“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.

“Nosotros vivíamos de eso”

Por Nicholas Bruce

De junio a agosto el cielo es espectacular en la sierra del Perú. El sol brilla como en ninguna otra temporada del año. Los colores de las montañas cambian de verde gracias a las lluvias de meses anteriores a “amarillo moreno” debido al calor. Es un paraíso en las alturas.

Los mercados y las plazas están llenos de gente aprovechando el buen clima. Las tiendas mueven rápido sus productos. Existe una afluencia compartida entre muchos, extranjeros, turistas y residentes de la comunidad, los más sencillos hasta los negociantes con recursos, todos listxs para darles la bienvenida en una forma u otra.

Pere este año, en estos meses, todo es muy diferente.

No existe esta mezcla de gente de varios idiomas y culturas. Los guías bien preparados no tienen a quien guiar. Los cocineros de los restaurantes de comida gourmet hasta los de los pequeños quioscos en la calle tienen poca gente para atender. Más allá, en las alturas de los Andes, las comunidades andinas están más aisladas más que durante las temporadas bajas del turismo.

Es difícil y para comprender un poco más, es necesario preguntar a los residentes de las comunidades.

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

“Antes nosotros teníamos turistas y vendíamos artesanía. Ahora ya no” dice Damiana, miembro de la comunidad de Cuncani. “Nos cuesta bastante porque de eso, nosotros vivíamos, manteniendo nuestros hijos con ese dinero. Ahora, que ya no hay, no lo tenemos como trabajo. Ahora que estamos en este problema, pedimos ayuda con capacitación o artesanía o cómo avanzamos de esa parte.”

Damiana, como muchas mujeres de su comunidad y otras ubicadas lejos de las ciudades y turistas, hace artesanía. Aunque no es muy usual, cuando vende una manta, gana bien (cerca de 120 soles, o US $40). La manta es original, demora meses en hacerla y en muchas ocasiones está hecha con tintes orgánicos – y de la lana de llamas de la misma comunidad. El resto de los productos son más sencillos. Ganar 12 soles (US $4) al día es relativamente significativo. Este dinero es el único que pueden tener (por 3-4meses) al año.

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

Así como ocurre con el turismo, la industria de servicios está sufriendo en todo el mundo. En Kenia, hace poco, fue publicado un artículo con un título que llamó mucho la atención: “Qué dirían las mujeres que lavan ropa en un webinar.” El artículo explica que grupos de 50 mujeres se congregan en 40 lugares por todo la capital, Nairobi, buscando trabajo, esperando y rezando que alguien les ofrezca una oportunidad de trabajo.

En un día de trabajo, una persona puede recibir 500 chilines kenianos (menos de US $5). Ganan cinco dólares al día si tienen suerte. Aunque no lo parezca, es un monto significativo. Con éste, las mujeres les dan comida a sus niñxs y a sus esposos que, debido a la pandemia, no tienen trabajo. Encontrar un trabajo disponible para ellas, es inusual, en comparación con las multas que reciben por no haber observado las reglas de distanciamiento social.

Realidades como las de las mujeres en Kenia y las de las comunidades altoandinas en Perú, nos pueden parecer bastante lejanas a nuestra realidad. Actualmente, los webinars son importantes para mantener nuestro trabajo, así como lo son los empleos y la generación de ingresos para todos. Algunos de nosotros, tenemos trabajos que nos permiten mantener nuestro estilo de vida, pero par millones de personas, el trabajo les permite seguir viviendo la vida.

Who protects the vulnerable and disadvantaged indigenous population during the COVID-19 quarantine?

Author: Rember Yahuarcani                                                                                        Translation: Nicholas Bruce

Remember Yahuarcani, the painter. He’s given a chronicle of the circumstances in which he is living in currently, in quarantine, in his home district of Pebas, Loreto. It is one of several places in Peru where cash-strapped residents cannot collect the government bonus because there is no money, a cruel irony.

A woman and her daughter carrying log of wood. (Photo: Rember Yahuarcani)

A man carries a log of wood on his shoulder. A fisherman swiftly paddles his home. Girls look fearfully at the military from their windows. About thirty women queue at an agent of the Banco de la Nación. A lady goes to the Health Center for dengue and cannot be treated. Uncertainty and anxiety have fallen on the town like a torrential rain that does not know when it will end. With faces overwhelmed, many listen to the loudspeaker for the latest report of infected by Covid – 19 in Iquitos . There is a funeral silence in the small port and market, once bustling. Rice, sugar, oil have risen in price, an egg costs one sun and fish is scarce. The discomfort is visible on the faces.

Some arrived the night before from Iquitos , fleeing in a boat or hiding among the products of the motor ship that has the exclusive permission to only transport cargo. The people fear the worst: an infected person.

Two agents without funds

Pebas is one of the four districts that make up the province of Ramón Castilla, in Loreto and integrates 60 communities into its territory. It is located at the mouth of the Ampiyacú river in the Amazon and has a population of 12,694 people, according to the 2017 census. It has two agents from the Banco de la Nación who always lack funds. Many people have benefited from the 380 soles voucher announced by the Government, and the queues were immediate. They start at six in the morning and last a little beyond nine. The withdrawal of money is basically conditioned on whether there were deposits on the previous day. Otherwise, there will be no withdrawals.

The communities have been demanding for many years the opening of an office of the Banco de la Nación , since that would mean economic savings and would alleviate a long trip of 13 to 18 hours to the provincial capital or to Iquitos. In writing this note, many people tell me that the president’s announcements are useless if there is no place to collect the 380 soles.

Empty Pebas market. (Photo: Rember Yahuarcani)

Structural pathologies

Pebas also has a health center and 12 health posts, the service is not optimal, professional staff and modern equipment are required. For some reason that no one explains, the doctor always ends up prescribing paracetamol or ibuprofen for all illnesses. If COVID-19 arrives, it will be an unprecedented catastrophe. Electric power is provided from six in the afternoon to eleven at night, so the aforementioned education on television, radio and internet will be impossible.

Pebas is also the gateway to the native communities of the Uitoto, Bora, Ocaina and Yagua nations, located along the Ampiyacú and Yaguasyacú rivers. The yaguas have been settled there for hundreds of years and with respect to the uitotos, boras and ocainas, their recent history is linked to the dark rubber era and if we talk about diseases, let’s not forget that these three nations were devastated at the beginning of the last century by measles.

COVID-19 reaches the indigenous world at its worst: extreme poverty, anemia, hepatitis B and C, diabetes, malaria, dengue, oil spills, assassinations of social leaders and historical abandonment by the State, are just some of the pathologies that afflict and take their toll on indigenous people.

Streets of de Pebas empty. (Photo: Rember Yahuarcani)

The native communities have taken their own measures regarding the pandemic, have closed their borders, are monitoring their rivers, which has led to a shortage of essential products such as medicines, food and the trade of local products. State intervention at the moment is crucial for the survival of the communities that have their rivers and polluted lands, where there are no fish to fish, no products to harvest, or animals to hunt, where the S / 380.00 bonus is insufficient to feed a family and where health centers lack essential medicines. There is also an urgent need for strict surveillance of foreign vessels and people towards indigenous territories. A true rapprochement of the State towards the indigenous is urgent.

This chronicle was published in El Comercio on April 15th, 2020.                             Find the original publication here