Explorer Mikael Strandberg

The Swedish idiot and the conman

I feel more amazed than upset. This nasty incident happens in every country in the world, but, the reasons it happened in Sanaa, Yemen, are two. First, the major reason, I am in Yemen, the unlikeliest place I thought it would happen. Best of the best when it comes to the quality of people. Two, I am very naive and always trust people. But the more I think about the whole drama, I realize how good he was and how I did everything wrong and should have seen the warning signs early on in our very common conversation. How much did I loose?

The idiot.....couldn´t find the conman for a photo....however, I was worse off by another conman in Zimbabwe 1992.
The idiot…..couldn´t find the conman for a photo….however, I was worse off by another conman in Zimbabwe 1992.

Well, read it until the end and you will find out. In any matter, it is a good story!

Once again I went off to the local gym and once again, I failed to get a membership to train and lost the monthly fee they charge, the Club, where the local gym is located.  Since my Arabic isn’t good enough to sort out  the paper work, I asked a couple of guys in the queue, if they spoke English. Nobody did, but suddenly this geezer turns up, a middle aged, well dressed gentleman and asks if he can assist me.

“I come here to do gymnastics once a week, the rest off the time I chew kat” , he explained whilst he told me what I needed in the way of paperwork to be able to train, I neither had photos or copy of passport and visa, so he says: “I will take you to an express photo shop close by.”

Now gymnastics was dead in the early 90´s, I should have known already there.

“You are at the Institute aren’t you? I have seen you there many times” , he said and I answered jolly: “Yes I am, how happy I am to find you here. What do you do there?”

“You mean the one at the 26th of September?” he says and I smile, I should have known…he didn’t say the name of the institute…”Well, I am Doctor Mohammed Ali Al-Moto Said and I teach Arabic at the Institute. But only two days a week, so you probably don’t remember me. The rest of the time I teach at the University.”

See how clever….Anyway, off we go to this photo shop were he is not only very overwhelmingly helpful, but we sit down and wait for the photos to be developed, we talk and he speaks about his country in a kind of upset tone regarding what he calls the terrorists in the south, that if nothing happens the country will fall apart as Somalia or worse, so I ask him:

“You have never thought about working abroad?”

Of course this incredible good human being says:

“I would never leave my country. I couldn’t be without my beautiful children. A life without one’s family, is not a life. I am sorry my English is so bad.”

I pat his shoulder and say:

“I admire you very much. Your English is perfect. How old are the children?”

First he kind of measures their height with his hand showing them as very young, but suddenly he says:

“I have two son’s and one is studying in Moscow and the other in Malaysia. Economics.”

Of course. Economics. Always economics. Maybe his sons were dwarfs. Suddenly he hands over a piece of paper to me with his name and phone numbers, mobile and home. (I have tried both. Subscriber doesn´t exist.)

“I have this English book with phrases in Arabic and your headmaster has forbidden me to give it to his students, because they would learn Arabic too fast and he wouldn’t get any money. But I will give it to you. Only you. Can you come to my house for lunch tomorrow? I see you as my brother now.”

I said yes to both his fantastic book and lunch and hands over my precious business card which very few people have (See what trouble that one will put me in….puuuh….) We are now buddies!

When the photos are ready, he moves up to the desk to pay them, I say no way!

“What a fantastic human” I think and feel very warm inside. “Another fantastic Yemeni showing the best side of the human being.”

“I will show you were I live” , he says and we return in the direction of the Gym, turns a bend and he shows me a nice red mansion overlooking Old Sanaa. “I live there with my three baby daughters and wife. My father, he is a teacher at the University of Bahrain, he built the house before he left and I am looking after it.”

I should have realized that he suddenly added on three kids to his dwarf sons studying economics in Moscow and Malaysia. But no, I felt so happy having met such a superb human being again here in Yemen. The country is full of them. Then he picks up a piece of stale bread somebody has chucked on the road and says:

“It makes me feel bad when people do this. It is against the will of the Prophet to throw bread on the street.”

I even liked him more and he continued:

“I was supposed to meet my friend and talk at the club, but he didn’t show up.”

Suddenly he looks full of worries.

“Well, such things happen” I say, but he answers: “It would never have happened if my friend had been a foreigner.”

See how clever he was! He has in a short while pulled a lot of information out of me, have found out my interests, noticed that I am philanthropic and wants to help people, he has in this short time built up trust and now, the kill is close, so just before we get to the gym he says:

“I see you as my brother and you see me as your brother, than I just need a little favour from you.”

I went a little cold, I think it was my experience warning me, but before I could say something he said:

“This friend I was supposed to meet owed me money, I have 40 000 rial with me now and he was to give me 8 000, so I could buy this car for my son when he comes back. Could you lend me the 8000 until tomorrow?”

I felt uncomfortable but I said:

“The only money I have is for the fee I am paying for the club membership, can you take that?”

Yes, he happily said and went off. In shallah, Allah will punish him for cheating another human so blatantly nasty. So that is what I lost, a mere 15 dollars. From a common conman. And, yes, it doesn´t feel good, of course, you do take a bit of a beating when it comes to trust people and from now on, I will have a little bit of hesitation meeting people. However, just a tiny bit, because, even though I am very gullible, I rather take a few mistakes like this to be able to continue to trust other people.

And on the whole, yes, it is a good story!

For more reports on the preparations for the Expedition, see http://preparingforthenextexpedition.blogspot.com/