My housekeeper, Maria, asked me about a month ago if I could bring back a laptop from the US for her nephew. He is hoping to study engineering next year and the family thought it would be beneficial if he got a computer. While he could buy a laptop here, apparently the prices are much better in the US. Generally Matt and I decline to bring back electronic items for people because we don’t want the responsibility or the potential to have to pay import taxes on it when we return to Peru. And because I am usually using a kitchen scale to stuff the last permissible 6 ounces into my luggage. But given that Maria’s family is not wealthy and would not have access to other people traveling to the US, I agreed to help her out.
I asked Maria what computer her nephew wanted. He didn’t know and she suggested that I just pick one out for him – they trust me. Are they kidding? I know nothing about computers except that I pitch a fit when ours doesn’t work properly and whine to Matt until he solves my problem. I suggested that her nephew talk to friends, someone at the university – basically anyone but me. I did contact my nephew, a US college student, to enlist his aid. He came up with a couple of low cost options and I presented them to Maria along with website addresses for her nephew to review them. (Now I know you are thinking, “but Kerry, her nephew doesn’t have a computer, you idiot.” Rest assured that there are internet cafes, and I am using the word cafe very loosely, all over our town.) And I heard nothing more about it.
Now Peruvians tend to bring up important matters at the last minute. I let the computer issue rest for awhile because I really didn’t want to be responsible for bringing one back with us. But I adore Maria and I knew she felt awkward asking the favor in the first place, so last week I asked if her nephew had decided on a computer. The response? “Well, it depends on whether they can sell a cow.” What?! The long and the short of it was that her brother needed to sell a cow to get the money for the computer. He took the cow to the market but the prices were just too low. The family suspects the low prices are because everyone is saving their money to buy turkeys for Christmas, so beef is not in demand. He tried again this past weekend, but the prices were still too low and he couldn’t take the loss on the cow. So Maria’s nephew won’t be getting a computer this Christmas.
I am reminded that in 2014 Peru is still a developing country where the farm ladies in the market wear traditional garb and yet chat on cell phones and where someone might need to sell a cow to buy a computer.
My heart goes out to this young man and his family who are willing to sell a cow for a computer. Is there any chance that you can front him the money until the price goes up and he can get a fair amount for the cow? Anyone that is truly ernest in trying to better themselves deserves a chance. I know this may not possible, but food for thought????
Tim and Joanne Joseph – thank you for your comments. As I am sure you know from your world travels, we Americans cannot solve every “problem” we see in a developing country. I also think you fail to understand the agriculture society at play here – a cow is the commodity, the income, this family has. They sell cows to make their living. However, I do agree that there is something poignant in the direct correlation between the cow and the computer. So if you wish to front this family the money to buy the computer, feel free to send me your email address and we can make the arrangements. Best regards.