Latin America and the Caribbean

29 April 1997

Lydia Puma, A Fourteen Year Old Girl from Cusco, Peru: Her Voice

Translator's note: Lydia sells ceramics on the streets in Cusco, Peru. She writes poetry and songs in Quechua, and sings them herself. She told this story today, April 29, 1997.

Sunday, I spilled water on the TV, a $30.00 black and white. My mother kicked me out.The last three nights Lisdy and I slept in an abandoned house. I haven't had anything to eat since yesterday. Yesterday I had a piece of bread, some salchipapas (chopped hot dog with fried potatoes)and a cup of mate. The day before I didn't eat. I haven't been to school this week, I'm too dirty. I would like to tell you about my life.

When I was seven I started working. I went to Q'enko (a carved out rock, main tourist attraction near Cusco) between 7:00 AM and noon and explained to tourists about the temple, and sold cloth woven wool bracelets. The tourists gave me tips. From 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM I went to school. I had to support my father and my mother because they were both alcoholics. They sold everything in the house, blankets, furniture, cooking pots,clothing, everything to buy alcohol.

When I was twelve my father died of alcohol poisoning, from drinking wood alcohol. He choked and blood gushed out of his mouth and nose. They accused me of killing him because I tried to wipe the blood off with a sponge.

After my father died, my mother sent me to a seņora in Lima. I was still very much a child. Twelve years old. I worked in her house and her restaurant, peeling vegtables, cooking, washing dishes, cleaning up after everyone. I woke up at 6:00 AM, worked, went to 'accelerated' school at 3:00 PM, came back to work at 5:00 PM and went to sleep at Midnight. I never went out on Sundays. I was paid S/22.00 ($8.00) per month. The seņora didn't buy me clothing, but her son did. The seņora never hit me, but she screamed all the time, and her daughters hit me. I worked for ten monthes and quit. I had to leave my school papers behind with the seņora because she refused to give them to me. I came back to Cusco with the money that I saved. I had some money left over and bought myself a blouse, and some shoes for my mother.

My mother leaves in the morning to drink. She drinks caņazo (pure cane alcohol) mixed with water. She falls down and I have to help her back home after I sell ceramics. She falls down and sleeps on the floor. If I haven't sold anything, there is no food. She insults me, especially if I haven't sold anything or brought any money for food. She calls me names and kicks me out of the house.

The house is one room adobe without windows and a dirt floor. The only furniture is an old bedframe. My brother sleeps on it. I sleep with my mother on the floor. We have two blankets. I hate being in my house, it is too silent.

What I like best is to go to school, and to sing my songs in Quechua. Right now I have problems. I missed two days because I am sleeping in an abandoned house. I don't have anything to eat aand I'm dizzy. The doctor says I need pills for anemia. I don't have my papers from last year because the seņora kept them. I would like to call Simon Bolivar School in Lima to see if they have the papers. I need $15.00 for the tuition, my uniform, which I bought three years ago, is way to small, I don't have any text books. I have only one pair of socks, one blouse, two tee shirts and a sweater so it is hard to keep my clothes clean.

I earn about S/7.00 ($US3.00) a week selling ceramics. I'd rather sell scarves and sweaters because I could earn more money. The municipal police steal my ceramics from my basket, so do my 'friends'. All the money I earn goes for food for my mother and I. I don't buy her alcohol. I hate drinking. I hate parties. But I went to a discotec the night before last. I didn't like it. I left after a half an hour. I want to support my mother until she dies, don't ask me why because I don't know.

I want to finish school. I want to become a tourist guide, like it was when I was a little girl at Q'enqo. I want someone to help me.

Copyright 1997, Lydia Puma Quispe

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