The smoke never stops at the crematorium. There is never a shortage of bodies to pick up for Jose Luis, a Venezuelan migrant who took work as a body collector, work few Peruvians will due to feat of catching COVID-19. He earns $500 per month to support himself and his family. He thought he would move to Peru and work as a waiter or mix cocktails for tourists.
Luis says, “Someone has to do it and we need to work. The Peruvians don’t do it. It’s tough. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
Many Venezuelans have fled poverty and violence in their country to end up as gravediggers and crematorium workers in Peru. They do what they have to in order to survive despite the risk of catching coronavirus.
Luis and his compatriot Nestor pick up 20 bodies a day.
Peru has been one of the hardest hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Latin America, its outbreak is second only to Brazil in terms of severity, with more than 350,000 cases and more than 13,000 deaths.
There’s little time for solace at Lima’s El Angel Cemetey these days. This is the new normal. If you can afford it, the high-speed burial allows only three family members and lasts just 10 minutes. Others can only pay their respects virtually.
Orlando is in charge of the ovens. He never imagined he would see so much horror.
“This has collapsed. Everything is full. There are bodies that we have to keep elsewhere because there’s no space and we can not leave them outside, ” he says.
Despite these challenges, Orlando tries to find something positive to focus on.
“I live my life day by day, living each day as if it were my last.”
These men left the country in search of a better life. They still hope to find it.
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