Choma, Peru Tech, 1946-2011
As we wind up our re-tour, revisit, and update of the Peru reuse market, we need to share some sad news. Choma was a TV repairman and longtime employee of ACETV, a women-owned Peru electronics importer (one of our hosts).
The import business had slowed. Jinex's brother's monitor resale shop has been converted to a restaurant, and her repair business, while still plugging away, is smaller (one of her 6 employees now does repair). Choma, one of her older techs, passed away at age 65 about a year ago.
Neither side of the e-waste/e-scrap/e-reuse debate is immune from overstating our case, or of using people as pawns in our war of imagery. I've used Choma's photo a lot during the past 5 years. I hope not to become a "parasite of the poor" myself. This blog shouldn't try to exaggerate the technicians in the emerging world as being some kind of a lavish success story. The shops are dirty, the work is hard, the workers are poor. Choma died of stomach cancer, we can't know what difference more money would have made.
Trade, as opposed to the "business" of stopping trade, is by definition something we want to go on and on. We want to continue to meet the people we do business with, again and again and again. Success for a fair trade recycler is coming back and making another trade. Success is when the exchange goes well, both sides make a little more money and get something they would not otherwise have gotten. But no business is immortal, and as cheaper new (and refurb, and gray market) products arrive in Peru from China, careers like Choma's may pass away, as the TV repair business has in the USA.
When you take pictures of technicians in shops overseas, you are hoping to see them again. When they pass, like Choma, you have a chance to remember them and be sad for their families, but happy to have worked together, even if you never spoke the same language. I think there's a distinction between the photos of relationships, and the drive-by photos meant to impart shame, which raise money without ever sharing the names, much less the dimes. But recycling tourism is also borderline exploitation, and with humility I can say only that I know who Choma was, and I know whom he worked for. I cannot say he knows me or that I was his friend. I'm glad for him to have had a sustainable career, and I hope his family knows the respect which some of us feel for the Geeks of Color.
I do have film of the younger (and one older) generation of TV and monitor repair geeks here in South America. There is still another decade of tinkering to do. The Tinkerer is Gone, Long Live the Tinkerers.
The theme of this recycling-oriented graffiti-mural, photographed yesterday, seems to be, to take our causes seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.