Flighty Fingers

Mtaka cha mvunguni sharti ainame. This sliver of wisdom, dispensed by one of those Swahili sages of old as his agemates huddled in a circle, kanzus firmly in place, deeply-veined shaky hands tenuously grasping small cups of kahawa tungu. Their milky eyes held far-away looks as they fondly remembered their glory days, sweet-talking lasses with ample curves,  as their now wizened faces with dune-like wrinkles slowly nodded in agreement, even though their bodies were decades past their bending days. I imagine his name was Mzee Abdalah. And hours later, when Mzee Abdalah was finally done speaking, because a good methali must first marinate, besides, what else is there to do in that sweltering heat but talk? His compeers simply said, “Doh!Umenena kama wazee elfu!”

This saying recently came to mind when I encountered, shall we say, an interesting character. You see, even though I am a daughter of Nam Lolwe, the benevolent Swahili gods occasionally take pity on me, bringing to mind a methali that perfectly captures my current situation; which is quite generous, considering my people have allegedly so bastardized that language that in its final throes it simply gave up the ghost, surrendering to its new name, Oswahili.

Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us would gleefully jump at the chance to grab the mvunguni goodies if we could bypass the kuinama part. And it was under such circumstances that I encountered this man, let’s call him Mteche. You see, I had recently booked a flight with Kenya Airways, but because life whips you with a nyaunyo harder in these times of COVID, I had to cancel the flight. In the process of trying to get a hold of KQ on Twirra, this enterprising fellow saw a loophole and decided to exploit it. 

YouTube is laden with a cornucopia of videos on various flavors of scams, ranging from vintage 90s barrister-with-a-windfall left by a recently deceased relative you’ve never heard of, to the slightly more savvy 2010s call centers targeting senior and not-so-senior citizens, all the way up to the truly scary COVID era ones, those you never hear from, shadowy figures who thrive on identity theft, dissipating after the deed is done, leaving not even a wisp of their existence, save for a gaping hole where your bank account once struggled to find footing. 

And so when I encountered my very own scammer, my newly minted virtual diploma from YouTube scam-buster academy in hand, I decided to have some fun with it. Because in these days of COVID, we must spark our joy where it finds us, donge?

This enterprising fellow, Mteche, must have scoured the internet, seeking the best scam artistry education no money could buy. I imagine in a previous life, the barrister scam may have worked with modest success, earning him enough to buy a mandazi or two, and tea without milk. Seeing as he wanted some milk in his tea, he decided to enroll in slightly more advanced level II courses, which led him to  create a Twirra Account and handle mimicking the KQ logo and handle , complete with a business account on Whatsapp. His M.O was quite simple really. Search Twirra for a disgruntled customer, preferably one inquiring about their refund, promptly inbox said person, obtain their phone number, and that is where the fun and games began.

I imagine his heart was beating excitedly, the hunter in him sensing gullible prey ahead. But this daughter of Alego was also equally excited, ready to put her YouTube Scam-Buster Academy skills to use. As our venerable tutors on YouTube told us, the first step is always to get the victim to save the scammer’s number on their phone, and then direct the victim to a money transfer service. 

Mteche tried, several times, to get me to send him money through MPESA, Western Union,World Remit, a homing pigeon, a donkey, anything, to no avail. At some point, he got so frustrated and asked me if I could name relatives whose numbers could be used instead. I explained, in my most doleful voice, that I was born alone in this world, like a penguin hatched from an abandoned egg in the frigid gusts of Antarctica. He had no sympathy for this penguin, he had a job to do. So he tried something else, and this is where my YouTube Academy education came in handy. 

You see, the latest scam is to direct the victim to a money sending service and then coerce them to enter the scammer’s name as the recipient, and then, in the amount section, to enter what appear to be random numbers like 0008875, but in reality, those zeros don’t count. Once you select continue, you have just sent them 8,875 of whatever currency you typically transact in. I wrote all this information on a piece of paper, because YouTube Scam- Buster Academy graduates no fools.

Mteche: Have you entered the name and that number?

Me: Yes

Mteche: What does it say

Me: It says this is fraud

Long, awkward pause, followed by another pause

Me: Are you there?

