Djou know who djour firs president was?

In 1999 Ecuador had a 197% inflation rate. The wealthy removed about $2 billion from the country, and the GDP shrank by 5.3%.

As part of the reforms in response, the country adopted the US dollar in 2000, pissing off Ecuadorians but helping stabilize the economy, which, with the help of good old high oil prices, recovered dramatically, posting an average 5.2% growth from 2002-2006.

Okay, the economics history lesson is over (you’re welcome) but the point is, Ecuador uses the US dollar, with relatively crisp pictures of Andrew Jackson, weathered images of Ulysses Grant, and ratty specters of Abraham Lincoln gazing out from well-worn bills. I saw a couple George Washingtons, and the paper felt more like greasy cloth, moments from disintegrating completely.

Most of people’s daily commerce in Ecuador is in smaller units, so the country supplements US coins with their own 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cent monedas (minted in Mexico and Canada).

Sacagawea’s kingdom

But the fundamental monetary unit is the $1 coin. Sacagawea, determination on her face as she leads the invaders into their newly purchased land, baby on her back. I remember when they introduced these in the US. The seemed to be a new monetary unit reserved as change in the post office’s stamp vending machine.

During high school jobs there was usually one or two bouncing around the bottom of the cash drawer, curiosities that blended in with the credit cards receipts and Canadian quarters people had slipped us.

Down here she’s queen. I picture hordes of Sacagaweas sneaking south across the border into Mexico in the middle of the night. When we bought almuerzo lunches: two Sacagaweas. My haircut, the same. One Sacagwea gets you four rides on Quito’s bus system.

But recently the little lady has developed quite a social life. She dates former US presidents exclusively, and has been found canoodling in pockets with the likes of Martin Van Buren, John Quincy Adams, and Rutherford B Hayes. Oh Rutherford, you marvelously bearded charmer.

This influx of presidential presence lead to the experience of sitting on a crumbling Ecuadorian curb, eating my nightly piece of squishy chocolate cake from the sidewalk vendor around the corner, being quizzed on US presidential history by Alejandro, the tour guide next door.

Sacagawea runs this town.

He is apparently a big fan of the US, and has been collecting and studying US president coins in preparation for his US citizenship test.

“Ey, jou know who de firs’ president of de US was?”

My US History class in high school was among the hardest classes I ever took, and by the end of the year I knew my presidents pretty well. But on an overcast evening in Ecuador, I barely passed muster. I got Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, but forgot old John Quincy Adams. Probably because he was necking in the hall closet with Sacagawea, the mutton-chopped scoundrel.

I was only slightly embarrassed at not being able to answer all Alejandro’s questions, and was left with one of my own.

What’s the deal with Millard Fillmore?

Millard’s saucy eyebrow arch, memorialized forever