"He really did look upset," she said. "He really was just crying and crying. I gave him 10,000 cfa and hoped that he was lying."
On the one hand, the high-road hand, you give some money and hope, I guess, that you're being had. That there's no dead son, just a good actor, making his rounds through a rich neighborhood, to whom you gave the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you don't start thinking about how that sure seems like a lot of money to ship a body home. Or that, even if it is a reasonable amount, and even if it's a true story, it's not the best use of your money (you could feed 30 streetboys for three days with 10,000 cfa).
Dakar, Senegal, is a scammer zone. Now that my aura of newness has worn away, I don't see them anymore. But when I first arrived, despite what I thought was a foolproof, traveled-the-world-and-have-seen-it-all visage, I was swindled in 15 minutes by a man, Amadee, to whom I gave 30,000 cfa ($70), basically because he asked me to. And then within seconds he disappeared into a crowded street while I "waited" for him on said street. I spent about five minutes reviewing whether the French words I had learned thus far (My name is Linda. I live in Virage. I am fine, thank you) could in any way be combined ask anyone for help. And who would they be? And what would they possibly do for me? Then I went home.
What's so sad to me, even still, is that I had thought Amadee and I were going to be friends. He was a musician, he spoke English, and he seemed cool although, looking back, he definitely did a few odd things. I looked for Amadee on the street for months (he is graying and missing one front tooth) before finally forgiving him and more or less laughing it off. But it did not feel very Buddha-like. It did not feel like generosity. It was humiliating. The idea that one might consistently give people the benefit of the doubt here, well, it's not a reasoable approach. Which leaves you somewhat coldly assessing the story of a man bawling on your porch.
In the past few years I have taken to never lying for my own convenience. (I will sometimes, if pressed, still under-guess a person's age.) But if I have an appointment scheduled and I can't find a way to cancel it with integrity, I make myself go. I remember one hike I was reeeaaallly dreading, I went on about it for two days, I could say this, I could say that, but all my excuses were either misleading or just not true. (The truth was, I didn't like this person and didn't want to spend 90 minutes with her.) Then the morning of the hike, she sent me an email which said, "Not gonna make it for today. I'm sorry." Voila! No lie, no explanation. A lesson learned.
Lies are never harmless. If nothing else they erode the public trust. When you live in a place where scammers abound, that truth becomes very obvious very quickly. Although it does provide the unexpected comfort of leaving us to hope that some sad stories aren't true.
Update April 19th: General consensus seems to be, it was a highly unlikely scenario and almost definitely a scam.