Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Working Capital of $1.00

An old man shuffles up to me holding a red motorcycle helmet upside-down as though it were a begging bowl. Curious, I peer into the man’s helmet.
“Chiclets, senor?” he asks. I shake my head no, and he slowly shuffles off to the next table.

It is only a little past 6pm, but the sunlight is mostly gone in Parque Los Palpas, in Cancun city. I am sitting in a food court and people-watching while waiting for Rupal who has gone to check out the quesadilla, taco and churros food stalls nearby.

The old Mexican is selling really tiny white packets of Chiclets. Each packet contains five Chiclets and is barely bigger than a sugar cube. He has fewer than a dozen of them in his helmet. Even if he is selling them for one peso each, his entire revenue potential as well as his working capital is under one US dollar before he has to replenish his stock. I wonder how he is able to make ends meet.

I have seen this quite a bit in other places in Mexico and also in some places in India and Southeast Asia. Many people are trying a make living with just about zero capital. Here, in Mexico there are people trying to sell small packets of facial tissue, Chiclets or candy. Women sit patiently on the street for hours trying to sell an appallingly small number of oranges. Granted, I don’t know their constraints, but the whole enterprise strikes me as shockingly unambitious.

Having recently given up my only source of income, my thoughts do stray occasionally to how long my savings can last. And then I see hundreds of people eking out a living with so little and I feel embarrassed about even having thought about my personal finances.

A few tables away, I see one boy giving the old man a coin and buying a pack of Chiclets.

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