Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Cutural Imperialism.

A couple of weeks ago there was a tapping on the hull. I went up to see who it was, it was a young local lad in his cayuco. In broken English/Spanish we ascertained that he was looking for work on the boat.

Normally we make it a practice not to use itinerant labour, certainly without a reference from another yachtie but we told him we were leaving that anchorage shortly, he could come in a couple of weeks and we'd give him a job.

So we returned here and Ricardo found us a couple of days ago. TBH set him to cleaning the hull. A test of anyone's stamina. We agreed a price, less than he asked for but with the promise of extra if he did a good job...

Ricardo set to with a willing attitude, it was an extremely hot day and he was feeling the heat. That was a bit consoling to us as we sometimes feel a bit feeble in our intolerance of the high temperatures here. We chatted a bit, so far as the languages allowed. He said he taught reading and writing at Casa Guatemala and it was the holidays so he needed more work. Come lunchtime he disappeared, to get a meal we assumed. Time passed and he failed to return. Ah well we thought, we haven't paid him so maybe he's unwell.

Next morning up he pops, his eight week old daughter was 'malo' (ill) and he had stayed with her. Fair enough we thought and again he set to. Did a magnificent job on the hull, she looks as good as new!

By mid afternoon the heat was fierce and we paid him for the work he'd done, and indicated that was enough for the day, he could come back early in the morning before it got too hot.

So yesterday he arrives at 7.30am. Apologizing for something that frankly I couldn't understand. He says he's hungry would I feed him, he would pay...

It's difficult walking the tightrope of cultural differences I find. On one hand I try to remain uncynical, despite a couple of unpleasant rip-offs in past, and yet on the other hand nobody wants to be taken for a ride. I cannot imagine what his life is like. I believe he paddles for at least an hour to reach us, has dreams of becoming an engineer or computer operator, a wife, a small sick child.

There is a huge desire to help him BUT I have seen too much cultural imperialism to be comfortable with that. My decision is to pay a realistic wage for a good job, I hope that way to help him maintain his own esteem and dignity and not to see the 'rico' gringos as an easy touch. That does neither of us any favours.

As TBH so accurately predicted, damn him, travel is, at its finest, an unsettling experience. An opening of doors in your own mind that in many ways are so much more comfortable left shut. Yet once walked through there is no return.

So I wrestle with my thoughts, confused between my head and heart, touched by the culture.

I have been reading a book,; The White Man's Burden by William Easterly. It talks about why the West's efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. It's a difficult read but sobering in it's condemnation of the arrogance that has in so many ways sentenced large populations to continued struggling in poverty and misery. He comes up with no answers but certainly stimulates his readers to ask many more questions.

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