acting (btw, if the two actors I met in Sydney are any indication of what actors in LA are like, I now understand why so few people like the town, they are an interesting breed) and I told her why I was in Sydney.
    She then said something that made my heart erupt: ” She could introduce me to a director who worked for the ABC!”
    I was so excited for the next few days, thanking God for being on my side.
    A few days later I was thanking God for someone else: I had been taken to a “pyramid scheme meeting” and the “director” turned out to be this wanna-be celeb who may or may not have worked in film but was now in another field entirely.
    Thats when I thought to myself, if I could have been duped that easily, then clearly I have a passion for this and I doubled my efforts to get the message of tDA out there.
    Now the story is a lot more convoluted and long than that, but me thinks the moral is that, you never know where your teachers will come from or is it that pyramid scheme folks are very good at identifying your deepest desires and linking them to their scheme….hmmmmmmmm

  • By Carol A.Otieno, October 9, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

    @Mwangi; Aha, I like your last sentence. Indeed anyone who’d like to offload some beck/quid/money out of another one’s pockets has to have the “power of persuasion.” Most who have successfully done so have been able to identify the other’s deepest desires or vulnerability in order to do that. We all have dreams, desires and vulnerabilities/weak-points/achilles heel and the speed at which we’re able to display the above, in combination with the trust we have for the other are a mix of which the con can make use of to take advantage.
    I’m over and out…

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