Mteche: garbling noise

Me: You know, this scam where you ask people to enter a phone number in their phone book and then to enter many zeros followed by a number is a well known scam

Mteche: I’m not a scammer

Me: Why isn’t your account verified, if you are with KQ? Where is your little tick?

Mteche: They forgot

Me: Who are they?

Mteche: Twirra

Me: Ok, no problem, what’s your manager’s name (checks LinkedIn, no such names exist)

Mteche: Have you entered the number in your phone?

Me: Of course

Mteche, impatiently: I don’t see any money, can you check?

Me, rather dramatically, in the fashion of my people’s professional mourners: Mayo! You tricked me! My money! it’s gone!

Mteche, excitedly checking his phone: there’s no money here! Are you sure you entered the instructions in your phone?

Me: chortling

Mteche: Why are you laughing!

At this point, I was roaring with laughter, what people like to caption as “I’m dead” while still being very much alive.

The line went dead, I’m not sure why. 

I did of course send him a message to wish him a great day, I am after all, a lady, but I am also a lady from Alego, and we know our rights, so I let him know that I would be forwarding his numbers to various authorities(in his desperation to get me to send him money, he kept providing alternative phone numbers because he thought that the actual problem was one of his lines and not the fact that he was up against a YouTube Scam-Buster Academy graduate)

I don’t know if anything will come of my reports to Twirra, the real Kenya Airways  and the authorities, but in the meantime, should you encounter Mteche and his scam-mates, feel free to quote Mzee Abdalah. 

YOLO

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” so says the Good Book. This quote rang true as I sat courtside, proudly watching our son take his first basketball class. 

I am not athletic, well, not overtly so. Maybe deep, deep inside, in another life, I will be athletic. And by athletic I mean I have never participated in any competitive sports, unless you count the one time I showed up to basketball practice at an ungodly hour, and in the dim light of dawn, got whacked in the face by a flying basketball. It goes without saying that that ended any hopes I had of participating in that violent game. I mean, if something whacks you in the face once, it’s an accident. If it happens again, well, you know what W says about fool me once, or was it fool you once? He couldn’t figure it out either. Point is, someone got fooled and it ended badly. 

I don’t own any athletic medals, not even the sympathy ones I’m told they give people just for showing up, to massage their bruised egos; this scam ensures that the hapless optimists keep paying to take classes for something they have no hope of ever being even mediocre at. Also, they award these medals so the disappointed participants don’t go home wailing like they are at a Luo funeral where the food and alcohol have run out, which, as you can imagine, is very bad for business. 

Imagine walking into a building to enroll in a sport only to be met by an exodus of wailing faces, you would be forgiven for thinking that a nyaunyo wielding Kenyan policeman runs the show, at which point anyone would understand why you hightailed it out of there, in the style of our Jamaican brethren.

I digress. We enrolled our son in basketball. We rolled up to the court, meeting a family of three first timers on our way in. We were a flurry of first timers, if you will, or maybe a school? I don’t know, the point is, there were many of us. As we entered the building, with its massive courts and spotless, shiny floors, we watched as some older kids practiced, their coordinated movements proof that they were not likely to end up in the sympathy medal crew. (SMC)

Classes started, the coach guiding the kids through handling, dribbling and passing the ball. Our son scored right away, beginner’s luck boosting his confidence and giving me hope that his face would not be meeting the business end of a basketball on his first try. About ten minutes into the hour-long class, one of the kids, who had been curiously watching the coach and the gaggle of budding basketballers, slowly started to step away from the court, moonwalk style. He did it so stealthily that, had he not been in my immediate line of sight, I would not have noticed this stealth-mode escape in action. The kid may have a future in clandestine operations.

You see, in the spirit of living his best life, he decided that he had given the game of basketball a fair shake, and seeing as YOLO, he proceeded to lay down on the spotless floor and snuggle a basketball. Now there’s an untapped market- snuggle ball, send me royalties when that idea blows up and makes you bazillions, will ya? The YOLO boy’s siesta persisted through the cacophony of dribbling basketballs, sneaker soles squeaking on the shiny floor, the occasional meltdown when scores were missed, and high fives when scores were made. He woke up just as the final whistle blew, made a beeline for the bleachers and left with his parents without so much as a backward glance.