My respect to Don Alipio

Very close to the harsh reality of Peru

Shortly after 11 o’clock I come fast step from the airport of Lima. In the afternoon, I have an appointment with a director of the National Blood Bank and then a meeting at the Ministry of Justice. My gaze falls on my shoes. And already I seek out a shoe shiner at the entrance. The standard price is five soles (1.25 euros). I sit on a stool and eye my counterpart on his little stool. May I ask what your name is: “Alipio,” he answers curtly and turns his attention to my shoes without looking up.

A Peruvian on the right, not five meters away from us, begins to tease Alipio. “You little shoeshine boy,” he says pejoratively to Alipio, who – in my opinion – is doing an honorable job. Alipo does not react and pretends not to have heard the insolence.

Now I want to get to know the man crouching right in front of me better. “Are you from Lima?” – “No from the state of Cusco!”

“Straight from the city or the state?” – “From a mountain village near Sicuani!”

“I know the area, we have an antenna tower there on a mountain. By the way, I live in Curahuasi and work at a hospital there!”

Alipo’s interest in me is aroused. “My wife has severe abdominal pain after eating. The doctors think she’s suffering from gallstones!”

“Then she probably needs a gallbladder removal. She should come to the Hospital Diospi Suyana sometime. Almost all of our patients are Quechuas and poor rural farmers. We have the best prices in all of Peru!”

The ice is broken. The formerly silent shoe shiner now tells me many details about his life. It’s a tough existence. Because he could not find work in Sicuani, he lives in Lima to support himself and his family. He sees his wife (39) only every two months. More often is unfortunately not possible because of the high transport costs. The mother of four herds ten sheep and grows potatoes and barley in a small field. “That’s all that grows up there,” Alipio notes.

“How much do you earn a day?” – “50 – 60 Soles (12 – 15 €)

My shoes are sparkling clean. I can literally shine with them in the ministries a few hours later.

“Thank you and all the best!” I say goodbye and get into a cab.

The news of the day is mixed. The talks with the senior officials are going well, but a few calls in between unfortunately take any wind out of my sails again. The Peruvian bureaucracy is exasperating!

But I should not complain. I get to see my wife as early as Friday night. My life is not easy, but it is a lot easier than Alipio’s. /KDJ

Alipio and I got along well. We both come from the mountains of the Andes.
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