I would like to issue a word of caution to individuals travelling in Kathmandu (and particularly Thamel): DO NOT BUY THE MILK FOR THE MOTHER AND HER SCREAMING CHILD. This advice seems to be counterintuitive, if not cruel. And it is. When you see another human being who is asking for food to feed their infant, to say no is to repress your own sense of humanity. Repress it.
On one of the first days that I arrived in Kathmandu, while I was walking to a coffee shop to hopefully link up to some decent Wi-Fi and continue to work on the Care Women Nepal website, a woman in distress with a crying infant approached me. She explained to me in broken but comprehensible English that her child was hungry and in need of milk. She did not once ask for money, only that I follow her into a nearby shop to purchase some milk for the child. Generally, when people in need approach me on the street asking for money I feel conflicted. On the one hand, I want to help, but on the other I cannot be sure of what they will use the money for. I have a rule that whenever someone approaches me asking for food, if I can help them, I will.
I followed the women into the shop and she went into the back of the store. She came back carrying a box of milk priced at 2300 NPR (23 US dollars). I was shocked by the price of the milk… I asked why it was so expensive. She responded by saying that she needed this specific type of powdered milk for her infant, and that the milk had to be imported from Australia. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, but still felt as if the whole interaction between me, her and the store owner was oddly contrived. I suppressed this uneasiness and still bought her the milk at the price of 23USD (which in retrospect seems insane)! After having left the women (who was profusely grateful), I finally found a Wi-Fi zone and decided to check if what my intuition was telling me about the events that had just transpired was correct.
The so dubbed “milk scam” is apparently very common in India and Nepal. An individual will approach you (usually a woman) asking you to purchase milk to feed their child. They will then take you into a shop where the price of milk has been artificially elevated and the store owner is in on the scam. Once you have purchased the milk, they will thank you profusely. Once you have left, they will return the milk to the store owner, and collect a proportion of the exorbitant amount of money that the naïve foreigner has spent trying to be a decent human being.
I generally consider myself to be a savvy traveler, always researching the prices that I should pay for cabs, hotels and an average meal, and bargaining with store owners to pay a reasonable price for goods/services. I have mixed feelings about having been duped. On the one hand, I hope that the women will make use of the money to improve her situation in some small way. Having said that, my ego has also been wounded because I know that I have been fooled! At the end of the day, I chalk this experience up to a lesson. Trust your gut. Always. If something feels like a scam it probably is. This can be hard to do when regardless of your intuition, you want to trust someone and help them escape a desperate situation. Sometimes the knowledge that comes from a mistake is costly, but hey, I won’t be buying the milk again!
अर्को पटक सम्म
Posted By Rachel Petit (Nepal)
Posted Jun 1st, 2017