Labour relations (Zambia #8)

masai chief's son

The Cheapest Safari (East Africa #2)

August 5, 2007 Comments (4) Africa, Experiences

How I got conned (East Africa #1)

Lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls

So, I got robbed. Well, maybe the correct word is conned. Where can you draw the line? If you figure out you’ve been conned within 10 seconds, and the perpretrators are still visible, does a connery turn into a robbery? I was trying to change money on the street because the official places were closed on Sunday, but instead I paid $50 to learn a valuable lesson in Livingstone (on the Zambian/Zimbabwe border).

After they had taken the money I yelled ‘thief’ and gave chase, but my groceries slowed me down and they hopped into a van around the corner. A woman with some friends on the street scolded me afterwards: “Why didn’t you yell louder!? We would have caught them if we heard you. Next time don’t be so quiet!”

It was essentially my first day traveling alone, and I felt pretty stupid. I have encountered so many friendly Zambians (all of them) and let myself become naive. I was pretty down on myself, but tried to forget about it because the next morning I was going to bungee jump off the bridge to Zimbabwe — one of the highest bungees in the world. That would help me forget about what happened.

But in the morning I find out that the bungee doesn’t run Mondays. It’s the worker’s day off. Why close one of the biggest tourist attractions in Africa for 1/7th of the week, rather than switching staff? If you’re asking such logical questions like this, you haven’t been in Africa long enough. I had to catch a 45 hour train ride to Tanzania the following day so I couldn’t wait, and I didn’t get the chance to bungee. However, during my day wandering around town, I was going to pay attention to everyone’s face so I could try and catch my conman. After the entire day of errands and sightseeing, I resolved myself to the fact that any man smart enough to con tourists was also smart enough to lay low for a day.

Around 16:00 I realized I still hadn’t changed money, and rush to the official FX office. Comparing rates, a man tapped me from behind and asked if I needed to change money. I turned around and couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the stupidest conman in the world, staring back at me without even recognizing who I was.

I casually put my arm over his shoulder and explained who I was, asked for my money back, as I looked for a policeman on the street. The guy protested at first, then bounded away like lightning when he realized who I was. I learned my lesson from yesterday, and within seconds my chase was joined by 5 guys. Then my 5 helpers yelled ahead and we were joined by 10 more.

In under a minute, the man was caught and my posse had grown to 30 people. They asked me what he did and I told them. Then the fun began. The thirty enraged townspeople were climbing over each other to slap-down the conman.

Hard, echoing, open-hand slaps rained down on his face, his smooth head, and his back. The cops arrived and we stopped the crowd after a minute, and dragged his sorry ass the the station. I didn’t expect my money back, but figured this was $50 well spent. Fortunately, his father came and offered to repay me if I dropped charges. I accepted, and in my remaining few hours in Livingstone before catching a night bus north, I had a wonderful dinner with a friendly Welshman I met.

A Long, Chinese-African train ride away

I‘m now in Dar Es Salaam after a wonderful 50 hour train ride from Zambia to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). The Chinese built railway line and railway cars made me laugh — the toilets were just holes in the floor, the signs were all in Chinese, and the sink and shower drainage was ridiculous. I met more fascinating people, this time a group of young Christian ‘believers’ with whom I spoke for hours. The trip was wonderful, cheap (half price for students costing me $22), and didn’t seem long at all despite the 1900km journey. We passed through game parks and purchased delicious food out the window every time the train stopped (which was very common and usually without apparent reason).

And now Dar es Salaam. This city has a wild mix of Indians, Arabs and Africans, with most people of Muslim faith. I know this because this morning before dawn a man with a megaphone was outside the hotel, booming the arabic morning prayers to whole neighbourhood. And this happens every morning. Here the weather is humid and stuffy, and despite the proximity to the ocean there is little breeze. I think I got a foot fungus from walking for 10 minutes with sandals down the filthy and odour-filled streets.

The city is offensively un-tourist friendly, and things are expensive considering what you get ($15 hotel and $8 for a nice restaurant meal). The hotels’ single rooms were all “full” (even when they clearly aren’t — a scam to force you into buying double rooms), but I met a Jewish-Canadian and we shared a double room. And lots of travel stories. I find the Tanzanians to be less kind than Zambians, more aggressive, and to speak much less English (Swahili is their common language). Zanzibar is near, but I’m heading inland to Arusha to find a safari.

To see these dodgy trains, click the thumbnail above! No con, I promise.

Kwa heri,

4 Responses to How I got conned (East Africa #1)

  1. Anonymous says:


    Hope to see you soon Vancouver misses you and me to!


  2. Brad Howe says:

    Yup Mike that’s pretty much Tanzania (Dar Es Salaam) in a nutshell. As an expat I wouldn’t walk around Dar by myself too much. Have fun in Arusha. It’s a neat place

  3. Miko Fulla says:

    Dar was a crap hole. I’m in Nairobi now which is known to be worse but actually I love it. Everyone has been amazingly nice, and we even walked the streets at night in the neighbourhood the Lonely Planet advises against without troubles.

  4. […] Most embarrassing travel moment: Getting conned in Zambia. It was my first day travelling in Africa after working three months in a copper mine. But I got my money’s worth the next day, because I found the thief…. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *