This is a blog about my travels. My "regular" life is much too boring to bother blogging about.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Maputo Redux

I am back among the communist streets and bourgeois comforts of Maputo. I am sick and tired of hostels, so I've sprung for a $40 a night hotel that's above a wonderful smelling Goan restaurant. Of course, this place is the best deal in Maputo. I'm right in the centre of town, in the safest and most happening part of the city. My hotel has hot water and water pressure. There are tiny little shitboxes in Maputo, in less-than-salubrious parts of town, that cost $60 a night.

I have an amazing story from Pemba. Remember the guy Charles, who led me to my awesome inland hotel? Well, he began following me around town during the remainder of my stay in Pemba. Not so much following me around as placing himself in strategic locations that he'd know I pass. He would walk with me down the beach, telling me his life story, with emphasis on how poor he was, how tragic his home situation was etc. When he began calling me "my friend" all the time, I knew he was laying the groundwork for a soft sell.

I of course because familiar with soft sell thanks to my "brothers" in Malawi. To recap: a hard sell basically consists of someone asking me for money up front. Sometimes they went to sell me something, sometimes they just ask for cash, but it's made explicit from the getgo that the person wants money from me. A soft sell occurs when the seller tries to cultivate a personal connection with you, so that in the end you feel a moral obligation to give them money. The soft sell drives me up a well, for two reasons:

1. It's basically a straight con. Even worse, the con rest on the assumption that I am easily duped. In that respect, the con artist insults my intelligence. I really, really, REALLY dislike having my intelligence insulted.

2. I am infinitely more susceptible to a soft sell. I'm not a bad guy. I have a heart. I generally care about Mozambique and the welfare of Mozambicans and genuinely want to help, even if I'm not always sure what is the best way. I know that Charles isn't any different than any other Mozambican trying to make ends meet. If he lived in the countryside, he'd be growing a little bit of cassava and aggressively peddling it to city dwellers on passing chapas. It just so happens that he lives in a tourist area. Conning tourists is just what he has to do to feed his family. I understand all this, and I sympathize; or, perhaps more accurately, I'm torn between sympathy and my selfish desire to be left alone. Mozambicans aren't stupid, they figure this out within about three minutes of speaking to me. They know that I'm bound to yield more cash than a fat South African tourist, even though the fat Saffer has 5000 times more money than me to spend.

And so Charles began trying to con me. Either he is a terrible con artist, or he thought I was really stupid, because he did a very bad job masking his intentions. He tried to get me to go into craft stores, even after I made it clear that I didn't want any crafts. The rub is of course that he gets commission from the store he steers me into if I buy something. He did the same thing with restaurants too, he tried steering me into some restaurants as opposed to others. One night, I wanted to eat at a place called Pemba Dolphin. Charles wanted me to eat at another place called Mar e Sol, where I had already eaten twice. Charles was adamant that Mar e Sol was the cheapest place for seafood in town. Of course it wasn't, Pemba Dolphin was cheaper, I knew this because I'd had a cup of tea at Pemba Dolphin earlier in the day. I ate at Mar e Sol anyway. Charles sat next to me. I bought him a coke. He had the gall to tell me that the waiter has asked him why he wasn't eating - this was supposed to show me that he wasn't after my money. The waiter had asked no such thing; Charles had no idea that I could understand Portuguese. I ate my meal, seething. I made a mental note of this for when Charles made his big, final sales pitch. I was going to tell him off.

The big sell came the next day. I was eating an early dinner at Pemba Dolphin. Charles saw me and waited outside, on the beach. He told me that he had been to the doctor, and he was very sick. He needed about $10 US so he could go to some random village for treatment. He showed me some sort of note in doctor's scrawl. He said that I was his friend and that friends help each other out. That's when I turned on him. I informed that we were not friends. I knew he was conning me, and I knew that he had been conning me since I arrived. He of course denied this and repeated over and over again that he was sick. I didn't disbelieve this; my argument was simply that I had no obligation to do anything about it. He repeated more rubbish about us being friends blah blah blah. That's when I pulled out my ace. "OK Charles. If we're friends, how many brothers and sister do I have? What's my job? What country are my parents from?" These are fair questions; I usually start blathering on about these things within three minutes of meeting someone. Of course Charles didn't know; he had never asked because he didn't care. I thought I had won the argument.

Then Charles pulled out his trump card. Literally. It was his penis. He had severe syphilis or some such disease. I almost vomited into the sand; it may have been the most disgusting sight I've ever seen in my life. Everything made sense now. That's why he was going to a village and not the big, well-equipped hospital in Pemba. He was infected so bad that antibiotics couldn't do a damn thing for him anymore, not that he could afford antibiotics anyway. He was going to a witch doctor, which probably wouldn't help a bit. I had been shown visual evidence that Charles was probably going to die of syphilis, and pretty quickly at that. "I'm very sick my friend", he repeated. He showed me his penis again, and I nearly vomited again. So of course I gave him the money. What, did you think I was going to deny $10 to a dying syphilitic? I thrust the money at him, told him not to speak to me for the rest of the time I was in Pemba, and trudged away.

A day later, Charles was calling me "my friend" again and trying to sow the seeds of another con. Can't really blame him, I had proven a relatively easy sell. He asked what time I was leaving for Maputo, so that he could come and say goodbye (i.e. ask for more money). I said I was leaving at 5:00 PM, had to be at the airport by 3:00, and he should come by at 2. My flight left at 11:30. Two can play at games of deception.


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