In Kenya there is a clever system used to make payments that makes life out in the bush a lot easier. This system, known as MPESA, allows you to make quick cash transactions using your cellphone. Considering banks are hard to find but everyone’s got access to an SMS, it’s an ideal system to be able to purchase goods and pay for services in remote areas using just a cellphone.
Knowing how to drive big cars has been a skill that I never thought would bring so much happiness and mental sanity to my life, this has been mostly due to the freedom that roadtrips can provide. On a Sunday afternoon I got called to bring rangers, food and water to the boys that had decided to extend their time out in the bush due to a cheetah, her cubs, and their hunting attempts. A 3 hour roundtrip through the Masai Mara is never a bad excuse to feel happy with life, especially when shared with good views and good company.
After we had delivered goods and people, we meandered back to the camp enjoying the setting sun and sharing conversations about life, cultures and people’s habits when all of a sudden I received a phone call from a local number.
“Hi, it’s Colin. I sent you money by mistake on MPESA”
“I deposited KSH8500 into your account by mistake I need you to pay it back to me”
As the conversation was taking too long, and after having been scammed over cellphone companies in South Africa the previous year, I panicked and put the phone down. I don’t know how phone scams works exactly but I figured the longer I spent on the phone, the more risk I was in of losing money.
When I put the phone down and explained to Faith what had happened, she got angry.
“It’s a scam. See? It looks like a proper message but it’s coming from the wrong number. This is how they get you. I will call him, can I use your phone?”
“I don’t have airtime, only data”
“That is fine, I will phone him from mine, give him a piece of my mind”
And so she did, she phone and while my Swahili isn’t there (at all), I could tell from the tone of her voice she started telling him off… until she didn’t and it sounded like she was talking to an old friend.
“Maybe she actually knows the guy and they are friends, it sounds quite pacific” – I thought to myself, almost feeling guilty for hanging up as suddenly as I did.
As she put the phone down, she laughed and said to me:
“Well that was the most bizarre conversation I’ve ever had”
“Oh? What happened? It sounded like it was friendly enough though”
As she giggled, she then explained: “I started giving him a piece of my mind and I asked him: “Why are you robbing people?” What you are doing is illegal, why don’t you get a real job and stop robbing people?”
“And then what happened? What did he say?” – I asked barely containing my curiosity.
“Well, he replied: – Honestly, I’m in jail that is why. ”
WHAT?! He’s in JAIL?! – I couldn’t help but interrupting. I did not see this one coming.
Patiently Faith explained: “Yup, it’s a well known fact that it’s the guys that are in prison that do this but I never expected to speak to one of them”
I started laughing uncontrollably. “So then what did you say to him when he said that?”
Faith: “Oh.. ok, well thanks for being honest with me and telling me the truth. Why are you in prison for?”
Colin: “For robbing people”
(insert here incredulous face reaction)
Faith: “No man, I believe you can change. If you are this crafty to scam people you can surely get a real, honest job.”
Colin: “You really think so?”
Faith: “Yes man, I believe in you. I know you can change if you put your mind into it”
Colin: “Thank you, no one has ever said that to me before”
I didn’t hear the rest of what Faith had to say, by this point I had to remember to close my mouth at the most bizarre conversation I had ever witness in a Land Rover. I wanted to say something thoughtful, I wanted to stop laughing and the most unusual conversation of them all at sunset, on a roadtrip in the middle of the Masai Mara, but my survivor instincts kicked in first and all I could utter was:
“You know he’s got your phone number now don’t you?”
Random roadtrips have lead to some of the most real moments in my life. I hope her words on our random journey got to him and felt real too, I hope this bizarre conversation had a real impact and gave him a push to turn his life around.
To this day, he hasn’t used her contact number to scam her, so for now, we keep hoping.