So you know how you try and read different reviews on different places when you are heading to a different country for tourism or, in my case, for work? Then perhaps it never happens to you. Well, I read somewhere about a particular scam in Ethiopia, specifically in Addis, where a guy walks up to you (the obvious foreigner aka faranji) and proceeds to ask if you remember him and tries to trigger your obvious bad memory with the story of how you met at the airport. Well, it happened to me. I mean, I did not get scammed (I am Kenyan, after all) but I did have a guy approach me. Twice. The same guy. Here’s what happened.
Date: Some random Thursday evening after work, a few weeks ago.
Location: Addis Ababa – a few hundred feet from my office where I had gone to buy my roast maindi for the evening walk to my house (side note – the maindi here in Addis has nothing on that Kenyan maindi from Mama Meyi back in the day when she used to post up near Lavington Primary with her diverse stock of roast maize aka maindi, sliced and diced mangoes with hot pepper and lemon mix, or patcos).
Intended Victim: Me.
The Perp: (Yes, I have been watching CSI:Miami and this term has taken up residence in my brain) He was tall, a bit heavy (approximately 85 kilograms) and he just looked fishy.
Well, there I was, walking along and dreaming about the roast maize that was about to reign over my life in the next 4 minutes or so when, out of nowhere it seemed, appeared The Perp. I had my headphones in, blasting some TakeOverDj mix downloaded from SoundCloud, and this is my universal sign for ‘Please Do Not Talk To Me – I Like To Live In My Own Space’. So this guy is walking in the same direction as I was and, at first, I thought he was just another passerby. From the corner of my eye, I saw him look over at me and increase his walking speed. I didn’t think anything of it as I just assumed he was trying to walk past me on the sidewalk or he was trying to rush home. As he drew parallel to me, he said hello in Amharic. I ignored him. He repeated his greeting a little bit louder, ‘Selamnesh?’ and, at this point, I decided to respond because sometimes people say hi and then walk on. Well. Not this guy. He continued on.
The Perp: ‘Hey, do you remember me?’
Me: (Clueless look on my face) ‘Err…no’
I thought, oh maybe he’s from the office. I mean, I do work with about 500 Ethiopians. And I am the only Kenyan so most of the time, they know me and I do not know them. So, I looked at him properly. Gave him a detailed but quick look over. I did not know him.
He continued on.
The Perp: ‘You don’t remember me? From the airport?’
Then it clicked.
I recalled reading about this scam in some tourist guide book sometime back when I was in the village.
A guy approaches you, claims that you know him from the airport then convinces you to go for a coffee ceremony where, after your attendance where you assumed this was a complimentary invite, you are presented with a huge bill.
So, I smiled at him and said in a firm, no-nonsense voice,’No, I do not know you’ and he started to slink away. But first, he said to me, in Amharic, how great my Amharic was. I thanked him, in Amharic, and shared a small white lie that I had an Ethiopian husband who taught me. He left me alone.
Then I acquired and enjoyed my roast maindi.
Cut to two weeks later.
He found me again.
Date: 2 weeks post the initial incident, on a Monday, I think.
Location: Addis Ababa – near my home on my way to work.
I saw him greeting, quite enthusiastically, some random guy slowly driving by in an older model Toyota. The driver did not seem as excited to see this guy as the guy pushed his hand into the open window to shake his hand. The driver, it seemed to me, picked up speed a bit and left the guy standing there. I had my earphones in, again announcing my reluctance to engage in any early morning chats with random strangers who would try their best to practice their English with me, or attempt to check my Amharic skills. He walked behind me and, for anyone who has been raised in Nairobbery and surely knows that the golden rule is ‘If thou walketh behind me, thou must surely be up to no good’ so I immediately held my office bag (with my umbrella, laptop and morning bread) closer in my anti-Nairobbery standard stance. He crept up alongside me and started in on me.
The Perp: Selamnesh — How are you?
Me: (mumbling and holding onto my bag) Selamnegn eghziaber ymesgin… —- I am well, by God’s Grace
The Perp: Do you remember me?
What the f…? I could not help it but I rolled my eyes all the way to Mombasa and back. He seemed to understand body language or, in this case, the eye roll. In any case, he quickly realized that I was not the greatest target. Then it seemed that he recognized me. He praised my Amharic. I repeated what I had told him weeks past.
I mean, even conmen should have quality control, right? If you are operating in the same area repeatedly, shouldn’t you calculate your chances of meeting the same intended victim more than once? Perhaps he should have kept, on his person, a photo album and a venn diagram on potential victims and their propensity to get conned.
I was just glad he hadn’t interrupted, again, my treasure-seeking journey to acquire roast maindi.