On Saturday, I learned about the meaning of hard labor. I woke up at 5am to help the community members of Candelaria clear cement, rock, and dirt to build a clinic. Each manzana was responsible for their own share of clearing the cement. We got there an only about 1/3 of the manzana was there to help with the work. At first, the labor was gendered, with the men doing the work of actually breaking the cement with sledge hammars and pick axes and shoveling the rocks and dirt into wheelbarrows and potato sacks, which the women carried in pairs to the dirt pile. But, as people tapered off, the women, including myself, started doing the “men’s work.”
Everyone in the manzana had the option to either pay 10 soles (about $4) or to do the work that morning. This translated to the work being worth about $1 per hour (we were there for more than 4 hours). It occurred to me how little this kind of “real,” “hard,” physical labor is actually worth, obviously not the same worth as “real,” “had,” intellectual work. To me the former was much harder than the latter, so why is the former valued as so much less?
Despite this realization, the sight was beautiful. The community – men, women, and children,- working together to better their community. One sight in particular caught my attention- a woman with a baby wrapped in a blanket around her back carrying dirt, rocks, and slabs of cement, using a potato sack. It made me wonder something else. Why is it that the poor are made to work for their basic necessities when other communities, relatively richer ones, receive the same services for free from the state? The answer is complicated, I know, but it just seemed like an injustice to me. Before, the faenas were mandatory for the community every Sunday, meaning that there was no day for resting from work (most people work 6 days a week).
At the same time, I am sure that the community of Candelaria understands the value of hard work; there is no such thing as entitlement. From the pistas, to the lights, to the walls, everything they have has been done using their bare hands, with their sweat. I am sure they also understand in a way that others do not, the sense of community and solidarity, something that wealth cannot buy. As I was leaving, I had mixed feelings about how we come to value things and how we can sometimes have no concept of the “real” value of hard work, money, entitlement, and community. Its something that the community of Candelaria understands a lot better than I ever will.