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Latin America Kevin Dispatch

Working for a Living

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Three Peruvian girls selling their wares.
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How many of you already have part-time jobs after school? When I was in school, most of my friends didn't work until they were at least sixteen, and even then it was usually for extra spending money. Sometimes our parents insisted that we work to keep us busy or to learn the importance of a job, but we usually had the luxury of focusing primarily on our studies. Beginning at an early age, many kids in Peru must work in addition to going to school.

The other day I was making a phone call from a pay phone, and as I picked up the receiver I heard a voice asking me, "Quieres comprar una tarjeta? (Want to buy a phone card?)" I quickly spun around but didn't see anybody talking to me. The voice started speaking again, I glanced down, and I saw a small girl holding a bundle of telephone cards. Her name was Kati and she was only eight years old.

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8-year-old Kati continuing the family business -- selling phone cards.
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Kati's mom, Luciana, started the family in the telephone card business before Kati was even born. First, Kati's older sister, Berta (9 years old), began helping her mother, and now, Kati and Berta share the work equally. Luciana arrives very early in the morning at the same pay phone right on the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco. Both Kati and Berta go to school nearby, but only in the morning. Kati's favorite subjects are math and Spanish but she doesn't have a lot of time to do homework. At one o'clock, she's comes directly from school to relieve her mom so that she can go home to take care of Kati's younger sister, Ilda, who is only seven. Pretty soon Ilda will have to learn how to sell phone cards too, and then Kati will be able to work less hours. She usually stays by the payphone until after dark. Her mother then comes to see how she has done each evening and they go home together. When they arrive home, they have dinner already prepared for them because Kati's father, although he has no other job, is an excellent cook and spends much of every day cooking for the ladies in his family.

Kati says the business these days is only so-so. It's a good business because her mother buys each phone card directly from Peru Telecom at a 15% discount and everybody needs a phone card to make calls. She sells to both Peruvians and tourists but here on the Plaza De Armas, she makes the most money from the tourists. Kati even knows the access codes by heart for calling the United States and Israel. She has also made some friends while working this job. She met her friend Francisca, who is from Chile, while Francisca was in Cuzco on vacation. Not only did Francisca come so often to the pay phone to buy a phone card, but she and Kati had so many conversations each day that she left Kati with her home telephone number. Francisca is so far the only person that Kati has ever called outside of Peru, but she's probably not the last.

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Vanessa, her tiny little sister, and a friend.
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I've often encountered other kids selling things in the streets throughout all of Peru. I met Sixteen year old Vanessa when she came around selling "pacay" just as I was getting rather hungry. Pacay is a fruit which grows on trees only in Ica (near Nazca) or even larger in the jungle, and looks like a giant pea pod! Vanessa's three girlfriends, all who are in high school with her, were selling three different kinds of chicha, the famous Peruvian drink made of corn. I had "chicha morada" which is purple and very sweet much like a juice. The second kind, "chicha quinoa", is white and looks like milk, and "chicha jora" is fermented, muddy colored, and tastes alcoholic. When buses come by and stop momentarily, the girls hold up their bottled drinks in a "palanca" which is like a wooden rod with a receptacle at the end to hold a bottle. This lets these short ladies pass by the busses holding their drinks up next to the windows to entice passengers. The money is also passed up and down using these same palancas.

In Cuzco, I most often see young boys selling postcards of the city, its nearby ruins, and of course Macchu Pichu. They also play music in restaurants. They, like the girls, must work very hard just to earn a few sols, because there is so much competition--especially in Cuzco. They do not work these long hours just to gain work experience or to have extra pocket money. Most of them must work just to help put food on the table back home and to contribute to their families' income.

Kevin
 

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