Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cartoon 34: Birthday Blues My Butt!

 It was Ana's birthday and we were all sitting around her living room in Villa de Salvador, Peru. I was wading into her jungle of hair to give her a special birthday hair-do when her husband and son walked in saying, 'Sorry we are late, we were in the market and all of the sudden they closed all the doors and no one could get out!' 
           Apparently, in one of the big street markets downtown there was a heated conflict between police and workers.  The government and big business owners had decided to move the formal businesses that were at the center of the market to a different location in an effort to erase the informal economy that had grown up around them.  As I've seen all over Latin America, millions of small illegal tent stores had filled the streets surrounding the mall creating a whole market where a certain lawlessness reigns. Inside, it's a fast life of tons of people and noise and any product you could possibly want and cheap.  To me it looks like chaos that's organized in an incredible web of relationships where life bursts at the seams with activity and stimulus.  This economy is an important source of income for many families who struggle to find work within the formal economy.  In this case, when their livelihood was threatened, the workers took matters into their own hands and as the businesses tried to move, the workers blocked their departure.  Basically all the police in Lima were called in to defend and boom, a stand off. 
       While this was happening, petty robbers saw an opportunity...with all the police in Lima busy downtown, there was no one available to protect the smaller markets in other areas.  They began to sack stores all over the surrounding neighborhoods and store owners were on their toes ready to defend themselves.  At the smallest commotion, stores, like the one that Ana's husband and son were in, would close and lock their doors no matter who was inside.  No one was leaving until the root of the commotion was determined.  Eventually, most businesses in our neighborhood decided to close to avoid the threat causing yet another problem...birthday cake.  The youth that we work with wanted to surprise Ana with a birthday celebration but with no stores open, they couldn't buy a cake. So they went on a crazy search through the neighborhood and eventually found someone who had just had a birthday and was willing to offer the remaining half of their cake for Ana's party.  Imagine the look on her face when everyone yelled 'Surprise!!!' and she found a half eaten cake under her birthday candles :)  To me this was a testament to the resilience of this community and to the Latin American community in general.  What I have learned of the story of Latin America is filled with oppression, violence, tragedy, and laughter.  I learn over and over through their example that depending on each other, we can find the way to laugh like crazy at our half eaten cake that because of its story tastes better than a most beautiful 15 layer cake made just for me. 

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