Wednesday, 27 February 2008

How do you tell a scammer from someone genuinely in need?

Yesterday I talked about being on a rollercoaster where you go from being terrified to grinning and bearing it and from realising the anticipation is worse than the heading over the edge itself to actually enjoying it. And sometimes, if you're lucky, it's not just as the ride is about to stop that you discover, too late, that you love it.

Although I've been enjoying and appreciating being in Sri Lanka for quite a while now, it was only on Saturday that the turning point came and I realised I was so happy I could've floated home. That was the day when I decided I couldn't wait for the rollercoaster to get to the really exciting bit at the top where I could throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

Anyway I thought I would share with you a little event that made me realise how utterly unpredictable this entire trip has been and will continue to be. I was with my friend Anne on Saturday - she's another volunteer out here, originally from Inverness but now based in Hambantota. We met someone who completely bowled us both over. I won't go into detail because I'm hoping that my subsequent experience of her is a one off and I will be able to tell you more (positive things) about her.

She invited us back to her home for tea and we followed her. She was a very entertaining lady, very worldly with a fascinating life story and a lovely family who we met. She was also fluent in English, so much so that you could have a really good laugh with her. Her whole family - her husband, daughter and son made us so welcome that we both came away thinking "this is what Sri Lanka's all about". It wasn't just me being sentimental, Anne felt the same. We promised to visit the following weekend and thanked them for their company and their hospitality.

Yesterday one of my housemates called me to say the woman was at the house looking for me. I had only told her the area I lived in but she found me and now wanted to know where I worked. She said it was an urgent personal matter. My housemate called me and I spoke to the woman who said she needed to borrow twenty pounds. She said she was expecting a wages cheque but it hadn't come through and her whole family were starving, hadn't eaten for days.

What do you do? My first thought was a very selfish one - "why me?". I have had much experience back home of being taken for a mug (primarily because I behaved like a mug, I appreciate) and I was so upset it was (possibly) happening again. And with this woman who had so inspired us.

My next thought was, of course, what if it was true? What if they really were starving? It's not like it's an impossibility over here. How could I turn her away? How could I not help her son and daughter not to mention the woman herself and her husband?

Whilst I'm thinking all this I'm saying to her that I can't afford to give her twenty pounds because I'm a volunteer and I have to budget. But all the time I'm thinking that yes, I may be a volunteer and I may have had to take on more debt to do this, but there's no doubt I'm a lot better off than her financially.

I felt deflated because I didn't know if she was genuine or not. It's hard for me to tell at the best of times but over here, how do you ever know? It's my history of financial muggery (or being a victim of it) that clouds my judgement and leaves me feeling very confused when this kind of thing happens.

I told her I could give her 1000 rupees which is five pounds. It might sound a bit mean but that would feed her family for a good few days over here. Rice, for example, is 50 rupees a kilo. I offered to buy her food rather than give her money (on my housemate's instructions - apparently it's a good way to tell if someone's lying and I can see why) and at first she was keen but then said the money would be better.

The strangest thing is, she then didn't turn up to where we'd agreed to meet. I went the opposite way to where I wanted to go and ended up having to fork out for tuks and she didn't show up. I think my housemate told her off for taking advantage of me (so my mum will be pleased at that) but surely if she was desperate enough she would still have come. That said, I have to admit to worrying a little about her last night. She went to a lot of trouble to find me so I wondered what had happened for her not to show.

And I'm left with the question - which would make me happier? If they were genuinely starving and desperate? Or if the woman who was the catalyst for the turning point for me in Sri Lanka, turned out to be nothing more than a scammer?

I can't answer that. All I can say is that I'm here to make the most of absolutely everything so although the rollercoaster may have dipped a little, I know to expect these peaks and troughs and if all I take from this is a lesson about trust well learnt, then at least I've learned something.

Tonight (to end on a happy note) I am heading down to Fort after work for a teatime stroll and to watch the sun as it sets. That's what the photo is - I've named it Sunset at Fort in Galle. Is there not a place in Perthshire called Fort in Galle?


Elaine said...

Hi, doing work avoidance and reading your blog- fascinating stuff!

Yes, there is a Fortingall in Perthshire, place of the oldest tree in Scotland and the supposed birthplace of Pontious Pilate.

Indygal said...

Ha ha just saw your comment Elaine lol. Work avoidance, I'm pretty tip top at that!! Will email you tomorrow.