Childhood education and the Family business

We roll into Llipa about 4pm. It’s a tiny dusty village with very little going on. It’s perched on a hill, with the Plaza de Armas (centre of every Peruvian town) claiming the highest point.

We look for a place to buy a beer but nothing is open and very few people are about. It’s already cold and dusk is descending. Even the barking dogs look a little frosty.

We meet a friendly woman who leads us to the municipal building and we settle into a run down room. Public servants potter about in the cluttered offices below. It’s a curious fact about Peru that many municipal buildings have rooms. There is only one flickering light in this place and no running water, but there’s a filthy and cracked public toilet over the road.

We’ve not been on the road long. As the temperature plummets and I stare at an old shit in a toilet unconnected to water I think about the warmth and comforts of my normal world. Running water. Lights. Showers. Sheets changed at least once a year.

I know I’m pondering comforts that do not matter. I’m warm enough and safe and I have money to buy food – what more do I need? But I’m not used to it yet. We go for a walk and as the chill creeps into my bones these thoughts creep into my mind.

It’s completely dark now. We find a small shop and peer inside where we see a young boy doing his homework on a table. It’s maths. He’s working by the light of a small battery powered strip of LED lights. This shop, like most places in Llipa has no power.

We throw a tentative ‘hola’ into the darkness near him. He turns to us and the LEDs cast just enough light for us to see his warm smile. I don’t know if he likes maths or if he likes being distracted from maths.

A man emerges from the darkness. I guess he’s the boys father.

He asks what we’re looking for. Noodles, tuna, biscuits – about all he has. About all any shop ‘round here has.

He takes the light from the boy and fossicks about his shelves to retrieve our goods. The boy, now in total darkness, has to pause his maths. Family business suspends education.

On the walk towards the shop I had fantasised about the comforts I am softened to. I never had to pause my education to wait for my father to make money for us to live. I lived in comfort. I was here on a long holiday, living off savings, riding a bike worth more than their shop. I was ashamed. I’d seen environments, personal situations and towns like this before, but never really felt it like this before.

I saw this boy and man in June 2016, 18 months ago. They still rise to the top of my mind from time to time. Maybe they always will.

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