On October 22 there was a national census done here in Peru. One day. The mind boggles. And not just a count of how many people live here, but rather 47 questions for each person to answer. Plus it was done door to door!! Is your mind reeling too?
The whole country of 31.77 million people -more or less- was counted in one day; that is unless you lived in the rural part of Peru, then the census takers had a few extra days to count you.
A few weeks before the census, the government and providers sent out lots of notices about the census and what it all entailed. It started with everybody (locals, foreign residents, and tourists alike) being put under “house arrest” from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on Sunday, October 22. If you were caught outside you would be “arrested” and taken to the local jail and held there until after the census was over.
In the end, that ban was rescinded and you could walk/drive/bike around the area with the police not stopping you. Though you were encouraged to stay put until you were counted.
I had heard at one point that all the tourists coming into the airport that day between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm were going to have to stay put because there would be no transportation to take them to their location. That also got waived. If you were involved with tourism, your employer was to give you a waiver to be given to the census people early so you would be allowed to work.
All shops/restaurants/offices were closed, only essential services were open. Lots of stocking up on the basics; wine, chocolate, and cheese.
So what happened? We had a look at some of the questions online. The government wanted our name and numbers -luckily we don’t have any numbers and weren’t asked for our passport number- isn’t a census supposed to be anonymous? Some of the actual questions; did we have a refrigerator, stove, microwave, and my personal favorites; Did we have a blender or an iron? (really; wow!) Did we get gas/electric/water bills? What kind of gas did we have (bottle/natural – here some apartments have bottled gas like propane tanks for heating)? How many rooms did we have (but not to count the living room, kitchen, bathrooms – really it was how many bedrooms did you have)?. Did we work and if yes where/what as/on what kind of a visa? What was our education/language/color of skin? Did we have a car/motorbike/boats of any kind? Any kids? (and if yes, I think those same questions were to be asked of them).
But interestingly enough one friend was asked a question about whether she was a tourist or something along those lines. Yes, she is, though she’s here while her husband is working and that was the only question asked before the census taker walked away. Other friends here are with the embassy and they were instructed to say that they were with the embassy and not to answer further questions. And even more interesting, local friends weren’t counted or got counted after the “curfew” was lifted.
And the logistics of it all… In just my small area; how do you figure a map out that allows you to count a town (let alone the whole country!)? I heard people saying they saw one side got counted in the am, but their side didn’t get counted until late afternoon. I did see the stickers on the doors – when you were counted the census taker slapped a sticker on your door. But the stickers were so random, a couple houses together and then random placement of stickers as if they couldn’t be bothered to count the houses in between.
It was mostly young university students who did the counting (essentially they volunteered – paid S/50 (which works out to be about $15) for all day of going door to door (and I read about some people really not happy about the census, so these young adults had to put up with “unhappy” clients) plus the additional 4 hours of training beforehand. No food or transportation allowance. Hopefully, they get some serious brownie points at school! The other bit that boggled my mind; many of the census takers were by themselves going in and out of houses/apts. Granted one didn’t need to invite census taker into your place (heard there was concern about census taker being fake and casing your place) but equally disturbing was that I heard the census takers were being taken advantage of by the owners (3 ladies got raped).
So after gathering up of all this information (by hand, fill in the bubble, though many of the answers were written out!), the information will be sent to the anonymous office to be entered and analyzed. In one month’s time, it’s supposed to be ready for publication!!!! How is that possible? Or maybe the question needs to be asked, why does the US need a year before they can release census data?
On the actual day of the census, all was so quiet. No buses, no taxis, no car alarms going off, no traffic. I did an early walk once we got done with the census; I saw 1 bodega open and 3 street cleaners and that was it. Kids were playing basketball in the street. John and I went for a walk a bit later on; another bodega open, ice cream man out and still no traffic. We wandered in the middle of the streets that we never can cross unless there is a light. A few people wandering around, but mostly census workers were the only ones out. All in all a slightly eerie feeling of quiet. So very quiet. It was great!
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