I had a similar experience in a Brazilian favela. The kid would always ask me what time it was so that he could try and take my watch. He wasn't very bashful about it either. He eventually ended up with it. I gave it to him because his thug buddies were pounding my buddy. I told him to take my watch and his gang and get lost. It was pretty scary, but I still can't get over all the fuss for a stupid Timex!
I spent a lot of time in Senegal and Liberia. We took the knock-off watches we got in Naples- about a dozen of them for one American Zippo lighter, and traded them for cool carvings and beads and what not. Just souvenirs. All worth about the same, really. I'm guessing your watch was worth a little bit more though, and this young man had nothing to trade.
He was not interested in trading. There was a surpriseing amount of "give me..." there and when we would ask why we should just give someone something because they asked, we would occasionally be told one of two things: 1) Because you are rich 2) Because you are white. In my experience, these two things were interchangeable in the collective view there. Not that there is not a kernel of truth to it... But imagine how surprised people were when I would on occasion reply: 'But I do not have that much more money... this trip has cost us our savings, and really there is nothing left.' I frequently got almost stupified looks of disbelief. They see Beverly hills 90210 and that is America - teens in mansions with Porsches and in-ground swimming pools.
Leigh was reading the book Dark Star Safari as we traveled from Egypt to Kenya to Tanzania, and were able to observe the truth of the things laid out in that fantastic book. It has forever changed some of my world view... and not all for the better.
It does change you doesn't it? And you're right, not for the better in many cases. There's quite a bit of difference between seeing things in a Sally Struthers commercial and being there. I bet that trip was awesome.
Perhaps the reason people were willing to trade with us is because they knew we were military- and they associate much less wealth with military for some reason, although I'm sure the "rich and white" connotation was still there. Regardless, a great, and very telling picture.