Stone Town: Was I Conned?

When I have a moment to think this little story troubles me, as I can’t decide. It’s a question of humanity and trust, and I want to believe I wasn’t, but common sense kind of tells me otherwise.

Conned in Stone Town

It goes a little something like this…

I’d just arrived in Stone Town in Zanzibar from my three days of beaching it on the east coast near Paje. I had two hours to get a shower, a bit of lunch and to find the Multimedia NGO Zanzibits where I was going to volunteer for the afternoon talking about travel blogging.

I was joining a tour from Zanzibar and having to share a room – my new roommate had gone off to explore Stone Town kindly taking the key with her so the shower was off. The guys on reception had never heard of Zanzibits, neither had the taxi drivers outside or the woman at the shop and my map made no sense.

This was when I met William.

“What you looking for love?” he said in perfect cockney English.

He was a gaunt and skinny man with dirty clothes and broken sandals. He was very friendly and told me he knew everywhere in Zanzibar and to follow him.

I was hesitant, but seeing as no one else had heard of the place I obeyed. I told him I needed a cashpoint first as I needed some water and he dutifully showed me the way and stood outside as I got the money from the bank.

And off we went.

We’d walked for about 10 minutes and it was becoming more obvious he didn’t know where we were going. We chatted all the way though and I found out about his children and that his brother was ill and he was having to support his family too.

“Sorry I’m walking so fast. I’ve had malaria and only got out of hospital last week. I need to sweat the poison out.” He said as he stopped to sit on a step and hold his head in his hands.

I was shocked. I’d never met anyone with malaria before and was a little ignorant of how to react. Especially when he spat in the puddle.

We sat down and he told me about how he thought he was going to die at one point and he was worried for his children.

“The doctors said I shouldn’t be outside yet, but I need to find work.”

I felt so sorry for him. I bought us both lunch, but he barely ate his and gave the rest of it to a passing child.

“He’ll appreciate it more,” he told me.

He was pulling at the heart strings and it was definitely working on me.

“Look, Vicky, you don’t have to give me any money for giving you this tour. Understand that… but if you could buy me this medicine I need to get me back on my feet… I’d be really grateful. The drugs I have will take ages to cure me, but if you buy me this one I could be fit and back at work in days.”

I agreed, I kind of had to.

We went to a chemists in the next street and he went in. Of course they were speaking in Swahili so I didn’t understand a word, but after a few minutes out he came.

“They don’t have it, and won’t until next week.”

I was off the hook, but I felt bad for him. He murmured about how much he needed it and what would the children do to eat.

We carried on with our mission to find Zanzibits. After a wild goose chase around the labyrinthine streets of Stone Town and about an hour after I’d first set eyes on him we managed to find the Zanzibits school. All the time he was talking about this medicine and that he knew it would work.

“Vicky, if you could give me the money, I could get someone to buy the drug from Dar when they go tomorrow.”

“Errrm, well how much is it?” I was still unfamiliar with the currency conversion and tried to pluck a figure I’d be prepared to give him.

“200,000” (£80ish)

“Well, errm… I could give you half?” I was trying to work out how much it was in my head, while he was moving in closer and applying the pressure. I’d just taken my money for the week out the cash machine so it was all wrapped up together in my purse and I didn’t want him to see how much I had.

“Oh Vicky, that would be great… but if you could make it 100?”

“Errm, ok”

“Or 120, or even 150?”

I think I gave him 120. I still can’t be sure though. It all happened so fast and from being a nice chilled man he was putting loads of pressure on me.

As soon as he had the money in his pocket he was off.

I finished my afternoon at Zanzibits and came out the door to realise I had no idea how I got there. I followed my intuition and within 5 minutes had found my way through the streets and back to my hotel. Turns out I didn’t quite need that tour he’d given me.

Time to think

When I went out for dinner later I saw him again, by then I’d had time to think it through.

“So William, how’s your malaria then? You got your tablets?” I asked him half smiling, half not. I was still trying to work out if he’d conned me.

“My darling Vicky, the pill is at home prepared with a banana. I will have it tonight, because it can make you a bit sick when you eat it and I must work.”

Hmmmm, difficult. What do you think – was I conned or have I just helped a kind man get back on his feet?

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  1. by Mike on September 23, 2012  8:17 pm Reply

    Your question is redundant (I think). It was totally a con!!! Just my two cents.

  2. by Vicky on September 24, 2012  10:04 pm Reply

    Thanks Mike, I think you're probably right, but I just want to believe William was a nice man :)

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