Careers of Improvisation – Part I

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

When I met a journalist on the street who told me she was now working at a pharmacy I didn’t immediately register what a contrast that was. It wasn’t surprising then because people in Bahia change jobs fairly frequently. I walked on thinking that her upbeat personality was suited to either position. Later I thought more deeply about how often they seem to switch and the wide range of jobs undertaken and sought out some people who seemed symbolic of these tendencies. Would they tell me all of the things they had done and can do, and did they have opinions about why this situation is prevalent?

Jairo Intraigo is thirty-one and comes from a typically close-knit Ecuadorian family but goes a little further than most. He has supported his sister’s two children for sixteen years since their father dropped out of the picture. They are in high school now with monthly fees and bills that consume about half of his present monthly income. Starting with cleaning up a carpentry shop on weekends when he was in high school himself, here’s the surprising list of what he’s done so far.

Still in high school he worked a summer on a project funded through a coastal agency by Rhode Island University to study geomorphology of the beach. It involved measuring the height of sand dunes each month. 

A preference for being outside and observing natural features led to his next job over several years leading visitors for an eco-tour company to see mangroves, bird sanctuaries, and other sites in Rio Chone estuary. He also learned to make recycled paper and fashion it into stationery for the company. (Sometime after leaving this job he taught a group of unemployed women those recycling skills and they formed a successful cooperative.) 

Facility at relating to strangers evolved into the assistant manager position at a hotel that catered to backpackers and other low-budget visitors. He redesigned the rooms, redecorated them, and worked out cooking and cleaning schedules. At night he bussed thirty miles away to night university classes to study business administration. Some part-time jobs at the same time included working as a guide in a national park and a seafood chef at a resort.. He also volunteered for the local ecology studies group, and as a high school girls cheerleading coach won the city championship.

After graduation he became an assistant professor at a local university teaching business administration, finance, and marketing as well as rudimentary English. He just began as a chef working every night at a new restaurant, while still living rent-free at the hotel in exchange for consulting with the staff. 

Jairo thinks the country’s poor economy is responsible for job insecurity, and this in turns breeds versatility. Most of his friends have two or three jobs as well. It is a point of pride that he has been able to work at things he enjoys. If he lost all of his present occupations he feels he could make a living doing several other things for which he’s never received a salary: designing (clothes, furniture, graphics), and teaching hotel and restaurant skills. What he would like is that ten years from now as a full professor he receives grateful congratulations from former students who became the country’s leaders and provide a lot of jobs for today’s underemployed.

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