Lisandro Linarez is a 26-year-old Venezuelan migrant living in Bogotá, Colombia. He’s one of 5 million people who have fled the crisis in his country. In his hometown, the small northern city of San Felipe, he taught cooking classes, but after coming to Colombia three years ago, he worked a variety of jobs — street seller, restaurant cook, and singer. That work dried up during the pandemic, and in May 2020, he began doing deliveries for Rappi, a Colombian platform that operates across Latin America, providing deliveries of food, groceries, retail, and more.
(Note: $1 is approximately 3,760 pesos.)
I pack my delivery bag, which is shaped like a bright, orange cube, like I’m heading into war. I shove a heavy bike lock, hand sanitizer, a full-body rain suit, a water bottle, a small tupperware box of rice and chicken, and a black jacket I brought from Venezuela into the bottom of the bag and toss it over my shoulders.
You never know what the day is going to throw at you.
Some days, Bogotá gives me sun. Others, I deliver orders in the pouring rain. Some days, I ride my rickety red bike hard all day in a race to earn at least 35,000 Colombian pesos [about $9]. Sometimes, I wait for the app to give me an order, impatiently staring at the orange-and-white Rappi logo on my phone and wondering how I’ll pay rent this month. Some days, things go smoothly. Other times, they don’t. I’ve had my bike stolen, my phone broken after I got hit by a car, and an angry dog chasing me from the house where I was delivering food.
No matter what the day presents, Rappi doesn’t care. Neither does the customer. All that matters is that I press the buttons when the app tells me to and that the food order arrives from point A to B.
In the morning, I carry my bike up the stairs of the small basement apartment I share with my partner and sister in San Cristóbal, a high-crime neighborhood on the fringes of the city. I kick off at 9 a.m., beginning my daily 9.9-kilometer ride into the center of the city, and whizz by a maze of densely-stacked brick buildings, motorcycles, and cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I head to the same place every day: San Martín Mall. Pre-pandemic, I played music here on the streets, and it went well for me. But during Colombia’s eight-month lockdown, I bought a bike and registered to be a Rappitendero after my partner started deliveries too. Most of the Rappitenderos are migrants like us. The mall is perfect because it’s pressed up against the Carrera Séptima, the main artery of the city, and wedged between the business district and a residential area of mostly rich Colombians.
I roll up, lock my bike, set down my bag next to a group of a dozen other delivery workers, and pull out my phone at 10 a.m. Rappi now requires you to sign up for two-hour “shifts” and check in before each two-hour period. I always work from 10 a.m., just before the lunch rush, to 6 p.m., just before the sun sets and riding my bike home becomes dangerous. Then, I wait. Rappi automatically sends you orders from restaurants, supermarkets, and retail stores. If you want to be prioritized for orders, you can’t choose which orders you accept or which you decline. It didn’t used to be like this, but Rappi regularly changes the rules. Once, it was a tiered system of orders, prioritizing Rappitenderos with better ratings. You could choose to decline orders if the trip went to a dangerous area or was poorly paid. But as the app updates, you have to update with it.
I keep peeking at my phone. It’s a slow morning. I really need orders today, because I only earned 16,000 pesos yesterday. But at 11:40 a.m., the lunch rush begins. An “Ayyyyyyyaaaa” that sounds like a mix between a fire alarm and a man shouting comes out of my phone — an order. But it’s a disappointing one. I have to ride 1.8 kilometers there and back to deliver a chicken sandwich combo. Rappi is paying me 2,010 pesos for the order. Pay fluctuates as much as the working conditions. If the customer tips you or it’s raining, you can earn as much as 8,000 pesos for a delivery. Most orders, though, pay 2,000 pesos. I pay with a credit card Rappi gave me when I began deliveries last year, stow the brown bags of food, and take off. Soon, I roll up to a marble building and buzz the microphone on the wall.
“Delivery for Diego in apartment 1703, please,” I say to the doorman, who’s dressed in a freshly-pressed suit. I wait in front of the glass doors until the doorman calls out, “He says he already paid, and you can leave the order.”
At places like this, it’s so rare that someone comes down to pick up their own food, and even rarer that they say gracias or strike up a conversation. It doesn’t matter much to me. It’s lunch rush, and I have work to do, but sometimes you do feel like a robot. I leave the food with the doorman and take a photo to show Rappi it was delivered.
Now, the orders come in a deluge.
First, it’s a purchase of crêpes, ice cream, and juice delivered about the same distance: 4,500 pesos. I drive my bike on the freeway and through a bad stretch of town to deliver it. Then, it’s a typical Colombian meat-and-beans plate, bandeja paisa. This time it’s 3.4 kilometers, for 2,827 pesos, but a nice girl around my age comes out of her apartment in a T-shirt and jeans and gives me a quiet gracias. Then it’s poke bowls, a salad, an Asian noodle bowl, and Starbucks Frappuccinos.
I ride fast so I can earn as much as possible before my luck dries up.
At 4:53 p.m., I get an order of hamburgers, which pays 2,000 pesos, but pushes me over my goal of 35,000 pesos. It’s 5:35 p.m. when I land back at the mall. I still have time for orders, but it’s started to drizzle, and it looks like it might pour with rain. But then my screen lights up: an order for Kentucky Fried Chicken for 8,083 pesos and only 1.2 kilometers. I feel a leap of excitement, and I grab my bike. It’s my last order, and I end the day feeling good. I earned 47,306 pesos, just enough to make up for my slow week. As I ride a final 12 kilometers home to my house, I wonder if my luck will last tomorrow.