I Still Go To School

on teaching, learning, travelling

Curiosity killed the cat


Though media has mostly lost interest, there is still war in Africa, claiming lives every day. One hot spot is Liberia, the neighbouring country. Around two weeks ago, I met two Liberians in front of Sococé, a big store for the rich. Their names are Stephen and Mike. Mike found me first, and was very happy that I spoke English. So they told me they had fled from Liberia and were very hungry and so on. I didn’t want to give them money, so I thought I’d buy them some rice, which they were also happy about. They were quite unhappy, though, that I couldn’t give them money for more food. I told them that was all I could do for now.

A short dialogue follows:

  • Stephen: Are you Christian?
  • Me: hmmm, sort of.
  • Stephen: Mike and I prayed at the church this morning, and I feel that God has sent you to meet us, you are the first person we can trust.
  • Me: So why did he send me to meet you?
  • Stephen: We feel you are the first person we can trust, and who helped us.

They were quite enthusiastic at this point. We exchanged mobile phone numbers and went our separate ways.

Last Wednesday, Stephen called me and told me he needed to talk to me. I was curious, so we agreed to meet at Sococe again on Friday.

Having some African ice-cream after a long day with my bro Mafoya!

Having some African ice-cream with my bro Mafoya!

Fridays, I happened to meet Mafoya, a good friend of mine. I thought it’d be best to bring him along to meet Stephen and Mike. Right before meeting them, we agreed that if he wants Mafoya away, there is probably something fishy about this whole thing. But… cats love fish. PUN!

We met Stephen, whose smile from seeing me faded as soon as he realised I was not alone. He asked for five minutes alone with me. So, we sat next to the big market and a busy street. My curiosity was playing with my conscience. If he wanted food or money, he could just have asked straight away. Is it right or arrogant to look into this case with no intention of giving money?

We sat down and he told me his story. Mike and he had fled from Liberia about three months ago. His parents and older brother had been killed in the war. As they had been living close to the border to Cote d’Ivoire, they ran for it. Finally they made it to Abidjan, but they had to leave their luggage behind at the border. And there was the big deal: in their luggage, they had money. One Million US Dollars. Stephen couldn’t tell me where it was from or how they got hold of it, but he clearly indicated that he wanted to go there and bring back all that money. Travelling is expensive, though, so he entrusted this information to me. “It is very confidential,” he said. “It is 22.000 Francs to get there, and about a day’s journey.” He ended up talking for about 20 minutes, with me patiently listening and trying to make sense of it all.

So what kind of response was he hoping for? One theoretical (!) option is going with him and seeing myself if there was money. This would count as self-abduction. Second option is to give him the money and simply trust. Less risky, equally stupid. What I felt he was trying to do is to nurture off my generosity, based on our common faith. I also couldn’t help but feel he hoped for me to want a slice of the cake. Greed is something to count on in human beings, right? This is the truth of the world he lived in all his life.

That’s why I gave him the only answer that seemed reasonable to me: “I feel God has led you out of Liberia to live here, in Abidjan. You have to forget about the money and start building yourself up.” Of course, he didn’t like hearing that. After he continued on for another fifteen minutes about how that was impossible and he needed the money, I decided it was time to go. He stayed polite, yet was clearly disappointed. “Ok, I will call you later,” he said. I am still waiting for his call.

Having heard many stories and explanations of corruption, abduction and fraud in Africa, my initial curiosity was mainly because of the details. The fascinating thing is that the stories do not seem implausible. The storylines are well spun, and the thread clearly leads towards me giving them money. It is not simple begging, but a quite elaborate form of stealing, or fraud.

What do you think?


9 thoughts on “Curiosity killed the cat

  1. Wow! Very interessting story, unbelievable it happened! To tell you the truth – I think I would have walked away at the first encounter. I don’t feel comfortable when strangers ask me for money.
    I wonder why they singled you out – what do you think? Because you’re white and look wealthy?
    In my opinion you managed really well, though I’m absolutely astonished that you gave your phone number to complete strangers. You really must have a kind heart!
    Of course you cannot stay untouched when hearing such stories, but whenever there is money involved I get kind of wary. A good decision to bring along a friend of yours to the next appointment. May I ask what he said to all of this?

    • hey claudia! yeah i thought about walking away, too. but it was not the everyday’s encounter. most probably they singled me out because I am white. if you are white, that already makes you look wealthy enough…
      i haven’t received any call back up to now. My friend told me it happened many times, and also scams of bigger scale. e.g. recently there was a guy who sold a big forest to some european businessman. the guy even came here and had a tour through the forest, to make sure it’s not a scam. so he paid, only to find out shortly after that his contact here didn’t actually own the forest at all! happens, happens.

  2. wow ewald, this sounds like novel, you are relly experiencing many things there, im sure you’ll encounter many incidents like this one, but you seem quite courageous and wise about it. Theres too many things to read on the internet, but ill put this blog in my weekly readings, keep blogging ewald! and growing our interest or “curiosity” for africa

  3. That reminds me of this documentary about the internet scammers in Ghana. It’s really interesting how an entire sub-culture has been built around this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o26Eks801oc&noredirect=1

  4. Interesting experience, not very surprising though! Unfortunately 😦
    It’s hard to know what to do in that kind of situation where someone is asking you for money with a story and you don’t know if it’s true or not. I thought the reply you gave him was really wise!
    When I was interning at Oxfam we got a lot of mails with stories, often resembling one another quite a lot. Some of them were tough stories to read but even though they were frauds, unless it was a mass email, I thought it’s always respectful to send some kind of a reply rather than ignore. Good job for sitting on the bench and listening – I can see you do that! 🙂

    Bon courage Ewald !!

  5. It was good of you not to give them money ofcourse. The way you declined his talk like saying God wants you to stay here…was very nice I would say. Just 2 weeks ago, Yuka and I were in Egypt for a holiday. Over there, sellers are coming to travelers walking on a street very quickly and asking what is your name, where we come from, and have some tea or coffee to go inside of shop. There are often no fixed price which means we have to bargain them otherwise we are sold with very high price.. and they say good thing to feel more close to us but, not everyone though, sometime what they say was contradicted. One man says he is half German and Egyptian but his mam was died..but the other man said to me he is half Finnish while the one was not there. I felt we really needed to critically look at the environment we were facing there. Ofcourse it is not that all the time there is fraud so this is difficult thing because normally we want to just believe what people are saying.. i don’t know but I enjoyed your blog man.

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