One of the convenient things about being a U.S. citizen, living in
Ecuador, is that you never have to worry about monetary exchange rates. Ecuador is the only country in South America that uses the U.S. dollar as their national currency. This happened at the turn of the century when the Ecuadorian economy hit rock bottom, leaving the value of their own money (the sucre) as practically void of any value.
Although the transition from the sucre to the dollar was painful, especially those in poor communities, the country was able to stabilize its economic situation. It is also interesting to see how Ecuadorian citizens use their “dollars” differently than in the U.S. It seems that the U.S. must have donated some of their old Susan B. Anthony dollar coins to Ecuador. There are also a lot of dollar coins with the Sacagawea image that are used here. I have never seen so many of these coins in the U.S. as I see used here. However, it makes more sense culturally, since it reflects the indigenous culture here where women still carry their babies around in slings on their backs.
It makes sense that these coins are especially used by those in the lower economic strata. For these citizens and entrepreneurial business people with small businesses, cash is king. Having a bank account is a mark of luxury. Very few have credit cards or handle checks of any kind.
One prime example is the lady who cares for our sons while I’m teaching. Her name is Marina Hernandez. She’s in her late 50’s and she’s never had a bank account in her life.
“I need $100 to start a bank account,” she told me once. “I just don’t have that kind of money.”
Therefore, I must pay her in cash. Her payday is on Friday. One particular Friday, I found that I did not have change. I had a $20, but I needed to break it down to give Marina a $10 bill to go with the rest of her pay. So, I put Jared and Luke in a stroller and took off down the street near our home.
I stopped at a pharmacy to buy something. They didn’t have change, so I used the last few coins in my wallet and continued on to another store. I stopped at a corner bakery and tried to buy a few bread rolls that were less than $2 total. When I presented my $20, the lady shook her head. She had no change. I was about to leave the store without buying the bread, when she said something that shocked me.
“Oh, that’s O.K. Just take the bread. You can pay me back later.”
When I asked her if she was sure about that, she said, “Oh, I know you’ll be coming back. Just pay me the next time you are here.”
Well, I left the store feeling a little amazed at her trust, but still needing to get some change. So, I stopped at another street vendor to buy two pints of strawberries that were worth $2. The lady also gave me the same response.
She said she had no change, but I could pay her back later. Wow, at this rate, I’m going to be owing everyone money all the way down the street!
Finally, I came to a little stationary store and bought a ball for Jared and a few other items. The purchase was going to be about $5. I pulled out my $20, and to my dismay, the lady said she had no change.
However, she looked to a customer who was purchasing something behind me and managed to get the change I needed, from him, to give to me.
Finally, I had my change. I was able to go back and pay everyone else that I owed money to, and get back home to give the $10 to Marina. I had learned two valuable lessons that day. First, street vendors are very trusting and generous to their regular customers. Second, never leave the house without some loose change handy!