The Baby Milk Scam

Yes, I got scammed. I knew I was getting scammed, but I… err… WE couldn’t see how it was going to play out.
I should mention that the “we” included my roomate for the trip, Matt Cowan.
We met a very personable young Cuban early one morning. He spoke enough broken english to explain that he had a young child at home and needed milk for the baby. We’ve all heard that story before, but this one came with a twist. I handed the Cuban a three CUC bill (it was the smallest I had). To my amazement, he handed it back to me. I insisted that he take the money and he again refused it. (this, ladies and gentlemen, is called the “hook”).
The Cuban explained that money was of no use to him because he had no ration coupon to accompany the purchase. But, if I really wanted to help, I could purchase the milk myself and give it to him. As a tourist, I could make one purchase in the government store and it would be considered a souvenier. (I’m sure the baby would be eternally greatful).
I checked with Matt and we agreed to follow the Cuban to the store. We walked several blocks with many left and right turns. Matt and I never felt threatened and we joked the whole way wondering how the scam (or not) was going to play out. We did see some interestng neighborhoods. When we finally arrived at the “store” ( it was really only a small, in-house stand) the cuban and the owner had a short animated conversation, padlocks were unlocked and the “store” was opened. My Cuban friend told me in a whisper that I had to ask for the milk. Okay … “one ration of powdered milk please” I said.
I quickly learned that one ration of powdered milk consists of seven one liter bags of powder that all fit into one standard Walmart sized plastic shopping bag. I asked the store owner how much, he got his official calculator out, punched in some numbers and came up with the grand total of 43.25 CUC. Ok, I’m slow, but this is where the light bulb went on … finally. I turned to Matt to tell him the amount and there’s my Cuban friend running out of sight, with the milk of course.
Now I have to deal with the owner. I insist there is now way I’m paying 43.25 CUC. (I really don’t know what ground I have to stand on but ….) After a few monments the official calculator came back out, more numbers get punched in, and the new total is 23.50 CUC. He “blinked” and I then knew we were going to be ok. I said to Matt ” I’m going to throw him a twenty and we’re leaving”. In my best John Wayne, I flipped the money on the counter and we never looked back.
Matt and I laughed all the way back to the hotel. Of course the story I told at breakfast that morning was that I was merely teaching Matt, first hand, how the baby milk scam worked. Everyone laughed and it only cost me twenty CUC. Which, by the way, was cheaper than my laundry bill at the fancy schmancy hotel in Trinidad. But that’s another story.

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