Friday, August 06, 2010

La Elotera


Come rain or shine — though mainly rain of late — the elotera positions herself on this corner every afternoon before 4pm. Her story illustrates some of the unevenness in the Guatemalan economy, which often takes surprising form.

She brings with her roughly 75 home-grown elotes in a big basket and sells as many of them as she can for Q5 each until nightfall. Now let's suppose she sells just 50 of them (though from our own observations, she rarely has many leftovers), she can expect an income of Q250 every day for six days of the week, which translates into approximately Q6000 a month.

To put this in context, the entry level salary for the policemen based in the street behind her is around Q3000 pcm.

A senior accountant in Guatemala City on the other hand, will earn up to Q12,000 a month, but this entails a full day's work and a proportion of this will be taken by the state in tax.

I doubt very much whether the SAT gets so much as a whiff of the elotera's earnings and she is likely to be pelando la mazorca for other reasons as well: for example she flogs off the tusas and shilotes to the guy who keeps horses for the tourist carriage rides, and makes a few extra 'pesos' from premium products such as chuchos.

Now, let's go back to the image above. Doesn't she look just a little bit folorn there? Of course she does, because pity is very much part of the pitch. It's difficult to imagine that I could sell even a dozen elotes if I shamelessly scuttled over at three thirty to grab this lucrative corner before the elotera arrives (in a tuctuc, by the way.)

This may explain why her customer base consists mainly of individuals in smart cars passing along the Reformador. Guatemalans with a bit of disposable income like to patronise humilde street vendors and so prices can be raised without provoking troubling thoughts like 'hang on a sec, doesn't a codo-burger at Al Macarone cost just Q8.50?'.

So the chief of police often appears for his ration of boiled corn, but given their paltry salaries, it's hardly surprising that few of his junior subordinates do.

There are three major building projects going on in the neighbourhood which have created a captive market of hundreds of albañiles floating around after hours. Few of them however appear to want to satiate their appetites on elotes costing Q5 each. Instead the houses selling tortillas, chiles rellenos etc — and let's not forget the shop with its litros of Gallo — have been doing rather well out of this grubby demographic.

The elotera is nevertheless pulling in the couples. Because the consumption of traditional food brings on warm fuzzy feelings in most chapines, a bloke can take his girlfriend out for a nibble of corn and not come across like a complete cheapskate. Hey, Q5 isn't all that barato anyway, is it?

Doña Tona on the Alameda Santa Rosa was the recognised queen of this little niche until she started appearing on TV and in magazines. Then the family who paid her to look after their house got the hump that she'd turned their front lawn into an al fresco dining experience, and were no doubt also sore that she wasn't paying them for the privilege. In fact, hasta con eso, they were paying her!

So now, without the cushion of a guardiana's income and with the extra burden of overheads such as rent and the cost of a flete to carry all her ollas, Tona now peddles her wares a few doors further down from her original flytrap, and is that much less likely to greet customers with the mazorca pelada than in days gone by.

3 comments:

Cristina said...

Mr. Diablog, you hit it right on the head. While SAT is terrorizing all the people who haven´t paid for their calcomanía and giving doctors, lawyers and other professionals all kinds of audits, people involved in the informal economy pay no taxes and set up shop wherever they wish, leaving their trash behind. Instead of La Elotera, substitute for " the people asking for money at stoplights" and then imagine how much tax free money they make, and why some parents think it´s such a good idea to rent out their children as beggars.
God forbid you should be part of the middle class that with hard work and pinching pennies was able to have a halfway decent education (or ¡que horror! are bilingual), you´re immediately tagged as a self-centered far right "sentado a los pies del Muso Ayau" who has no solidarity.

GC said...

Growing and boiling elotes is a trade requiring a bit more skill than begging at traffic lights, but compare and contrast the fabrication of tortillas, a slightly more 'artisan' profession, especially for those eschewing Maseca.

If the price point is Q1 for four, one would need to sell 40 tortillas just to match the income the elotera gets from selling 2 of her own products.

She did use to leave her rubbish around, but has since been encouraged not to. The man with the horses helps.

On Friday so many SUVs were backed up in both directions as they tried to stop to buy elotes that a pile-up nearly resulted.

Anonymous said...

I can't do agricultural economics for Guatemala but you are calculating her sales gross, which is higher even than gross income. If she grows it herself you must deduct the cost of seed corn, any other inputs. While you see only the labor of selling, there is the labor of growing--cultivating, planting, weeding, carrying water and any other inputs. (I don't know if small holder fertilize in Guatemala or not.) Then she has to get that corn to her corner--so there is some transportation cost, even if small. How far is she traveling each day?