This happened almost a year ago. Just publishing now. This may become a series illustrating the rising buying power and economic status of Peru.
I bought the wrong size of diapers for my three-month-old baby last week. I bought a 72-pack of Babysec CH (for Chico) and a 60-pack of Huggies P (for Pequeño) for $8 and $9 respectively.
I’m usually loyal to Babysec, but the pharmacy had only one package left and I didn’t want to go home with less than 100 diapers. So I got some Huggies too.
When I got home I tore open the Babysecs and struggled to fit one on to my daughter. I immediately realized my mistake. She wears M (for Mediano). I did not open the Huggies.
Receipt in hand, I marched both packages back to the pharmacy where I bought them. I knew the corporate chain wouldn’t take the Babysec package, torn and missing one diaper, but I was sure they’d trade my Huggies P for a package of M.
Then I planned to take the opened Babysec across the street into the market where some independent vendor might trade me out at a rebate. I’d take whatever I could get.
When I got to the pharmacy, I slapped the Huggies package on the counter. As I did, the pressure of my thumb broke a four-inch tear in the seam of the plastic wrapping. What was an unopened package was no longer unopened.
The pharmacy employees, who know me well, couldn’t do anything. They can’t refund or trade an opened package of diapers.
Cursing myself, I took both opened diaper packages to the market.
The typical Latin American market has dozens of independent vendors hawking produce, meat and fish, household goods, clothes, pirated DVDs, set lunches and everything else. I don’t like to buy diapers at the market because, while maybe a tad cheaper than at the pharmacy, the market vendors sell individually wrapped diapers. Even if you buy a whole package, the diapers inside are individually wrapped.
These packages are marketed to small retailers who may sell one or two diapers at a time. But if you have an infant who uses six to 10 diapers a day, you don’t want to have to remove each one from a wrapper unless you really need to save a dollar or two on every 100 diapers you use.
I found the first woman whose kiosk had diapers, both Babysec and Huggies, and showed her my merchandise.
“I know you can’t trade me straight up, but maybe I give you this and you sell me that pack of Babysec M for half price?” I asked. “What do we do?”
“No,” she replied. “They have been opened. Nobody wants those. I can’t sell them.”
She said the diapers would have to be individually wrapped if the package was opened.
No negotiation. No insulting gringo price. Just “No.”
I went to three more women in this market, all of whom I assume are lower-class earners in Peru’s 21st-century economy. Nobody offered one sol in credit for the 131 brand-new diapers I was offering. According to them, no Peruvian parents will buy my diapers.
My 131 diapers are effectively worthless … in Lima.
And just then I wondered, “How much would these fetch in Venezuela?”
As you know, I read way too much about Venezuela. There’s a new series of blog posts on Caracas Chronicles by a pregnant woman in Caracas. I can’t imagine what kind of hell it is to go through a pregnancy in a shortage economy, but Anabella is doing exactly that.
We had barely given the good news to our friends and families when everyone started saying: “go out and find diapers now.” Here, my maracucho hubby, Carlos, turned into my secret weapon: he’s been able to find tons of them, mostly from abroad and even some Turkish ones that are showing up in Maracaibo. ¡Gracias, chinita!
At this point you might be wondering, if getting disposable diapers is so complicated, why not go for cloth? It’s a feasible substitute, though I don’t know of anybody that chooses them over the never-ending disposable diaper scavenger hunt. The constant water cuts and detergent shortages we deal with really lower the appeal of cloth diapers: who wants to face a houseful of soiled diapers you can’t wash? Even when we do get water, it’s so dirty and brown you feel clothes come out of the machine dirtier than they went in. Olvídense, cloth diapers are a luxury only first world hippies can afford.
On the other side of the continent, I paid $8 for the 72-pack of Babysec, talla CH, and $9 for the 60-pack of Huggies, talla P. I wondered, how much would I pay for those at a corporate pharmacy or otherwise in a middle-class neighborhood in Caracas?
And how much could I charge in Caracas for Huggies with a four-inch slit in the package, and how much for the Babysecs with a hole minus one diaper?
What happened with the diapers? I did what most middle-class Peruvians would do. I gave them to the Church.