(Pics taken from Google Images because my phone’s still knackered. If I’ve stepped on anyone’s toes please let me know nicely.)
“Brian worked every hour that God sent him…”
That’s one of those phrases that crops up in the eulogies of small business owners to emphasise their tenacity and determination to succeed in the face of trying circumstances.
I always thought it was a bit of a stupid expression – because that’s a physically impossible thing to do.
I used to think that a better expression might be: “Brian worked somewhere between a half and two-thirds of the overall time allocation that God sent him.”
Admittedly, that’s a lot less catchy.
And – having been here for almost two weeks – I’d have to say that my reductionist version probably undersells the hard work of the Medellín street vendors.
The hustle that people have here makes a mockery of the local Costcutters back home that freezes easter eggs.
In the UK and Ireland, ‘startups’ are the order of the day, and any company without a significant social strategy and one eye on multi-million series A funding might as well pack up their bags and go home.
Starting a business is less complicated over here.
All you need is something you’re up for selling, something to hold it in, and also – if convenience is your thing – some sort of wheeled contraption to help transport your goods.
Walk 50 yards on any street, even residential ones, and you’re liable to pass around 10 vendors, flogging all sorts of stuff.
In the Downtown area near to San Antonio metro station there are dozens of guys selling this sugarcane and lime drink called Guarapo Costeño. It costs around 30 pence a cup, and many of the vendors maximise their earning potential by blocking up access ways at pelican crossings.
Like at home, fruit and veg is also a big street product here.
A lot of the fruit vendors have taken it to the next level by selling mango, pineapple and some sort of unidentified green fruit in a ready-to-eat format.
Sort of like this:
To sell their fruit they even have microphones attached to their carts. Yesterday at around 9pm in the middle of the city, there were two sellers side-by-side shouting across each other, with both of them set up in a 12-foot gap between the crossing of a main street and the entrance of a supermarket.
My Spanish isn’t great, but I’m pretty sure the back and forth went like this:
‘His avocados are shit, buy my avocados. Much better than his shitty avocados’
‘No, his avocados are shit. Buy my avocados. He has psoriasis’
‘I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Probably only saying that because he has shit avocados’
Then there are ice cream and soft drink companies (the names of which escape me at the moment) that have geriatric armies wearing their company’s uniforms and pulling branded granny-type shopping trolleys through the streets full of the goods.
Everyone of these I’ve seen so far appear to be at least 70 years of age, so I suppose at least it gets them out of the house.
I’m now staying in a flat in a residential part of the city, and today I looked out the window and saw a man, probably about 75, pulling one of these trolleys and dressed up in the gear.
Walking in the middle of the road, all of a sudden he stopped, looked up at the sun, took his hat off, wiped his brow, lit a cigarette, shook his head… and then kept on going with the shopping trolley.
I thought for a second he was considering quitting on the spot, but no, someone somewhere needed a bottle of his Colombian soft drink.
These cigarette and sweet stalls are so common through the city that it feels like the scenery in a Scooby Doo chase scene at times.
These people seem to be everywhere, flogging chewing gum and cigarettes.
As of yet, I haven’t actually seen anyone buy anything off any of them, and Colombians don’t seem to smoke very much.
I’m sure I probably just need to pay more attention.
By far the most hustling-est (and I say that with the greatest admiration) thing that I have seen is the system for making phone calls here.
In spite of modern mobile technology and the still thriving Colombian pay phone industry, these mini-kiosks all over the city work on a system where you go up and pay someone to use their phone.
Oh, and the phones are attached to a chain so, you know, the person doesn’t boot off with it – although the one I saw being used yesterday was a Nokia 3310.
There are even guys that don’t have a stall, just a high-vis jacket with the words ‘Minutos a todo destino – $100’ on them.
That’s just a rough overview of the stuff street vendors deal in here, and doesn’t even scratch the surface with all the food (most of which I’m not going near because I don’t eat meat).
One thing for certain though is that these Paisas are anything but lazy.