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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gift Giving While Traveling

Street in El Carmen
El Carmen, Perú
They say be aware of strangers bearing gifts. What about strangers being aware of to whom they give gifts?
It was October 2005, when I made my first trip to Perú. I was staying in an impoverished, but tranquil, District of El Carmen, a predominately black community to immerse myself in the language and the culture. As in most of my travels, I brought gifts, such as pens, writing tablets, clothing, post cards, and electronic gadgets that I didn't need.

The first weird gift-giving experience occurred when I stopped by the home of a family where I already established rapport. I brought them electronic gadgets and some stationary supplies for the children who were asleep at the time. When I told the children the next morning, they told me that they “never” received the gifts, and they reminded me repeatedly about those gifts. I was not in the mood to confront the mother; I just felt she would get around to giving it to them eventually. I also gave away Luther Vandross and Tupac Shakur t-shirts to some friends I met, and those items, too, disappeared.

When I returned home to the U.S., I discussed my gift-giving escapades with Joe, a Peruvian-American who laughed hysterically and told me that in impoverished areas like that those items I gave as gifts were most likely sold. ”Those people are about the benjamins, moron,” Joe concluded. Although, I took his words with a grain of salt, they remained in the back of my mind during future trips, such as the time I taught a young girl to tell time, then bought her a clock. That clock, too, disappeared.

However, on my last trip, I bought this same little girl, per her request, a brand new bicycle of which she seemed to enjoy.. Joe's words crept back into my mind about the possibility of it being sold. Sure enough, when I returned to Perú the following year, the bicycle was no where around. When I asked about it, I heard a lot of vague reasons. The final last straw was when I bought the best quality fresh fish for several families. The next day, I saw one woman walking down the street with the fish chopped in pieces trying to sell it. Finally, lesson learned

I still love El Carmen, Perú. I get free rent where I stay and am treated like family. The experience helps my Spanish and helps me relate to Spanish-speaking clients at work. Overall, the money that I spend is relatively a cheap, inexpensive, and fun way to get the language and cultural immersion that I need to help me professionally, and perhaps, end up with an even better job in the future because of this ezperience..