The Expats: Alfredo Mamani and Yobana Carvajal

alfredo yobanaCV
Name: Alfredo Mamani and Yobana Carvajal
From: Betanzos, Bolivia
Age: 36 and 31 respectively
Profession: Owners of a fruit and vegetable store on Lacroze Avenue, Chacarita
Last film seen: Rocky 3 — Alfredo
Jack the Giant Hunter — Yobana

The story of Alfredo and Yobana begins in Betanzos, a small town in Potosí better known for its agricultural land, rather than as the Bolivian Verona. While Yobana left Betanzos for Argentina as a baby, Alfredo took a trip as a young man in search of a better life.

Living in Buenos Aires province for the past 14 years, Alfredo, who owns a fruit and vegetable shop in Chacarita, says: “I came here to see what Buenos Aires and Argentina were like. I stayed with my older brother who was already living in González Catán. I liked the place, and we started working together in construction and so I ended up staying here.”

Later on in conversation, Yobana reveals that the couple met when she returned to Betanzos for the first time aged 13, and that he actually moved to Argentina to be with her…

Continuing the story, the differences between the two countries were various, according to Alfredo, who notes that Potosí is the highest point in Bolivia. “The climate is a lot drier and the way of living is very different. Actually, everything is very different! I come from the countryside and my parents still live there, so the lifestyle change was noticeable. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to earn a living in Argentina, so I’m grateful for that. When I first came here, the dollar was pegged to the peso so that was great. I used to go back to see my family and take US$1,000 which were worth 8,000 bolivianos then.”

During his first few years in Argentina, Alfredo continued to work with his brother, although he now works in a different sector. “Until 1999, we worked in construction until the crisis period hit. That meant all our work dried up. By that point, I was with my missus and she was six months’ pregnant, so I needed to do something. We started with a very small fruit and veg place that we shared with an Italian butcher in Villa del Parque, and that was the beginning,” he says.

“We had a lot of help setting that up,” adds Yobana. “He has siblings here as do I, and it wouldn’t have been very easy to open a shop, or make a home, without their help. You need to be mobile, for example, to buy produce from the markets.”

Alfredo says: “Fruit and vegetables are a Monday to Monday job. On Sundays I work until 2pm. It requires a lot of sacrifices, but I am able to provide for my family. We moved from Villa del Parque from a small, quiet business and we were earning a salary that we could live off, but nothing more, to Chacarita. More customers stop by here, and we’re located on a much busier avenue.”

Yobana adds: “We came to Chacarita via my brother, who has his own business. He came to pay the electricity bill near Lacroze train station and saw this store was up for rent. We phoned the estate agent the same day and came to see it. We got a guarantor for the contract and that’s how we could start our business here three years ago.”

Yobana and Alfredo have two daughters who were born in Buenos Aires province, while Rolando, his eldest son from an earlier relationship, moved to Argentina from Bolivia more recently. The youngest, a toddler, pretends to help out in the shop, amid admiring coos from broody grannies, while Rolando works there full time. The family has a mix of customs adapted from both countries, given that Yobana — who was born Yohana but due to an error made recently on her DNI document that inadvertently renamed her (a mistake she has decided to stick with) — falls somewhere between both nationalities, given her Bolivian heritage and her Argentine upbringing.

She says: “Food from Bolivia is one thing that we do at home, and in general they are more elaborate dishes than Argentine ones. There’s a spicy peanut soup that needs to be liquidated, and chicharrón, for example, and these are dishes that you can’t find here easily. You have to go to specific places. Alfredo grew up in Bolivia, and he likes all of those things — he hates pasta, he says it’s for people who are ill!”

Alfredo adds: “I like being here, although my mum, who is 71, is still in Bolivia. I miss my family. But I’m here, and I work, and maybe tomorrow – who knows what the future holds for me — I’ll live there again. I went to visit earlier this year, and last year, and they can always tell that things change, for example, my accent. One gets used to being here and adapts to them.”

Other cultural aspects differ between the two countries, as Yobana points out. “When I returned for the second time, after getting together with Alfredo, I was 30 and we went to stay with my in-laws — once you’re married, you always go and stay with his parents — it was very different. We’re used to getting up early, at 5am, but my mother-in-law would knock on the door at almost that time to get us to eat. We tried to sleep in, until 8am, as we wanted to relax, and by the time we got up she had finished cooking! Soup, followed by a main course, that we would eat at midday. Then dinner at seven o’clock. Everyone goes to bed at 8pm there!”

Talking about his daily routine in Buenos Aires, Alfredo says: “I get home at 11pm and I get up at 4am to go to market. I leave the house at 4.20am. I head to Central Market for fruit before going to the store to deliver it, then I go to a different market for vegetables. It’s a sacrifice. As we live about 100 km from Chacarita, in La Matanza, it’s a long day. It’s better for us to have a business in the capital because Catán is quite peaceful and we can make a difference, financially. It’s quieter on Tuesdays and Thursdays as there’s no fruit on sale then.”

Alfredo visits at least two markets a day, because the Central Market only tends to sell fruit, which lasts longer, Yobana says. He also buys at a Bolivian market whose farmers harvest every day. “That means you get fresh lettuce or bunches of rocket every day. And they are all Bolivian smallholders.”

With a young family and a business to run, the couple have little time to relax, although Sunday afternoon is a time for kicking back. “Our routine is very strict, getting up early, going to market, and it starts even earlier if we have a doctor’s appointment. Before our youngest was born, we both used to play soccer, him with his friends and me with mine. That’s a really good way to relax and de-stress,” says Yobana. Alfredo supports River Plate with a passion, sporting the club’s tracksuit.

“When we had a bit more freedom, we used to go and see Bolivian bands, who might come here once a year,” she adds. “We’d shut up the shop, go to the party then leave to go straight to the market. It’s the same as going to a wedding. Of course, we were younger then.”

Yobana has always worked with fruit and vegetables, as she used to help run the small family business in Catán. “My father died when I was three, and my mum made a home there for us. When my sister was 15 and I was nine, we ran our fruit and veg store. In the beginning she sold on the street — you have to do what you can and do what you know — and as she worked in that area, we then opened a tiny shop at home. That grew into a general store, butcher, a kiosco. Then she got married, and then we were three and we worked in the store. By then I was 15, my youngest brother 12, and we were in charge. I think it was for that reason that we got robbed, then again and again. The youngest had a gun held to his head twice. That’s when my mum said that enough was enough, and closed the curtains for good. Some stores function really well there but once you’re scared, that’s it.”

Regardless, the family still live in Catán, calling it a peaceful neighbourhood. “We like being there,” says Jobana. “It’s very nice, and there aren’t any tall buildings or many cars. People walk about and it’s less dangerous than here. If an unknown car drives past, everyone looks at it.”

Buenos Aires Herald: July 13, 2013
Ph: Mariano Fuchila

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