Monday, June 6, 2011

Saviors or cash cows?

The plane assigned to Delta flight 151 one day last week from Atlanta to Lima was a Boeing 767-300ER. It has a passenger capacity of 269. In December of 2005 when I first took this flight I was one of a handful of non-Hispanics. All announcements were made first in Spanish then secondly in English. Crew and passenger conversations were in Spanish. I remember feeling isolated and a bit apprehensive. The passengers applauded loudly when the plane touched down in Lima, I assumed because they were glad to be home. Last week’s flight couldn’t have been more different.

At about the three-hour mark I walked the isles to stretch my legs and during my tour took note of the ethnicity of the passengers. By my count there were seven obvious Hispanics including Maribel. The plane was full so that translates to 262 non-Hispanics. All announcements were made first in English then secondly in Spanish. Crew and passenger conversations were in English, and based on the amount of conversation and visiting it was obvious that many of these people knew each other.

At the Lima airport we had five hours before the flight to Chiclayo so I took the opportunity to approach two of the groups of people that were assembling after passing through Customs. The first was a group of 45 from five different churches in Arkansas. They came to Peru for a 10-day medical mission and would be going to various towns and villages in the north. Cajamarca was one of the cities mentioned. The second group wore blue t-shirts reading "Peru Mission.” Maribel estimates there were 35 – 40 in this group, and their purpose was to help conserve Alpaca, Vicuña and Paco (Alpaca family) populations in the Andes. With another four hours to kill my conversations with these people provided food for thought from many different angles.

Unless these groups have discounted airline arrangements, the two groups we spoke with represent somewhere around $80,000 in airline fares. During their 10-day visit they will spend money on lodging, food, transportation, and will undoubtedly purchase souvenirs to take home. Let’s assume that those expenditures amount to $25 per day. The math is $25/day x 10 days x 80 people = $20,000. Including airfare the total is $100,000. And that’s just for two groups on one plane. How many other groups have been here; are here; will be here? I wonder what the results would be if you could put pencil and paper to a cost-benefit analysis?

Understand…I am not judging the usefulness of their activities or the sincerity of these people. I am absolutely certain that providing help to Peru in various forms is their motivation regardless of cost. I am less certain about how the Peruvian government and Peruvians in general view their presence. When Delta flight 151 appears overhead, are they wondering if more needed assistance is on the way, or are they thinking that another load of cash cows has arrived? As with most questions of this nature, the truth is probably somewhere in between.


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