Vale la pena?

60% of Peruvians live in poverty, making less than $2/day, or 6 soles
30% of the above percentage (or around 18% of the population) live in extreme poverty, less than $1/day, or about 3 soles

As a Peace Corps trainee I receive 8 soles/day, plus my meals and boarding are covered. I make more than a large majority of people in this country, even while simply in job training.

So while we aren’t really making any money during training, there’s really no need for anything more. But at the same time, I am often struck and thinking about prices and how much I’m paying for something at any given time and how I even think about it. A snack of sweet potato chips and Coke ran about 2.2 soles, or somewhere around 70 cents. Or I’ll go to a café near the training center, and indulge in a bit of tres leches cake and a coffee for a little over seven soles (or close to a day’s wages). Or when we go out for the weekend, I’ve spent 30 soles in one night. And even though it amounts to ten dollars, it’s a) three days wages, b) a large amount for a lot of Peruvians. But at the same time while I’m indulging, I usually fight with a cobrador (guy who collects bus fare) every day to pay the real price (1/2 sole) for the bus ride to the training center instead of the inflated one sole: essentially arguing over fifteen cents. Is it really worth it? Is it a moral stand I take; fighting because although I’m a gringo it doesn’t mean I should be paying inflated prices? Or is it that I am really trying to scrape by on a few soles a day? If either is the case, can I justify using my per-diem at a café for coffee and dessert? We’re told at the Peace Corps that we’re expected to live at the level with the people we’re working/living with. My family doesn’t go out to eat, or go out during the weekends. My brothers who are attending school don’t sit at a café every once in a while and enjoy tres leches after school is out. My brothers ride combis to go study in Lima, come home and study, or drive a moto-taxi to help pay for school.

I came back from Lima the other day, where we spent the afternoon with our language classes. Our group ate at a Chinese restaurant that was pretty cheap especially for Lima (seven soles a plate) and we essentially got what we paid for, as the food was pretty bland. I was telling my mom and cousin about this, saying that we ate at a cheap place and the food wasn’t really great. They asked how much it cost, and after saying that I thought it was cheap, my mom said “No, that’s expensive, Mateo”. This made me feel like a pretentious ass, because for me in terms of both actual cost (cost in Peru, especially for Lima) and relative cost (such as in comparison to the US), it was inexpensive. But for my family, it was completely different, something that was typically out of their means and abilities. I don’t know how much my family makes.

But relative to everything else, I come from a land of privilege and in fact am being paid and compensated to attend invaluable skills training for three months.


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