My time in Peru has allowed me to become cognizant of how power structures differ across cultures. I became especially aware of how the average wage and corruption contributed to the perpetuation of these structures.
The head of the workshop in which we worked was a young electrical engineer. He is 24 years old, married, and has a three-year-old son. He got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cesar Vallejo, which is based in Trujillo. It was a four-year degree, not much different from the one I’m currently working on at Duke. In the States, the starting salary for engineers can be as high as 70,000 USD a year. However, in Trujillo, the average starting salary is about 3,000 soles a month, or about 1,000 USD. This fact shocked me. It seemed barely enough to support oneself, let alone a family.
Granted, the cost of living is not nearly as much as it is in the States, but one of the engineer’s colleagues told me that often this isn’t enough to pay the bills at the end of the month. I found this out during a conversation I had with them at a local engineering convention. The WindAid engineer invited me to join him after we spent the day in the nearby village of Los Angeles doing maintenance on a 500-watt turbine and taking notes on its existing remote monitor. The convention discussed the possibility of bringing this new Australian power line product to Peru to better monitor and detect issues in power lines throughout the country. It was interesting, but most of the technical jargon flew over my head.
After the talk, I sat and got coffee with both engineers. The colleague was much older, probably in his late 30’s. He was working in managing the electrical sub stations throughout the city. He was the one who told me about corruption in the work force. For all the higher paying engineering jobs, it is essential to know someone on the inside. Without that, you have minimal chance of advancing. Merit isn’t valued as highly as referrals. On the other hand, there are also issues with foreign energy companies. These companies come to Peru and sell energy, but the revenue doesn’t go back into the Peruvian economy, but rather returns to the country supplying the power. These factors leave Peru in a vicious cycle of capital leaving the country, and aids in the prevention of the average wage from going up.
The realization of how hard it practically is to advance in this society dismayed me. I grew up believing in the American dream, where hard work would reap its own reward. This belief didn’t seem to be as realistic in Peru. Either way, the harsh reality didn’t stop the people from leading happy and fulfilling lives. Their optimism and care-free outlook on the world taught me much about what I needed to be happy in my own life.