Feeling Sorry For A Conman

Photo by Olli Pitkänen

There is something better about Nairobi; I thought of this every time I walked down Tom Mboya Street on my way to board a matatu. Nairobi’s Central Business District buildings are connected to each other, and businesses are always on, but what really held my attention was the people; swaying river like on the streets, conmen looking for prey, making me wonder again and again why conmen think that I can be an easy target. Perhaps I look dumb. It was one who asked me where Hilton Hotel is then said. “Thanks. Can you estimate how much a drink goes for there?” when I told him the directions.

“Why would you even want to buy a drink at a place you didn’t know” I wanted to ask, but he went on and informed me that he has to meet a business partner there.

“OK. I have to go…” I said, trying not to laugh at him.

Later, I told my friend about this and how the conductor’s language had confused me. He laughed, but I’m sure he understood; understanding Swahili isn’t enough to understand sheng. “Msee, si unidungie mbao?” a guy with a dirty sack asked. I shook my head.

“Half of the voices you’ll hear in Nairobi will just be sounds to you. Not words. Or Sentences.” My friend said, and that disturbed me.

He has loud eyes. A dark voice. His jokes always left me with a slight discomfort. He smiles a lot, but in a serious way, and surprisingly he has adopted the openness of the Kenyan people. He is used to accept what life gives. When he asked me what I thought about Nairobi. I said that Nairobi is great, but it may be the worst city to retire in.

“We have to debate about that” he said, and it amused me the way he said ‘debate’ in a tone that wanted to convince me that he is an all-knowing person. He is one of those people who adopt an absurd accent when they speak to a muzungu, even though I didn’t ask, he proudly told me that he has lived in Nairobi for 2years, that he had come to acquire goods for their (him and friends) new business, lost all the money to a conman and decided to stay since going back to his home country couldn’t make him any better. I felt sorry for him, and I felt sorrier for him when he introduced me to his Kenyan girlfriend. But I liked how she slipped her hand into his as they walked, and how his eyes traveled her face as they talked. When I asked him what he likes about her he said, “Well, she gives me whatever I want”. I nodded in a way to show him that I understand, but what I really wanted to tell him is that it doesn’t look real since one of them is trying too hard.

He worries about his family, that they will never see him again, that something may happen to him and nobody would know where to find him. He made me think that the problems that I thought are big in my life aren’t all big after all. His wish is to appear in his village one morning where market traders, women, boys would hug him and caress his shoulder. But he can’t; what would he tell the other 9 business partners/friends? He told me that, and afterwards, I saw tears building up in his eyes, as if he only had to blink and they would flow. But he didn’t blink, he kept his eyes roundly open like a fish, his hands holding the Rwandan money I was showing to him. He had told me how much prettier than Kenyan Shillings Rwandan Francs were, I had nodded like a moron and said “I know. Thanks”

I laughed at him, I laughed with him, and he made me feel at home in Nairobi. And when I met him for the last time I knew that we had become close because his mouth was dry, but he managed to tell me that he really didn’t lose all that money from conmen; half of it was spent on drinks, food, a girlfriend, and another girlfriend. I felt angry at him because he is among those who make people believe that all the conman stories they hear are fake. “What if the conman in town had gained my confidence, and take whatever I had? What would I tell the people in Kigali” I asked myself. But later I felt sorry for him since he is always worried, the paranoia itself has become a punishment. And he remains stranded in Nairobi.



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