The main square of El Carmen, Perú
My trip to El Carmen, Perú, one of the areas of the country where former slaves settled after emancipation, was only my second trip to an Afro-Latino community behind Havana, Cuba.
There, a three-year-old wandered into the living room from next door. She sweetly told me that her name is Daniela. Immediately, I felt a deep, strong, paternal connection with a girl who appeared to be the daughter I never had. Her mother was deeply touched to see the ecstasy in my eyes when Daniela, then age 7, and I hugged each other so tightly that we both seemed to melt into each other's arms.
Daniela and I chilling out in Chincha Alta, Perú
Although Daniela declined to let me teach her English, I read children's stories to her in Spanish, taught her to tell time, and play chess, Scrabble, and Monopoly. I even bought her a bicycle, per her request. While here in the USA, I would call her once or twice a month and wire money to her mother and grandmother.
Finally, I began to notice a marked change in Daniela's demeanor over the phone. The closeness I once felt seemed faded. I told myself that I will see what this is all about when I return to Perú on vacation.
Sure enough, upon my return, her demeanor was consistent with that which she displayed over the phone—one of polite distance. Obviously, somebody pulled her aside for a heart-to-heart talk making her understand that I am “not” family, only a gringo with money to give away, and that she needed to withdraw from the bond that she and I developed.
A popular soul food (comida criolla) restaurant in El Carmen, Perú
Having grown up in New York City, and traveled to more than 150 cities on three continents, I know a hustle when I see one and was caught off guard to experience it from a nine-year-old with whom I had supposedly bonded. Because of the soft spot I have for her, which her family knows all too well, I complied with most of her requests.
Today, Daniela, now 14, her mother, and other family members friended me on Facebook as they subtly and not so subtly ask for money. I've grown to the point where I stopped responding to their Facebook inbox messages, and yes, even Daniela's.
Despite the spoiling that Daniela received from adult members of her family, I will always keep the fond, joyous memories of our beautiful father-daughter relationship we had in the beginning. That is the Daniela that I know and will always love.