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HomeTopicsArts and CultureReturning a Lost Wallet in Costa Rica: A Story of Honesty and...

Returning a Lost Wallet in Costa Rica: A Story of Honesty and Reflection

Early one morning in the waning days of the pandemic, I found a wallet in the street while cycling. The contents consisted of 8,000 colons, a one-dollar US bill, and a Costa Rican cedula. The photo was of a young man. The signature was his first name only– Gustavo– printed in all capital letters.

The barrio where he lived when the cedula was issued was in one of the poorer areas of the city; I had not been to the barrio for years. Previously, it had been a precario of rutted, unpaved streets, filled with crude little houses, many of which were constructed with nothing more than zinc roofing sheets serving as both roof and walls.

The next day I went to the barrio for the first time in years. The streets were now paved, and while there were still some shanties, most of the houses were now simple but tidy abodes of block and wood, with the zinc sheeting now used mostly as intended, for roofing.

I went to the first pulperia I saw and showed the cedula. The old woman behind the counter knew the young man and his family. I left my name and number and the message that I had his wallet. The next day I got a call and rode my bicycle across town to meet him. We met up, I returned his wallet, and he gifted me a simple wooden platter and roller for making tortillas.

I thanked him and was a bit sad that he felt the need to give me anything in return. Three things stood out to me following this incident:

First the one-dollar bill. I learned from my daughter, born and raised here, that many young Ticos carry a US dollar in their wallet as a sort of good luck talisman. I was not aware of this. Also, their wallets are never completely empty!

Second, the young man’s signature (or lack thereof). Costa Rica prides itself on its high literacy rate of over 97 percent. But how many people are there, considered literate, who are not capable of doing much more than writing their name? Of course I had no way of knowing if the young man was capable of reading at an adult level, but his simple printed first name only signature certainly made me wonder.

Lastly, while I had no hesitation to look for the young man and make sure his wallet with his ID and money was returned to him intact, I wondered how I would have reacted had the situation been different.

What if the wallet belonged not to a humble, semi-literate Tico, but a well-off expat? What if, instead of 8,000 colons there was 8 million colons in the wallet? Would I have taken the wallet home and waited for a Facebook posting for the lost wallet? Would I have expected a reward?

I have no doubt I would have done my best to find the owner but have doubt whether or not I would have been able to resist the temptation of paying myself a ‘finder’s fee’ before returning it. Some thoughts are better left unstated. At the end of the day, you do the right thing, and on this occasion, I was happy to return the wallet and money to someone who clearly needed it.

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