You’ve been warned that when something sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t true. But this proven system will work for anyone.
Follow my five-step system and you will discover just how easy it is to get robbed.
- Get a bunch of cash from an ATM and put it in your wallet
- Invite a stranger into your house
- Place your wallet out in the open
- Leave the stranger alone with your wallet for a few seconds
- Give the stranger a banana and send him on his way
The other day I was expecting a house guest — my first in Madagascar. I tidied up the house and got my guest room ready. But I was out of cooking gas. This anticipated guest, she offered to cook, and didn’t want anything keeping that from happening.
I strapped my gas bottle to my bike rack and prepared to head to a local propane dealer: A store called Jovenna—the 7-11 of Madagascar.
A neighbor kid came up and asked me if I was really going to ride my bike like that.
He seemed skeptical that I could actually do it. He suggested instead that I buy the propane from his uncle, just around the corner. I told him I knew of the store, but it was closed that day.
1. Get a bunch of cash from an ATM and put it in your wallet
I did a couple of errands, including withdrawing 200,000 Ariary ($77 US) from an ATM. Then I returned home just as it started to rain.
I closed the gate behind me and started opening the door to my place when I heard the gate buzzer.
Ah!, I think, It’s my guest. Don’t want to keep her waiting in the rain.
So I went to the gate and opened it and instead of my guest, it’s… some dude.
I figured he was here to see one of my neighbors, so I just let him in the gate.
He started talking to me in Malagasy. I tried to talk to him in French. We were getting nowhere, but we were getting wet from the rain. I thought he mentioned something about gaz — gas! The neighbor kid must have told his uncle I needed to buy some gas.
I explained, in French, that I just bought some gas. Sorry, pal. Maybe next time.
2. Invite a stranger into your house
He didn’t understand. I motioned that he should follow me to my house so I could try to explain inside sheltered from the rain.
He eagerly helped to remove the gas bottle from my bike, which was my first oh shit moment. Maybe this guy isn’t the uncle. Maybe he’s just some dude who thinks a vazaha (foreigner or white man) would pay for a little help with a heavy gas bottle, in spite of the fact that the vazaha clearly was managing well on his own — bike and everything.
But he was in my house by then, and still not understanding a word that I was saying.
I carried the gas bottle into the house by myself, saying, “Thanks, but I’m good.” He continued saying things to me too, and I continued making no sense of it.
I tried to tell him that he was welcome to wait until the rain let up, but I didn’t need anything. I was thinking that I would just go about my own self-sufficient business and he would eventually say veloma and leave.
About this time was when I noticed the smell of alcohol on the guy.
I carried the gas bottle into my kitchen and put it in place under the counter. There was plastic shrink-wrap around the nipple of the bottle, so I reached into my pocket for my Leatherman knife. But, as usual, my wallet was in the way.
3. Place your wallet out in the open
So I removed my wallet and put it on my kitchen counter. I hooked up the bottle, and then I began wash the vegetables I had just bought.
The dude meandered into the kitchen and I started to wonder if I would have to get more assertive with this guy to get him to leave. But before I did that, I thought I might try see if my landlady could talk to this guy and find out what he wants.
4. Leave the stranger alone with your wallet for a few seconds
My landlady lives in the apartment directly above me. I went to my front door and contemplated ringing her doorbell, and standing in the rain until she either answered or until I determined that she wasn’t home. The dude in my kitchen was out of my site for maybe 10 seconds.
Instead I came back in the house and called my landlady on her cell phone.
In French: “There’s a dude in my house, and I don’t know what he wants. Can you talk to him?”
She agreed. I put my phone in his hand, and he talked to her for a less than a minute.
When he handed the phone back to me, he still… didn’t… freakin’… leave!
5. Give the stranger a banana and send him on his way
So I thought, maybe there’s some culturally appropriate way of letting this guy save face before I throw him out. I offered him some bananas. He said yes. I started to break off two, and he stopped me and said he only wanted one.
He smiled and went on his way.
With my wallet.
I don’t actually think this guy intended to rob me. I think he just wanted to hit up a vazaha for some beer money, and suddenly found himself alone with a whole bunch of beer money—about $50 in Madagascar money plus a couple of debit cards, a credit card, and an Arizona driver license.
And my house guest? She texted me and said she’d instead be spending the night in a medical unit on account of “mad poops.”
It took me until the next day to realize my wallet was missing. It took me another day to conclude that it wasn’t just misplaced somewhere in the house — after about five absurdly thorough searches.
I was also told that in Malagasy culture, “If you offer a man a banana, it means you want to suck his dick.” A Peace Corps Volunteer told me this. I’m not sure I believe it. If I were into that sort of thing, it would seem too good to be true.
6. (Optional) Report the theft to the police
This step isn’t very easy. It takes a long time and there’s a lot of paperwork. But it’s necessary to make a claim for reimbursement. I will be getting my $50 back.
I don’t recommend this step for everyone.
But if you like goats, it’s a rather pleasant experience.