I was travelling in India when an Indian gypsy woman walked towards me. She was carrying a baby. She also had a some mashed banana in a saucer in her other hand. As she came close she tripped and all the mashed banana went on my T-shirt. She apologized and showed me a water tap nearby. She told me that I should quickly wash my T-shirt or the stain woundn't go. Since it was so sticky and wet, I had no choice but to remove my T-shirt. I placed my bag on the ground for a moment. As soon as I did that, the woman was nowhere to be seen and my bag was gone. It only took her a second!
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Havana Scam: My child needs milk
by Diane Kulpinski
(Bend, OR USA)
In Havana, Cuba a young mother and her 4-5-year-old daughter approached me. The mother did not ask me for money, but if I would go down the street to buy a quart of milk for her daughter. If there was a problem, she asked me to say that we were friends. Then the daughter gave me a kiss on the cheek - very sweet. Before I did so, I asked to take a photo of them.
After I returned with the milk, they thanked me & the young girl gave me another kiss.
I went back to shooting some photos and just moments later, the tourist police were putting both the mother and daughter into a police car. (Apparently there are police that monitor Cubans for any activity that might be harmful to the tourist trade.)
I went to the police car to tell them that it was ok - they were friends of mine. But the police would have nothing of it & took them away.
I relayed my story to the locals I was staying with and they explained that the government provides everyone with milk. They figured she was probably going to try to sell it to make some extra money. Someone always needs more than what's provided by the government.
I have no idea what happened to the mother & child.
While I personally didn't feel ripped off, it certainly was a scam, and I felt sorry for the Cubans. It was 2006 and Fidel was still running the country. Not sure much has changed since then though.
Ed. note: Unfortunately as long as we face poverty we'll come across people trying to make more money than they have in ways that are less than honest. I recognize the Cuba you're referring to and while I was there a few years before you were, poverty-related tricks were also around then.
These days the economy is being freed and much is changing, although I'd bet this is the kind of scam you might still find - fueled by a combination of want and need.
A Beggar on a Bolzano Street
by Ken T.
(New Hampshire, USA)
Be wary when dropping a Euro into the palm of that little old lady holding a child in rags. I was backpacking through Bolzano, Italy many years ago and I happened upon such a scenario. I placed a 5,000 lira note (US$2.50) into the old lady's hand as she stared off into space clutching a small, dirty, hungry-looking child dressed in rags.
No gesture or acknowledgment followed.
As I continued on I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the old lady was wildly gesturing to someone across the street. I became aware that two swarthy men in cheap suits were crossing the street towards me. As I walked along I could see in the shop windows the reflection of the two fellows gaining ground behind me. I turned right into an alley, grabbed my Italian girlfriend's arm and sprinted a few meters, stopped, spun around just as the two characters hurriedly entered the alley with both hands thrust into their jacket pockets.
I was reasonably sure they probably meant to show me a knife or club me with a small blunt object in order to rob me. I immediately dropped my pack and got into a defensive pose, staring directly into their eyes. They quick stepped toward me and came to a screeching halt just ten feet short, turned and fled.
In my many travels after that incident I became no less charitable but remained acutely aware of my surroundings. My advice to women traveling alone would be: Don't!
But if you are determined, take a self defense class (check with your local police department) tailored for the single female; keep a hiking/trekking pole handy; don't be charitable or draw attention to yourself...
Try to blend in and learn to say a convincing "no" with eye contact in the host language and as my old team leader would say,"keep your head on a swivel" - be aware all around you.
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