Every morning, Álvaro carries a table, a chair, and several gunnysacks across the street. He places them under the shade of a large tree in front of one of the public schools, on one of the busiest streets in town. Then he makes a pyramid of pairs of other people’s shoes on the table. He spends his day under that tree pushing a thick needle with nylon thread in and out of rubber, giving new life to shoes.
Álvaro is from my town, but his dad lived on the island of San Andrés, as his sister does now. He has visited frequently since he was a child, and is where he actually learned his craft. During one visit in his early 20’s, he took a SENA* course in cobbling.
Now, with fifteen years of experience under his belt, Álvaro does pretty well for himself. He usually fixes 15-20 pairs of shoes per day. He said he knows of about 8 other cobblers in town, but I told him I only knew of him. He told me the others work from their homes, while he gets to work in the open air. The location offers him more than just good business, though – it gives him plenty of people to chat with. Every time I’m passed I’m greeted with a warm smile (and he calls me mi reina, which I hate but allow from a select few people), and I always see different people parked in plastic chairs, chatting with him.
*SENA is a public vocational institution, providing training in a wide array of fields, from administration to bar service to cosmetology