The bearded stranger laughed when I said to him: ‘Everyone in the world collects banknotes, sir.’ ‘I know, I know,’ he said, ’but I would like just one Ecuadorian banknote.’
We were at the International Airport in Quito. I was behind the glass in a booth which said, in big letters, ‘Currency Exchange’. He had approached me and said ‘currency for one hundred US dollars please’. After a few sentences I convinced him that I was not going to sell him any local currency: here in Ecuador we use the US Dollar. There are a few Sucre coins used as small change, which have survived since we moved to the dollar in the year 2000.
He looked sad. ‘But I put one banknote in an album from every country I visit,’ he said. He will find a banknote, but ironically it won’t be in a currency exchange booth where he buys his Ecuadorean sucres with dollars, but probably in a bookshop.
He told me about how the people of Botswana called their currency after their most precious commodity, the raindrop. I think he assumed we had done the same, that ‘Sucre’ meant sugar! No. Marshal Sucre was our liberator, leading a patriot army to defeat the Spanish royalists in 1822. His mausoleum is in the 16th century cathedral in the Plaza Grande in central Quito – and he had the national currency named after him. Additionally, the stranger was clearly unaware that he was standing in an airport called ‘Marshal Sucre Airport’!