I first saw the colourful Peruvian Jasmine sellers at the end of my street. The family were strategically stationed in a prime position to attract passers by as they existed the subway after the daily commute. Grandma, mum, a little girl of about four years and a baby boy around six months of age. The baby had caught my attention on that cool, damp BA evening, wrapped warmly in his vibrant Peruvian blanket. Strands of black hair sneaking out from under the traditional bonnet and a happy little smile on his face, he was just so cute as he sat snuggly in his cardboard box on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help myself, the photo opportunity was too good; but as I pulled my phone out of my bag the grandma reached into box and took the baby out.
When I saw the same family only a couple of block from my house I was again struck by how cute they were. Different location but exactly the same scene, minus the Granny. The opportunity to get that shot I had so desired a few weeks previous was invigorating, I couldn’t believe it. The sun was shining, the air was clear and life was good. I got the first photo no problem but I new it wasn’t good, so I walked half way across the road preparing for the next. That’s when granny came barreling around the corner, screaming Peruvian unpleasantries at me. I did attempt to explain, for about ten seconds, but there was no placating her with my limited Spanish. All I could do was turn and walked away, granny still raging.
I have no idea why she objected, it could have been any number of things; fear of the authorities as there has been recent changes to immigration laws, maybe fear that the baby would be considered at risk. Really though it didn’t matter what the reason was or how picture perfect I considered the scene to be. It wasn’t just a photograph op for them, it was their life and that was hard enough without worrying about some foreigner taking photographs of them.
In a land where welfare support is virtually non existent or you aren’t a citizen you do what you have to, it’s all about survival. The number of people estimated to be living below the poverty line is approximately about 20% of the population of Buenos Aires. With another 10 – 20% considered vulnerable should prices increase or the bread winner unable to work. Considering the inflation rate for 2018 was 40% i that could be sooner rather than later
Sellers of every description inhabit the streets, alleyways and metro of Buenos Aires. The Subte (as the BA metro is called) provides the perfect market place for street hawkers. Sometimes they begin in booming voices explaining in detail what circumstances have let him or her to be in the position of needing to sell a product on the train. Other times they weave through the carriage placing their product on your knee. It could be chewing gum, a pair of socks, chocolate, hair ties or any number of other items. After they have covered the carriage they come back to either take the product back or take the money. On some lines you can be approach by three to five sellers in a journey of 15 minutes.
The “Cartoneros” though, take the award for the most original occupation and definitely fall under the banner of “only in Buenos Aires”. Hauling their huge carts around the street they serve the city as recyclers and actually receive a basic retainer. They are also able to sell whatever they find in the huge bell shaped recycling bins placed around the suburbs. There are approximately 5000 government appointed “Cartoneros”, however another 50000 also work the streets illegally but only get money for what they can sell. The dirty, hot and tiring work is not for the faint hearted.
… And what of my Peruvian flower sellers you may ask? Yes I have seen them at the end of my street once again but the baby now has his own pram. So I’m guessing that the main concern of the granny was the baby. I even think that on the very first occasion I noticed them, she had also noticed me and my attempt to get my camera out. Don’t mess with a Peruvian granny I say!