Mark Danger Powers

drummer • educator • author

Free Shirt and the $2 Banana

While catching up over drinks recently in San Francisco, a friend and I got into a conversation on the topic of “generosity.” He is convinced that, these days, people everywhere are simply out-for-themselves, difficult to approach and untrustworthy. This is his primary reasoning for staying close to home and not venturing too far away from the Bay area.

Perhaps it’s an attitude thing. Or a fearlessness thing. I’ve also been told that my sincere interest in other cultures and their musics has a way of opening doors for me. But regardless the reason,
I couldn’t disagree more with my friend. I am continually blown away by the generosity of the people I meet during my travels.

Our discussion brought to mind my first trip to Puerto Rico, to study Bomba and Plena. I remember being amazed at how generous, hospitable and kind everyone I met was. To me and to others. I had to go dig out a few excerpts from that travel journal, to let you read for yourself:

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Friday, July 25, 2008 (9:19pm)

Less than an hour after touching down, I’m racing through the humid streets of San Juan with my hostess and her daughter, Scarlet. It’s so gracious of Tati to trust this random bald traveler (who she hadn’t even heard of until a few hours ago), meet him at the airport and offer a room in her humble home.

Upon arrival at her apartment, I was shoveled full of mangos and star fruit, and then “baptized” with a hefty drink of mama juana. She also gave me a locally-made cloth bag as a welcome gift.

We headed back through town and picked up Casey, a Texan CouchSurfer near the beginning of a six-month round-the-world journey. As we pull up to an unassuming building in Piñones and I hear the intensely rhythmic sounds emanating from inside, I realize that the ladies- my first Puerto Rican friends- already have plans for us this evening . . . música!

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Sunday, July 27 (9:34pm)

Back at Tati’s in the evening, she serves me some pork blood sausage. The neighbors that Nelson and I had visited also had sent over some fish soup for me. The friendliness and hospitality here is unreal. Their kindness to this random visitor is unmatched in his own homeland.

As I am eating my dinner, Tati goes out and returns with a man and two young boys. They are here from the Dominican Republic, to compete in a Little League baseball tournament. How they were led here I don’t know, but she ushers them inside and encourages them to sort through- and select from- a large cardboard box of clothing she has in my room. What was I just saying about kindness? That’s just the way it is around here, I guess!

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Monday, July 28 (2:22pm)

After hitting the supermercado and a few other stops, I found myself at a nearby baseball park and ran into some of the players from the Little League team that had visited Tati’s last night. I hung out while they practiced, took their picture and mentioned that I liked their ‘Liga Antonio Concepcion’ t-shirts. The team manager, Antonio, said something to one of the boys, who took off running down the street. What I gathered from what he then said to me was that they were going to give me an identical shirt, as a souvenir! How ridiculously nice of them! When the boy returned, however, he was carrying a beat up old Red Sox shirt. Antonio jumped to his feet, swapped this old camisa for the one he was wearing, and literally gave me the shirt off his back! Several times I said, “no, pero lo necessitas,” but he insisted. Moments later, the entire crew piled into a van and sped away to get to their game, leaving me one dumbfounded, but elated, Americano!

As I arrive, scratching my head in disbelief, at Tati’s, she is there waiting with a meal of pollo, arroz y frijoles. Me gusta mucho Puerto Rico!

(3:30pm)

I just paid $2 for a banana! Well, not exactly. Another stroll through the area led me past a couple selling produce out of their van alongside a busy street. The man allowed me to take his photo by his wares, so I said “mira,” displayed it to him on my digital camera and asked if it were possible to purchase solamente una banana. He gave one to me and waved his hands, saying “free, free.” I accepted his generosity and continued on my way, later making my last stop at a gas station convenience store, to grab some water and a snack. As I passed the produce sellers again on my return trip, I realized that I had just paid a buck-something for my Aquifina and Chips Ahoy, and to this couple, who work so hard day-in and day-out, I had given nothing. I walked over, pulled two bills out of my pocket and forced them into the man’s hand, explaining in my poor español, “Dos . . . uno por la banana y uno porque eres tan amable (you are so kind).” I hurried away as he tried to hand one back to me, most likely surprised by my return, and not expecting anything in exchange for his kindness.

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Have you found similar examples of generosity while traveling? Share ’em below!

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