Friday, June 26, 2009
The Great Divide, or Dollars versus Soles
Maybe this isn´t PC, but . . . Sometimes I get so tired of hearing how I am a millionaire because I am from the states, because I am a gringo, because of the difference between soles and dollars. I know I have more than many of the local people here, I know that the sole is worth three times what the dollar is worth. I know my money goes farther, and I am priveleged and advantaged in comparison to many, but I am tired of hearing about it. Last night I ran into an old friend (more or less) at a street sandwich shop, who asked to borrow a sole so he could pay for his sandwich (which begs the question of, why would you order a sandwich you couldn´t afford?) and then proceeded to lecture me about soles versus dollars (as if I don´t know, I live here...) and told me I was a millionaire, blah blah blah. Then, we were walking his stumbling, bumbling drunk friend home, and I said I would pay for a taxi. I gave his friend the soles for the taxi, but we all ended up getting in together. When we got to his house and got out of the taxi, Drunk Friend proceeded to stumble off without paying. Where are the three soles I gave you? I asked him. No importa. Don´t worry about it, he says. Um, hello. That wasn´t a gift. That was taxi money. And he pocketed it. And I know this is petty in comparison with the poverty here, but it´s the principle. I didn´t have to give him the soles for the taxi. He could have walked his own drunk ass home. At this point, Old Friend paid for the taxi. Which begs the question of, why did you need my sole at the sandwich shop? Was he just seeing if he could get it? Drunk Friend stumbles into his house, and Old Friend touches me, says, I´m sorry, he is my friend, my best friend, I can´t cambio el, he tells me. Do you intiendes? Yes, I intiendo, I´m just over it. I am also thinking maybe you should find a new best friend. Don´t worry baby, he says in exaggerated English, five distinct syllables, a smooth tv-show line. I try not to laugh at him. I´m not very successful. His English, incidentally, has improved since the last time I saw him. We are walking now, on cold and quiet Cusco streets, and I tell him, me aburre (I am bored) with being called a millionaire, with all of the assumptions and judgements about my wallet and my lifestyle. I am heated, because apparently most situations involving drunken Peruvian men make me heated, and he apologizes again for his friend. Asks me if I understand. I do, I get it, his friend is stumble-drunk and poor and envious of gringo priveleges and finances. Poverty is overwhelming here, I know this, but I don´t always feel overwhelmed by it. Is this bad? What does this make me? Does this mean I am closing my eyes, choosing ignorance and bliss? I feel accustomed to the poverty here, but does this make me cold or apathetic? Poverty and quality of life are not always related. Cusco has shown me that. Of course, getting your basic needs met is important to survival and comfort, and of course we all want more money than we have. I am not trying to downplay the poverty that exists here. I feel like this cold priveleged gring (as Jenna calls us,) but I am tired of people only seeing my wallet or whatever pre-conceived notions they have about what they think is in there. I am from the states, the dollar is worth more than the sole, I have more priveleges than you do. If you are my friend, and you are Peruvian and eat at 3 sole menus, there is no way I am going to ask you out to eat at Jack´s (relatively swanky tourist place) without offering to pay. I am not going to intentionally flaunt what I have and, therefore, what you don´t. All I am asking is, until I am insensitive about money issues, don´t treat me like some rich bitch from the states who isn´t sensitive to the financial divide.