Customs

“Shoe Shine, Mister:” The Boys and Men who Shine Cuzco’s Shoes

Shoe Shine Boy in Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)

In the city of Cuzco the majority of people have not completed an education. For this reason they do not have a trade and must take simpler jobs, such as shoe shine boys or men, or as fare chargers in the public busses. While these jobs are simple, the persons who do them need much ability if they wish to take home bread for the table.

Men, teenagers, and older men are those who perform this task in Cuzco. Some of them have only provided for their families with what they can earn in this job.

It is sad to see small boys shining shoes early in the morning, while wearing simple sandals and a wool sweater, in order to earn some coins and, in this way, take money home to help their parents feed the family.

I talked with one such shoe shine boy. Named Manuel, he was only ten years old. He said he was only 6 years old when he began to work shining shoes. He did not live with his parents, but with his grandmother. He had to work to sustain himself so he could take some food home to his grandma.

Shining a Tourist's Shoes (Photo: Wayra)
Shining a Tourist’s Shoes (Photo: Wayra)

Every day, early in the morning, he grabs his tools–brushes, polish, dye, aniline, and his shoe shine box–and goes out for a day full of work. He says that when there are clients he will work hard till six pm. In all that time, some eleven or twelve hours of work, he says he will earn a total of 25 soles, about $10 US. But that amount is not fixed. In any week he might have three days where he can earn that much and on the other days only 10 – 15 soles, from $4 – $6 US.

Manuel has already spent four years working in this job. He says he would really like to go to school. He would like to become a doctor, but his grandmother can help him. So he only thinks about trying to earn money to take home so that they can have food.

A Life of Shining Shoes in Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)
A Life of Shining Shoes in Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)

Shoe shine boys are found on every corner of Cuzco’s markets. Older men already have fixed spots where they work within the markets or on the streets. The cost of a shoe shine is 1 sol. With dye it rises to 3 soles and with aniline to 10 soles.

Usually the younger boys, who are just recently beginning to work at this task are the biggest dreamers. They want to make something of their lives. They do not want to just work shining shoes, but to get an adequate education so they can have a good life like other people they see.

In contrast, the older shoe shine men hope to obtain a better life by learning technical skills so they do not have to rely only on one job. In this way they can meet their family’s goals, they hope.

Most of these men want to learn to drive a car so they can work as night taxi drivers and earn more money. Over time they hope to buy their own car, have all their papers in order, and work hard so their children will not have to work in the streets shining shoes. They hope they will study and get and education.

Girl Shining Shoes (Photo: Wayra)
Girl Shining Shoes (Photo: Wayra)
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