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Eileen and I are attempting to live on our volunteer salaries here. It’s difficult, but doable. We both make about $350 a month; our expenses include the rent, food, transportation, our gym membership, and entertainment. We could live in less expensive neighborhood and save some money there; we could forego the membership to the pretty nice gym we belong to; we could spend less on food, especially lunches (we’re still a little leary of really cheap places because hygiene is often more questionable); and I guess we could walk a lot more, thereby saving money on transportation; as it is, we don’t spend much on entertainment.
We’re pretty frugal people. We haven’t made extravagant purchases here. I don’t think we’re getting ripped off to badly at markets and whatnot.
Still, our wage is barely livable. Factor in clothes, and maybe a family to support, though, and we’d have problems. But what’s more amazing is that we actually make more money than most people who work here in Quito. Yes, we’re volunteers, but we get paid this “stipend,” which, to the schools employing us is pretty much a salary. Teachers usually make $200-300 a month. Doctors make about the same. A student of mine asked me how much I make; I carefully told him, “I don’t know, I haven’t been paid yet.” But then I asked him how much his mom (who I met. She’s a school psychologist.) makes. He said she gets about $300 a month, but after “descuentos,” she gets $118. I’m not sure what descuentos is. It may be benefits; it may be taxes. In any case, I think she takes home $118 a month.
You come here and you see poverty in the streets. There are all sorts of people peddling food, candy, incense – heck, even barrettes and blender parts — on the busses and on street corners. But you also see lots of cars. And you see people dressed pretty nicely – in suits, sweaters, nice dresses. So it’s easy to imagine that not everyone is poor. And of course, not everyone is. I guess government employees make a little more (like $600 a month). But the vast majority of people are struggling. Many of the police in my class work 10 or 12 hour days. The guards at my school work 12 hour days and occasionally take a 24 hour shift. I don’t think that’s even legal in the U.S.. And the police and the guards don’t make much either.
It’s not until you get to know some of these Quitenos that you realize how hard it is to live here. We’re really living in relative luxury in our $200 a month apartment and with plenty of money in our U.S. savings account to not be panicking. We’ve always heard that Latin cultures are a little more laid back, that people get a lot more vacation, take their siestas in the afternoon, etc. That’s not at all what we’ve seen here in Quito. It’s still almost unbelievable.