Community Living in Peru: An Example of the Gift Economy

Viviendo en Peru: Encarando a la Falta de Agua

The other day, my parents (who live in Vancouver) received a letter from the government that was an ideal example of the differences between living in Peru and Canada. Here’s how the letter went:

Dear: Homeowner or Occupant,

Your neighbour’s water service has been turned off due to problems with their water service. A temporary water supply has been set up to your neighbour through a jumper hose running from your house.

The jumper hose is connected to your outside tap. Note that if you remove the jumper hose or turn off the tap supplying it, this will cut off the water supply to your neighbour.

We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your co-operation in supplying your neighbour with water.

Waterworks Operations Branch
City of Vancouver

It had me thinking about Eisenstein’s gift economy: the idea that exchanging gifts or favors creates bonds. As waterless days are common in Peru, I couldn’t help but reflect on how differently this situation would have panned out.

The neighbors in Vancouver didn’t have a need to approach my parents and this may partly explain why we don’t know our neighbors very well in Canada. On the contrary, a problem such as water shortage forces the community together in Peru. We’re motivated to help each other because we know that we’ll probably need our neighbor’s help in the future. The common struggle further unites us in that it’s a shared experience that we can all relate to and look back on.

How have you seen the community come together where you live?

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Comments (14)

  • Hi, Samantha!

    Power outages! THAT seems to be the only time we all get together to help each other out. I don’t like suffering, but I love getting to know my neighbors. I walk with my boys every day around my neighborhood and notice the quiet that has crept in in the past three years. People used to come outside. We used to talk to each other. Now we go online to “see” them. I’m deffinitely a neighbor person! I loved the 3 days we were without power a couple of years back where I had friends from church checking in, bringing us food and firewood, where I walked down the street to a friend’s to borrow a chain saw (that was an adventure) to use to chop up massive trees that littered our yard and held us hostage. What fun! This is a timely post, Sam. My church community came through for me, not my neighbors so much. We look out for each other and our neighbors. I think that we are making assumptions that people want their privacy, or that they’re “all set” as we say in New England. So we don’t know how to reach out and get to know each other any more.
    Great thoughts! I could go on and on! Sorry!

    • Ooh! Good one! It almost seems more intimate and cozy with power outages in the evening, crowding around candles or by a fire. =)

      How interesting that you’ve seen a difference even within the last 3 years. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the chatting with neighbors in the 20+ years I’ve lived in Vancouver. People are friendly, but we don’t know each other. You’re lucky that you’ve had that. =) I guess that’s why we need to make our own communities like the church community you describe. That’s promising! Thanks for giving me hope, Betsy!

  • Hey Sam,

    If you live in the Midwest, you will see neighbors coming together every winter. It is quite normal (for us anyhow) to finish our driveway and head over to the neighbor’s and help them out. It definitely brings people closer. Malcolm Gladwell covered the idea of community and the connection of healthy and happy living tied to it in his book Outliers.

    Have a fantastic day/week/month!

    • I love that, Rob! I always imagine communities like that but have never really experienced it. =) Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors. Maybe I’ll pick up that book and have a read through again for inspiration. =)

      Happy days to you too!

  • Our community comes together every time disaster strikes. Recently a firefighter was badly injured trying to save a life; there were fundraisers, and over 100 people were there to welcome him home. We have a “secret Santa” who drops 1 or 2 solid gold coins into a Salvation Army kettle every year – anonymously. And in the past, when we’ve had blizzards of 2-3 feet of snow, everyone teams up with snowblowers and shovels to help out. People with snowmobiles and heavy trucks volunteer to get medical staff to and from the hospitals. In a dangerous world, it’s good to know that there are still communities all over the world where people still care and are willing to put aside differences to help. What a wonderful world it would be if we could all do it, every day, instead of just when discomfort or danger looms.

    • Those are such beautiful examples, Lisa! Your Secret Santa example isn’t directly tied to disaster/danger, so there even *are* instances of random acts of kindness. That totally warms my heart. And I guess it doesn’t have to be about an entire community coming together. I forget about all those little moments of neighborly friendliness. It’s just that they can be so rare here in Vancouver. *Sigh!*

  • Unfortunately, there’s nothing like a shared problem to bring a community together. Water shortages, power outages, weather problems, natural disasters, etc. make people reach out in ways they might not under other circumstances. However, I see this more as a cultural difference. Latinos are used to sharing – it’s a way of life for them – whereas the Anglo culture is more about looking out for their own. Also, water shortages and power outages may be much more common in Latin American countries than in their wealthier counterparts in the U.S. and Canada.

    • For sure, Pennie! There’s less focus on independence in Latin American culture, with families living together in the same household for example. Maybe interdependence and sharing is an advantage of having things “go wrong” all the time. =)

  • The more we have the less we share? Great post, Sam, and there is so much in it!

    In those highly civilised parts of the world I’m far more likely to be the recipient of an angry letter from my neighbour than being offered a helping hand! Sad, is it not? There does not seem to exist either need nor wish to reach out but each to their own and do not dare to trespass.

    • Yikes! I hadn’t thought about that, Barbara. My friend was just telling me that a neighbor knocked on her door about the “loud noise” coming from their apartment when they were watching a movie at 8pm, a reasonable hour, I think. So you are so right that I hear much more about complaints than sharing. Bummer!

  • I think it’s good to see the communities come together..

    I did see some of this in Atlanta, GA, where southern people were so friendly, and hospitality is known for..we knew our neighbor.

    Even people in south FL were friendly – people had to install hurricane shutters when a hurricane comes during the hurricane season, and my mom had a hard time putting up shutters and the next door neighbor..and knew a few people in the neighborhood..

    Then came Orange County, CA. Wow…the coldest people I’ve ever met, if you don’t know them initially….. I lived in 2 neighborhoods for the last 4 years and I barely know my neighbor, and we don’t even say hello and mind our own business….this is really sad…

    • I’ve never been to Atlanta, but I’ve definitely heard of southern hospitality. It’s super interesting to hear about the similarities. =) Your description entices me to live there for a stint. Orange County, on the other hand, sounds a bit like Vancouver. =P Sad indeed!

  • I live in San Francisco, California for almost 22 years and I’ve never met my neighbors, people don’t talk here, they show a lot of apathy, people don’t care about other people. I think it’s the identity of the american, very selfish. Nowadays with the technology boom people don’t even look at each other, they keep their eyes in their smart phones. Woooww! I live among robots!. I am planning to move to Peru at the beginning of next year and I think I will be more alive than I am here in the US. My sister tells me people help you in Lima if they see you in need, here in the US nobody cares. I guess I had enough of the american way.

    • Haha! Maybe you’re right about us turning into robots. =) I just came back from a family reunion and there was an entire discussion about how we spend too much time on our smartphones – even when we invite each other out, we don’t really spend time with each other. In comparison to my experience in Huancayo, Lima has turned into a cold city if you live in the more expensive areas, but there is definitely more warmth than what you describe. So exciting about your move, Judith! =) Best of luck. =)

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