Friday, January 2, 2009

Bolivia. El Alto. Don Willy

One of my first nights in my room, I arrived after dark from La Paz. It is cold, windy, quiet, and sometimes seemingly desolate. Everyone had retired to the shelter of their walls. Nothing about such a place felt like home, and it was a completely different world. But, as I got out of the minibus, and started to walk down the street, a neighbor, Don Willy came flying by in his van, asking me how I was doing and where I was staying. His kids were hanging out the windows hollering at me. It was nice to see them. In the back was his wife sitting on top of a big bag of shoes. In the informal economy, Willy and his family sell used shoes. They pick them up from Chile, and sell them in markets in El Alto. I first met him when a health worker here took me out to the market to see if he had a room for rent. They were selling shoes. Later that day, as I was drawing some of the buildings in the neighborhood, I could see him using his courtyard space to wash and clean used pairs of shoes. He also makes seats for minibuses. So, tonight, he told me he had a pair of shoes just my size. His wife echoed it, saying just for me, they just got a fresh arrival today. I am doubtful they will fit me, as most Bolivians are not taller than 5’6”. But, we will see.
If any home is an engine of economic activity, his is. He built the entire place himself and always seems to be running about five businesses out of his place. Everyday, I would walk by, he would have something different to show me. He hopes to eventually cover his entire lot with an apartment building of 4-5 stories.

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