Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Boys at work

On my first walk on the streets of La Paz a young guy stuck his head out of a microbus and started shouting at me. Then another microbus came by, and another young guy stuck his head out and yelled at me. At first I thought they were insults, and then I gathered that they were calling out the stops of these micros. This job is called the voceador (caller, voicer, whatever). I´m told it pays about $3 or $4 a day, which works out to about $80 a month which is not too bad. A full-time live-in housekeeper in Santa Cruz makes about $100 a month, a tin miner, who has a horrible, dangerous job, about $500 a month.

The limpiabotas (literally clean boots), or shoeshine guys in La Paz have the unique custom of wearing ski masks. One of the kids doing my shoes told me that the masks are to prevent discrimination from schoolmates. This kid, who is 15 and interested in mathematics, shines shoes in the morning and attends school in the afternoon. He doesn´t want to be teased by his friends. The going rate for a shoeshine is 12 to 37 cents. Women also get their shoes shined by the limpiabotas.

I was troubled by one thing I saw. A limpiabotas of about 13 in raggedy, dirty clothes was shining the shoes of a perfectly turned out girl of about 7 in her Don Bosco school uniform with white blouse and plaid skirt. The contrast between the two futures was unsettling.
I caught some images of the Don Bosco kids arriving for school in their uniforms, all blue and gold. The the boys wear white shirts and ties. Very familiar to a graduate of Catholic schools.
Along the alleyways that lead into the school are a bunch of stands selling candy, school supplies, toys and other stuff. The stands are run by cholos, who are Indians living in the city but keeping their traditional dress. One chola arrived with a Don Bosco student holding onto her manta. I assumed it was his nanny, but a local journalism prof who saw the photo said the quality of her clothing indicates she is not a servant, and that the women who work as nannies are much younger than the woman in the picture. So again I misread the cultural cues, or missed the important details.

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