Issue - April 2009

April 2009


In this issue, Dylan Rudloff researches the importance and benefits of English language; Christina Moore brings us a story of struggle and conquest; New Experiences Away from Home from Miguel Angel Ajhuacho from San Simon University; Nail designs are the new art in the streets of Cochabamba; at the end of this edition is Walter Sanchez with Religious passages in the more...

April 2009

Street art... of the nail variety

Christina Moore investigates the growing trend of nail artists working on street stalls; and gets her own nails done too.

Christina Moore
Projects Abroad Volunteer
London, United Kingdom

Do you need a confidence boost, have the hands of a workman, or have a special occasion coming up, but only have 5 Bs and not many more minutes to spare? Do not panic, you can choose from reams of exotic designs priced between five and seven Bolivianos, and a host of nail artists in none other than Punata street, La Cancha market. I did exactly that and a week later the novelty has not worn off and neither have the designs; I still keep catching myself gazing at the pretty flowers and butterflies that adorn my nails.

Traditionally nail designs are associated with exotic countries such as China, although the exact roots of nail artistry are hotly contested, and there is some evidence of it being employed in ancient civilizations. First it arrived at Cochabamba’s most exclusive salons, but now you can get a street version in the local market for a budget price and in ten minutes, which makes it much more accessible to the general populace and no longer just for special occasions.

My nails and I went back to Punata Street to speak to one of the nail artists, Rosmarie. She is one of (according to Marcela Sanches in Reflejos, June 2007) 80% of the working population in the informal economy, and no less than a business woman. Three years ago at Cochabamba’s Alasitas fair in November, in amongst the “miniatures” vendors, Rosmarie spotted street nail artists, working with stencils. The seeds of a new enterprise were sown. This was not a totally new idea to her, and having always had an interest in beauty, she had previously attended nail art classes at an institute.

However, she found that she lacked the dexterity and steadiness of hand to work with the complicated hand painted designs they taught there. At Alasitas, upon seeing how quickly and easily it could be done with stencils, at stalls in the street, and being at a time in her life when she needed to start making money quickly, Rosmarie launched into research and the seeds of her idea began to sprout.

Finding that there were already a few women stationed in San Martin Street, Rosmarie went on to become the first nail artist in Punata Street in the middle of the busy market. Initially “Punters” were cautious. To them nail designs belonged strictly in a salon and with a hefty price tag. Gradually the word spread, as people saw the quality of her work. However, with success, came competition. “You cannot have an original idea without people seeing you make money and wanting to do the same,” she laments. A year ago she was making good money, and although she admits it is still good now, the competition has definitely affected her earnings. Saturdays are the busiest days for a nail artist due to the weddings, graduations, parties and other events requiring women to become glamorous. Now on a Saturday there could be up to ten other nail artists on Punata Street alone.

Nonetheless, for Rosmarie, the job suits her needs well. “In a shop,” she explains, “you would work ten to twelve hours and earn 600 Bolivianos a month. I earn double that, even with the competition.” On top of this she loves being her own boss and working to her own timetable; she does not have to work if she does not want to, and if she needs extra cash she can work more hours. With three children, flexibility is very important; in the mornings she does chores and prepares lunch for her family, before going to work. On a typical day she will work from ten in the morning until eight in the evening, with a break for lunch. I spoke with another nail artist, one of Rosmarie’s competitors, who pointed out, while removing a bottle of nail polish from her baby boy’s tiny grip, that if she were to work in a salon, she would have to pay to send her son to a nursery. Marcela Sanchez also spoke of the many benefits of the informal work that is so common in Bolivia. Typically associated with poor economies, and assumed to be something that people only do when they lack an alternative, informal work is actually something that many people are choosing to do. According to Marcela Sanchez, “the flexibility of hours and independence” are worth sacrificing the benefits of formal employment. Also it frequently occurs that employment benefits are “bundled” and “require substantial monthly contributions from employees, many of whom will utilize few of these benefits.” In addition, Sanchez observes that “In Latin America… it takes longer than any other region of the world to formally start a business… and in a country such as Bolivia it costs 200 times as much to do so than in the United States.”

Rosmarie is not entirely satisfied with her situation. This ambitious lady has lots of ideas for the development of her business, but at the moment is limited by a lack of money to get started. Currently she does not have a fixed location for the stall as they cost $500 to buy plus other additional costs that are involved. In addition she has to move about a lot as shop owners do not like stalls to be too close to their own. If Rosmarie could acquire a fixed stall, protected from the rain, and with clean water and electricity, she could expand her services to include, for example, manicures and would have the freedom to be more creative with her work. As if to prove her point, on the day we spoke it was pouring rain; Rosmarie was the only nail artist out that day, and her little client seat was soaking wet. Rosmarie’s competitor with the baby had also complained that she could never do anything too creative without stencils, while working in the streets due to the bustle and the weather.

Overall Rosmarie is happy for now; she enjoys her work and is never short of clients. However, she did lean forward to tell us of another young nail artist who is studying at university, and is so embarrassed by her profession that she can only be found at night, as can her clients.

New Experiences
Away from Home

After flying for more than 8 hours from La Paz, Bolivia, to the United States, I was tired when I got to New York. Catching a train at Grand Central, I was ready to go to Camp Anne, which is located about 2 hours from New York City, and set on a beautiful site in the eastern part of the New York State near the Massachusetts border.

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