Most people probably just get pissed and feel sorry for themselves when they find out their 58-year-old Danish soulmate is a 24-year-old Nigerian 419 scammer but one super cool woman in Sweden opted instead to help put the guy through university so he could change his scamming ways.
The BBC tells the story of Maria Grette, 62 at the time and divorced, who struck up a relationship with her ideal man – “Johnny” – through a dating site.
“Johnny” was “a Dane raised in South Carolina, USA; a civil engineer working on a contract in England; a widower with a son in a Manchester University.”
They fell in love, then, as is too often the case, things turned out to be not quite was they seemed.
Long story short:
After three months of communicating, the man agreed to come over and visit her in Sweden. But before that, he and his son needed to make a quick trip to Nigeria for a job interview, he said.
Johnny called to let her know that he was at Heathrow Airport. And to say that he had landed in Nigeria. He also got her to speak with Nick.
The next phone call was to tell her that he was in a Lagos hospital. They had been mugged, his son shot in the head, and they were without money and papers. Unfortunately, his bank did not have a branch in Africa, he added, so it would take time to transfer money from his UK account. Meanwhile, the hospital management was requesting €1000 to proceed with treatment.
“The bank does not have a location in Africa, so it will take time to get money and the management are requesting 1000 euros to proceed with treatment. Nick is all I have got and I will not forgive myself if anything happens to him. I am confused, and I do not know where to turn at the moment……”
Grette told the BBC, “I will never forget how I rushed to the Western Union office, trembling while I did the transfer. All I could think of was to get the two persons in Nigeria out of danger.”
Of course “medical complications” ensued and so did requests for more money. Grette finally, after sending “several thousands of euro,” came to her senses and stopped responding to “Johnny’s” messages.
But then things took a twist. A few weeks later, he called her and confessed to being a 419 scammer. He called himself the “devil” and said he had wronged a “lovely woman.” He said he’d fallen for her. He stopped asking for money. So…she travelled to Nigeria to meet him and they became friends.
Now comes the best part, after meeting his fellow scammer friends, she started to wonder how she could help.
“I asked myself what I could do to prevent a situation where healthy, good young men fall into this trap.’”
In the six years since she has been arranging for African artists to visit Europe for exhibitions, workshops, conferences and competitions. She’s helped them source grants and other funding, and she’s visited Uganda to give art talks.
Also, she helped “Johnny” put himself through university in the USA, and he now works in the American oil sector.
OK, I was having a bit of a self pity party this week and then this story reminded me that everyone gets to decide how we’re going to react to life and what kind of person we’re going to be.
Ninety per cent of people would not have reacted the way Grette did. I hope that of I’m ever faced with something similar I have the grace to behave in a similar fashion.
Grette, now 69, told the BBC, “Johnny has given me more than he took. Without him, I would not have met Africa.”