Monday, September 24, 2012

A Traveler and a Walking ATM

Arriving in Chincha, Perú after being away for four years, I noticed a Black man, washing someone's car for a small fee, and felt motivated to tip him some money even though I don't drive. His name is Javier, and in my heart, I felt better giving him money than your average panhandler because he is willing to do something for something and not just receive something for nothing. In Perú, job opportunities are much more limited to Blacks and indigenous people than in the US. After running into Javier a couple of days later, I hired him to be my guide; not for anything touristy because, in my opinion, you get a real sense of the country's people and language in the communities--the barrios. Juan, an Afro-Venezuelan friend said it so well, “the barrio (the hood) is where the real culture is.”

However, as a tradeoff for getting closer to the real people in the countries I visit, especially poor countries, people tend to assume that I'm a walking automatic teller machine simply because I'm from the United States of America. One lady with whom I established a very good rapport, showed me her gas and electric bill asking for help. My goddaughter's aunt invited me over to her home only to beg me for Christmas money for her children. One day in the central plaza of town, I was on the park bench chatting with a local citizen, and a passerby spotted me as a tourist and hit on me for some change. Now, mind you, this is an area of Perú with a relatively large Black population. How did he single me out as a tourist? I asked Javier ¿te parece como turista (hey man, do I look like a tourist). Javier just chuckled, and simply said, ¡claro (for sure)!

In any event, Javier himself, slowly but surely began to frequently come on strong. One day we met up with each other to hang out and he pointed to his raggedy shoes telling how they were falling apart and asked for money to buy new ones. Almost every single time I would see him, he'd ask me for money. When I returned to the US, he'd send e-mails, one after another, and the correspondence was never one of friendship; it was strictly about the benjamins. I'd send him $20 here and $20 there, and he'd write back and ask for more.

Finally, I decided to avoid him by putting him in my spam folder. He then sent me an e-mail using a different e-mail address. Soon, he sent me a friend invitation on Facebook, then LinkedIn, and later some other social media forum. It took a couple of years to finally get him off of my trail. Even during my subsequent returns to Perú, I never ran into Javier.

Fortunately, most of the friends I've met during my travels are much more respectable. I thoroughly enjoy spending money for good causes, especially if it is helping someone truly less fortunate than I. I've bought families and friends groceries, and paid their transportation to beach resorts, and took them to restaurants afterwards. I cheerfully send money to families while at home in the US. However, I do have my limits, and my being a walking ATM is one of them.