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Mario Nolasco lives in Ventanilla, on the far north side of Lima. Many of Ventanilla's current residents either arrived as part of land invasions (a group of homeless families squat on an undeveloped or undesirable piece of land, hoping that eventually the government will include them in city planning with services such as water, sewers, and electricity) or were moved here by the government to relieve crowding in other districts. However, being moved to Ventanilla did not mean that any services or structures were provided; another artisan explained that when he, his wife, and their five children were moved there by the government in 2000, "there was nothing but sand. We slept in the sand with plastic and cardboard boxes for protection. Not many people stuck it out. Life was rough. There was no water, no electricity, no access to transportation, no nothing." While their neighborhood has electricity now, 12 years later, they still do not have water.
Mario is young, just 24 years old, and has an immaculately kept workshop that he's built by himself. Compare some pictures from 2009 with ours from 2012; the changes he's effected since then are striking.
The second oldest of eight children, Mario comes from a line of artisans. His parents couldn't afford to buy him toys, but there was always ample clay around. Mario would create his toys out of clay and his father would later fire them in the kiln along with his items for sale.
His opportunity to come to Lima came when an artisan asked his older brother if he'd help him out at his workshop for several months. Mario's brother wasn't interested, but 18-year-old Mario was. He had never been to Lima before. "I'm from the jungle. I only knew places with lots of plants and animals. I had heard lots of stories of the big city, the ocean, the cars, and the buildings."
June is wintertime in Lima, and Mario wasn't used to the cold. "I didn't like the weather at all and didn't plan to stay." But after his month of work was over with and Mario was making plans to return to Ayacucho, another artisan asked him if he would work with him until December. Mario agreed. Once December rolled around, Mario had slowly gotten accustomed to Lima. The artisan offered to pay for Mario to return to Ayacucho and spend Christmas and the New Year with his family, if Mario would agree to work with him for the next year.
By that point, Mario decided that if he was going to spend this much time in Lima, he might as well open up his own workshop too. He had friends who knew of available land in Ventanilla for his future workshop. "But it was just sand; there wasn't an existing structure to build onto." Mario spent 2007 working at two workshops, his friend's and laying the groundwork for his own. He'd work for one week for his friend, followed by a week working on his own workshop.
Since his land was just sand, his weeks in his workshop were spent sinking posts in the ground and building walls with thin wood. He used woven mats for his roof. As Lima is a desert, it rarely rains, so woven reed mats were sufficient as well as typical of his neighbors' homes as well. But they are not very strong or permanent. "I lived in the workshop too, of course. You have to guard your stuff. People would say, 'finish your floor; how can you work with a sand floor?' But, if your pottery piece falls off of the table and onto the sand, it doesn't break. If you have a floor, it does. And if you are painting it and it falls into the sand, even though the sand sticks to the paint as if it were glue, you can just rinse it off and start again."
He strengthened his workshop in 2010. Mario now has a cement floor, reinforced and painted walls, a stronger roof. His home is now in back.
The time involved in getting from anywhere else in Lima to and from Ventanilla is significant. "I spend three hours in a bus to get to Manos Amigas on time. If I have to bring a big order in, I take a taxi, which would normally take less time, but right now there is construction on both roads in and out of Ventanilla, so it's about the same amount of time."
Due to the distances involved, he always makes sure that he has scheduled different days for merchandise to be due and transported to his clients, so that he doesn't have to trek to more than one place in one day. On the day we visited, for example, Mario's brother left Ventanilla at 4 a.m. to take an order to a client in Lurín, far on the southern edge of Lima, by 7 a.m.
Mario's main plans for the future are to keep growing his business, of course, and to obtain the title of his land. "The government has the title. I am working on getting the title, but it will take time. You have to keep asking for it." Getting the title to the land is tricky in areas where land invasions have been frequent and the government has relocated people. Only the people who keep asking for it and are persistent - over years - are the ones who eventually are granted them. We hope that Mario is one of the lucky ones.
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