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Friday, November 15, 2013

Pssst, A Gringo is Paying!


Polla a la Brasa


While on vacation in Ecuador, I made an appointment to meet with an Afro-Ecuadorian Studies Consultant at the Simón Bolívar University of the Andes in Quito, the nation's capital. I offered to take him to lunch to show my appreciation for the black on black cultural exchange. 

Well, his girlfriend popped in about 15 minutes before our scheduled lunch. Not a problem! We hugged and continued to chat. A nutritious, filling lunch in Ecuador is as little as $2.00. When I told the couple that I’m paying, they both chuckled as though this was expected. After all, I’m the “gringo” here.

In addition to Ecuador, I've been to eight other Latin American countries. If there is one attitude that so many people throughout Latin American have in common is that they view every North American and European as always having their pockets bulging with money. 

A retired police officer living in Ecuador explains that over many years, he and his wife would have a night out with a group whom they have invited. Word gets around that a gringo is paying, and invite other friends to join them. They normally don’t show up at the beginning of the night, but straggle in without having any qualms about joining the party. It would have been considered bad manners to turn them down; thus, he and his wife felt put on the spot, and wound up spending considerably more money than initially planned.

With my repeated trips to Perú, people got to know me better, and felt bolder in treating me like a walking ATM. When I first arrived in Chincha, the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture, I approached a black guy working in one of the shops to get some directions. When he heard my foreign accent, he became gleeful as it was evident that I am a gringo. He immediately stopped what he was doing, took a self-appointed break from his job, and said, ¡Vamos, un moreno tiene que ayudar un moreno (come on, man; a brotha gotta help a brotha out)!

He took about 30 minutes of his time to show me around. Out of appreciation for his hospitality, I invited him for a delicious seafood lunch, and towards the end of our little tour, he asked me for some money. I reached in my pocket and handed him 10 nueva soles (Peruvian dollars), and we parted ways.

On another occasion, I invited my nine-year-old Afro-Peruvian goddaughter and her older sister out to a local restaurant. Her uncle instinctively tagged along for a free meal, so I had to (reluctantly) include him in the dining bill. The older sister mysteriously disappeared and returned with four more of her family members. 

Like the retired police officer, I felt put on the spot. If I had had more cash on my person at the time, or if this particular restaurant accepted Visa or Mastercard, or at least had an ATM; I too would have fallen for that blatant manipulation. 

Instead, the four other family members simply had to be left hanging. My goddaughter felt let down and disappointed. The older sister was absolutely appalled. I later pulled her aside and explained to her that I am not one of those rich Americans; I live on a budget, and unfortunately, I don’t have the money to be spending on everyone in Perú on her whim or mine.

I thoroughly enjoy interacting with Spanish-speaking members of the African diaspora, and have even established family-like relationships with free room and board, such as the occasion when I got very sick on one of my trips, and two different families looked after me and nursed me back to health so I can continue my travels. 

As a general rule, however, no matter how well I connect with the people,  the indisputable fact still stands… I’m a gringo with a pocket full of money first, a “brotha” second.