Edgar Fernandez keeps a mariachi suit in a rusty wardrobe at the public hospital in Caracas where he works as a nurse, donning it for performances that augment his meager salary.
Given that he earns just $10 a month, the money from these shows has been his salvation in crisis-wracked Venezuela, where nurses have been forced to reinvent themselves as home entrepreneurs, security guards or builders just to survive.
Being a nurse in Venezuela is an almost impossible job these days: the country has seen an exodus of the profession, leaving those who remain short of colleagues and contending with problems such as major shortages of medical supplies and devastating electricity blackouts.
“A nurse’s salary is worth nothing,” Fernandez told AFP, saying the money he earns from a 12-hour shift “can’t buy anything.”
When a show clashes with his work shift, he has to pay a colleague to cover for him, meaning that his earnings — which are not always money — shrink.
“Sometimes they pay me… with flour, lentils… I prefer this to going home empty handed,” said the 40-year-old, who practically lives in the Perez Carreno hospital, sleeping on a dirty mattress since he cannot afford rent.
Decked out in his silver-lined outfit, Fernandez sings in bars and homes, and is even sometimes hired by former patients.
He saved up to record an album, which he peddles to radio stations. His hope is to one day find fame.
Francis Guillen makes hairspray that she sells in Caracas’s busy Catia market as she battles, like most Venezuelans, to make ends meet in a country whose inflation will reach a staggering one million percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
“If I didn’t have another job, I don’t know what would have become of me,” said the 30-year-old nurse, who in a single day selling hairspray can earn the equivalent of her monthly salary.
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