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For as long as Senna can remember, she has worked to support her family. She began at four, helping prepare food that her family would hawk about town, when her father was too sick to pick rock in the gold mines. She would accompany him to market three hours away, bumping down mountain roads in a dilapidated minibus in the freezing penumbra of dawn. There is no sewage system in La Rinconada; no water, no paved roads, no sanitation whatsoever in that wilderness of ice, rock, and gold, perched more than 18, feet up in the Peruvian Andes.
When she was twelve, she took a job that paid a bit more so that she could buy medicine for her dying father. Senna has pounded rock; she has ground it to gravel with her feet, she has teetered under heavy bags of crushed stone.
But she was never lucky as a child miner; she never found even the faintest glimmer of gold. Today, with her father dead and her mother bordering on desperation, she makes fancy gelatins and sells them to men as they come and go from the mine shafts that pock the unforgiving face of Mount Ananea. When she is asked why she slogs through mud and snow for a few hours of school every day, as few children do, she says she wants to be a poet. Peru is booming these days. Its economy boasts one of the highest growth rates in the world.
In the past six years, its annual growth has hovered between 6. It is an up-and-coming producer of natural gas. But it is the gold rush that has gripped Peru—the search for El Dorado, that age-old fever that harks back to the time of the Inca. In , Peru extracted a total of tons of gold from its mountains and rain forests, the highest production of that mineral in all of South America.
Last year, it produced somewhat less. Every year has seen a drop in the output, which is hardly surprising since there is so little of this precious stuff left to dig out. Even illegal operations are claiming a place in the boom. Everyone seemed to want it, especially in the form of jewelry, and especially in countries whose populations were clawing their way up toward the middle class: India and China accounted for the highest demand for gold, their surging numbers driving the prices ever skyward.