You would see them if you walked around my neighborhood: men on the street, hanging out. You might think that they are just loafing around.
Well, they are not. They are working.
They are the caretakers of the street.
They are mostly young men who spend their days and nights sitting in a chair leaning up against a building or occupying a little shack on the street.
Their lives and livelihoods are on the streets. In fact, the streets are their kingdom.
I see them every day. They have their own territory—usually one street or even just one house and the surroundings. Some have uniforms and are employed by a security company. Others are freelance, without uniforms.
Their primary function is as watchmen. They are hired to sit outside a home or a business and keep an eye out. They are alert to any stranger or suspicious looking person who may come into the neighborhood. In security-conscious Lima, middle class homes and businesses seek their services.
I live in one of those middle class neighborhoods. I always say hello to the street guys and exchange pleasantries. I feel that it is smart to stay on good terms with them because there may be a time when I really need their help. So, for Christmas and July 28 (national Independence Day in Peru) I make sure that the ones who work closest to our house receive some kind of gift.
I know that the street guys can be a great source of information. For sure, they know everything that is going on in the neighborhood. They know what the crazy lady across the street from us is doing. Or what’s happening with the family of drug addicts around the corner. They know who is secretly dumping garbage where they shouldn’t.
I’m only moderately curious about the happenings in the neighborhood, but when I want to, I can find out all the gossip from one of my contacts on the street.
The street guys are also very entrepreneurial. Aside from their modest wages, they live on tips for services. The range of ser vices is impressive. If you want your car washed, lawn clipped, garden tended, car parked and protected at night, house cleaned, minor repairs done, or errands carried out, they will do it. Or anything else you might think of. For example, when we have guests, and they park their cars outside our house, our guys will watch to make sure that the car still has the same number of parts when our guests come out.
It is a 24-hour job for some of them, and at night I see them sitting in their chairs, bundled up if it is cold, spending the night. I feel sorry for them. It must be miserable to sit there all night.
The nights are terrible, but I also wonder about the boredom that comes with sitting in a chair all day with nothing much to do except the puzzle in the newspaper. It doesn’t appeal to me, but for these young men I guess that it is the only opportunity they see.
The street guys have created their own niche in our environment. In doing so, they take care of our neighborhood and, therefore, provide a valuable service.