When I was younger and traveling in Guatemala, someone broke into my room, dug through my bag and stole my credit card from inside my passport.
Before I noticed it was gone, they’d spent all my money.
Should I have filed a police report and stayed on the phone long enough to get my money back? Yes.
Should I have begged my family for money and gotten on the first plane back to the US? Probably.
Should I have been operating with a single bank card and no-back up in place? Obviously not.
But that is what happened. And in the span of about 2 years, I worked 15+ jobs in Antigua, Lago Atitlan, and Xela. I waited tables, tended bar, worked in a book shop, taught English, and even led overnight volcano treks. The worst of these positions paid just $2 a day. This is what I learned.
1. Low Wages Encourage Extra-Curricular Activity
My first job in Guate was as a waiter near the main dock in San Pedro. My job was to entice foreigners just off the boat to come in to the restaurant. Then I would act as their waiter and informal tour guide.
I was making just $4 a day plus tips, so I was sure to tell every table my sad story. It meant a bigger tip. I recommended a lot of activities, hotels, and the town’s best drug dealers (RIP Santa), some of whom gave me a little kick back.
What I learned is obvious to billions of people, but it was not obvious to me. When people live in poverty, they must capitalize on every opportunity, even when it is illegal, dangerous, or immoral.
Every coin and every scrap are valuable, and if bosses starve their team, they will take what they need without asking, and feel good about doing it. High wages are a sign of a healthy company.
2. The Best People are Freaks
When I first went to San Pedro, there was an Englishman in the boat with me. He had an anchor tattooed on his arm, and under it read “The Sea”. I got a good look at it because he spent the entire…