She gets up at 4 a.m. everyday to prepare the bread, cake and cookie orders for the restaurants, hotels and bus lines. At 5 a.m., she and her crew put the orders in the van to deliver. For next hour, she drives frantically around the city, trying to meet every deadline and ensure every customer gets the order they requested.
Then she returns to the bakery, where again she prepares the bread, cakes and pastries for the two bakeries she runs herself. She does the whole thing over again.
And of course, as with any business, something always go wrong. The city cuts the water, halting all production until it magically comes back on. A kid doesn't show up for work. The bread was miscounted. They ran out at the panaderia, and we have to drop off more. The accountant's here and has questions about the business plan. Someone arrives at the door asking for work. Then, the electricity blacks out, and the ovens can't turn on.
She must get 50+ calls per day, on top of all the questions she gets from her workers and sons. At age 52, she juggles it all every day.
Finally, around 7 p.m., she makes another round of deliveries. She closes all the tiendas at 10 and then buys gas and other supplies so that the boys can keep preparing bread on through the night.
Sergio says that when she dies someday, the million people living in Arequipa will show up for her funeral. They won't be able to fit in the church. But this isn't because of her work at the bakery, the great bread she makes or the clients she has.
It's because Sergio's mom, Senora Delia is the city's guardian angel.
Last night at 10 p.m., for example, a poor neighborhood family came by the house. Their daughter was taken to the hospital for a severe infection. They didn't have the money to pay the hospital bills. And what would they do if their 20-year-old daughter couldn't work? They would be short for several months.
Senora Delia gave them $300 (that buys a lot more than it does in the States), and wished their daughter good health.
This scene is normal at the Perez house. La senora has helped many local families in their difficult moments. Even though she is often in need, she never fails to help whoever asks for it. She shares her private bathroom and kitchen with 15 workers. She's exhausted every night. But she never stops helping.
Another example: Senora Delia took four teenage boys (16-20 years old) under her wing. They came from the campo, outside the city, I think she told me. One didn't even speak Spanish when he arrived, but instead an indigenous language called Quechua. She taught him how to speak. He and the other boys live here in the house downstairs. Right now, they are even sharing a room with la senora. They work 6-7 hours per day and then go off to school in the early mornings or late evenings.
She treats them like her kids. Redy sometimes asks for a little forward on his paycheck so he can go get an ice cream or go to a movie. Senora Delia always indulges him. One Saturday night, Juan disappeared and didn't come back until early in the morning. Senora Delia couldn't sleep. She woke up at 3 a.m. worried sick!
They seem like little kids to me, and at first, it worried me that they didn't have their families with them. But now I see that they do have a family. And responsibilities. And an education. Thanks to Arequipa's guardian angel.