Three months in and we’ve been exposed to a host of things Peruvian – ceviche (cubed, raw fish ‘cooked’ in lemon), a wedding (2 hour church service, 11pm-4am reception complete with funny hats and masks at 2am), a birthday party (a groaning outdoor buffet table, skewered beef hearts, a musician playing a wooden box and everyone pretending not to freeze), a baptism (for a 5 and 7 year old), and Haydée is in need of a loan.
So there we were seated around the table with Haydée explaining that hospital bills for her (since deceased) daughter had piled up prior to our arrival, money had been borrowed and now needed to be paid back otherwise they would lose their house … so could we oblige by Monday (it was Friday).
Our reticence seemed downright peculiar to her. We had so much she politely pointed out. Point taken.
We tossed up whether to A) give her the money, or B) not give her the money and never be able to look her in the eye again, C) pretend it never happened - err no, scratch C.
Peruvian colleagues advised that option B was the only response otherwise we’d be opening the gate to a stream of requests. Instead we went for A, gave the US$500 and explained that it was a once only deal. No more official loan demands came although there were lots of thinly disguised hints – “$200 fell out of my skirt on the way to the bank”, “My cousin stole my money from my purse when I visited him in the jungle”, “my husband lost his job”, “my son just found out he has a baby”. Regardless, she managed to keep her house and a year later announced that they were building a new one.
Months later, the driver requested a few hundred to buy school books for his children, and we yielded. The appointed pay-back day – 2 months hence – came and went. After 6 months we asked and he nonchalantly advised that he would pay up the following month.
Much to his surprise we rejected his subsequent request for US$4000 to finance his bid for a share in a school canteen, “a sure fire, money-making machine”, he insisted. When quizzed why us and not the bank he cheerfully explained “because banks charge interest!” A year down the track when asked how the canteen is coming along, he revealed that his cousin was going down the tubes because of it, and somewhat gleefully congratulated himself on not joining him.