The Economics of Letting Your Coffee Get Cold

I had every intention to learn a little bit more about the effects of mal-appropriated economic distribution in the world of international development, but another coffee patron interrupted my studies when she introduced herself just inches away from my face.

During my last full day in San Pedro for awhile, I went to get some coffee and to read one of my nerdy books. I’ve been re-reading “Economics in One Lesson” in preparation for my fellowship in the Dominican Republic and I had just opened it to my bookmarked chapter when Angelica crawled up on the chair next to me.

“Como te llamas?”

“Me nombre es Aaron, y tu?”

“Angelica”

“Angelica? Una nombre bonita.”

“Si, queires jugar un juego?”

“Ummm . . . (I guess I’m not going to read anything this afternoon) . . . si!”

She put her finger up to her mouth to pause and to ponder what game we would play. She announced one, and then uttered “No, that’s too difficult.” Then another, “Mmm, no that’s too difficult . . . oh, I know, we’ll play this . . .”

She motions for me to put my hands out and proceeds to sing the instructions to a game as she moves her hands in the appropriate positions. She stops and looks at me and says “Follow me!”

I stick out my hands and mirror what she is doing. It’s one of those games that kids play in school where they put their hands out in the air and the other person is supposed to mirror the movements and slap the other person’s hands at the correct times.

“Peekachu, arriba” (up)

“Peekachu, bajo” (down)

“Peekachu. Este lado.” (this side)

“Peekachu. Otro lado. (other side)

At this point I’m just laughing out loud. This darling of a 5 year old has completely captivated my attention and is depriving me of economic theory and warm coffee. She’s quite demanding and says “Hey!” as I look away.

So after we put both our hands on our shoulders, we put our hands behind our back. I still don’t know what game we are playing, but when she brings out her right hand with two fingers holding up, I’m thinking we are playing a counting game. I quickly make two fingers and she laughs and motions to put our hands behind our backs again. She brings out 5 fingers this time, and I bring out 4 fingers. She’s mad now. I screwed up the game. We have to start over.

“Peekachu, arriba . . . bajo . . . este . . . otro . . .”

I bring out 3 fingers. She’s yelling at me: “Start over!”

“Peekachu, arriba . . . bajo . . . este . . . otro . . .”

Ok, ok. I’m getting it now. We are playing rock, paper, scissors. I’m good at this. I’m pretty sure I can beat a 5 year old.

I bring out scissors and she brings out a rock. I lose. She pinches my cheek and insists that the game begins again while she is still pinching my cheek. I am not familiar with the Guatemalan rules regarding rock, paper, scissors, but this is just kind of silly.

This time, I win. She makes me pinch her cheek.

Now imagine the situation that has transpired here. There’s a lukewarm cup of coffee sitting next to a book about economic theory and a 27 year old bearded man wearing shorts is playing rock, paper, scissors with a 5 year old Guatemalan girl and they are pinching each others cheeks and preparing for the championship.

(Yes, living in Central America for almost 2 months has taught me that sometimes you just need to set aside your agenda and let your coffee get cold.)

“Peekachu, arriba . . . bajo . . . este . . . otro . . .”

I show paper. She shows scissors.

She squeals with joy as she runs away downstairs. I laugh to myself, sit back in my chair, and drink the rest of my cold coffee. By this time, I need to head back home for dinner so I gather my things and make my way downstairs and I see Angelica sitting on the coffee bar. She’s still celebrating her victory or maybe she’s just always full of joy. She turns to me and says:

“Adios Amigo!”

Oh, what an evening . . . instead of learning more about international development I played rock, paper, scissors and had to drink my coffee cold because I got beat by a five year old Guatemalan. I’m sure there’s an economic lesson in there somewhere, but I think I’ll reopen that chapter another day.

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