“That’s what we lived off”

By Nico Bruce

From June to August the skies in the mountain region of Peru are phenomenal. The sun shines like no other season of the year. The mountains change from green thanks to the rains of previous months to yellowish-brown in color thanks to the constant sunshine. It’s very likely that not even a drop of rain will fall in these three months. It’s a high-altitude paradise.

The markets and squares are full of people making the most of the optimal temperatures. The shops move products quickly with the many purchases. There’s a flow to it all, shared between many, from foreigners and tourists to the community residents, the most humble up to the rich business owners, everyone ready to offer a welcome in one way or another.

Only this year, in these months, none of this is happening.

There is not an exchange of languages and cultures, business and welcomes as usual. The guides who are set and ready to lead tours have no one to guide. The chefs in high-end restaurants and in humble street stands have few people to serve. Further away, in the high Andes, the communities are as remote during the low tourist season.

It’s hard. Just ask the community residents to understand the situation.

Señora de Cuncani tejiendo. (Crédito fotográfico: Carlos Díaz)

“Before, we had tourists and we sold our handmade crafts. Now the tourists don’t come,” says Damiana, a member of the community of Cuncani. “It has cost us quite a lot because that’s what we lived off, supporting our children with that money. Now that we are with this problem, we ask for help with training or craftwork or something to carry on from all this.”

Damiana, like many women of her community and others located far from cities and tourists, produces handicraft. Some of their handmade items sell quite well (about 120 soles or US $40) for a hand sewn blanket. The blanket is distinct and involves a lot of time and the most organic of materials – wool from the llamas of their community. The rest of the products are more simple such as bracelets that the women of Cuncani and Media Luna make for the tourists trekking the Andes mountains. Earning 12 soles (US $4) a day is a lot. The only thing is earnings like this only come 3-4 months a year.

Lucy Nyangasi, Kenya.(Crédito fotográfico Kate Holt para Solidarity Center)

Like tourism, the service industry worldwide, is suffering. And that greatly affects the lower income people often in service jobs. In Kenya, an article came out with a very intriguing title: “What Washerwomen Would Say on a Webinar.” It explains that groups of 50 women congregate in some 40 places through the capital of Nairobi looking for work, waiting and praying for someone to offer them a day job.

A day of work washing clothes pays about 500 Kenyan shillings, less than US $5. They earn five dollars a day if they are lucky. It’s a good amount. With that, the women feed their children and their husbands who, due to the pandemic, may not have work either. What happens however is the women don’t get day work because they are many and the work opportunities are few. Instead of work, they receive fines for not observing social distancing rules. They can’t pay the fines so they spend the day doing community service work far from home as payment.

Realities like the women’s in Kenya and the High-Andean communities in Peru may seem far away from our lives. Webinars are necessary for many of us to continue our work. Some of us have jobs that allow us to maintain our lifestyles. But for millions of people, a job is what allows them to survive.

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