Justo Manuel – A True Colombian Hero
Paisa Power is a new segment we have created to highlight hard working entrepreneurs in and around Medellin. Our purpose is to empower these people by helping them overcome hardships, and boosting their business in any way we can through donations.
Hello, my name is Andrew Macia. Many of you know that I have a small online business which I run from home, but I also teach English at a private institute in downtown, very close to were I live. Every day I walk back home at approximately 12:15 p.m. and I buy bananas from an elderly gentleman, Justo Manuel, near Iglesia San Ignacio.
I usually buy 10 bananas from him. At 200 pesos a pop it comes to be 2,000 pesos. Justo is always very appreciative of my purchase, he always thanks me, and says “que dios lo acompañe.” Even on the days that I do not buy bananas he’s always so thankful.
After a month of buying from Justo, and forming a small friendship I got more curious as to his business and his personal life. So I told him that I have a blog and that I would like to write a blog post about him and his business. Of course he obliged. Initial interview:
- Me: Where do you live?
- Justo: I live in Santo Domingo
- Me: What time do you leave Santo Domingo to get to downtown to start working?
- Justo: I leave around 4:30 a.m.
- Me: So…you take the Metro Cable Car down? Or a bus?
- Justo: No, I walk down from Santo Domingo to La Paz street, behind Parque Bolivar, to pick up my wheelbarrow and bananas.
- Me: Why do you have to walk down?
- Justo: Because on average I make around 6,000 pesos ($3.15 USD) a day, a bus ride costs me 1,700 pesos ($0.90 USD). I cannot walk up so on the way up I take a bus. I would be spending 3,400 pesos ($1.80 USD) each day if I took the bus down.
- Me: How long does it take you to get down?
- Justo: About 2 hours.
- Me: So once you get your bananas at La Paz you haul them…roughly 2.5 kilometers to here, San Ignacio park?
- Justo: Yes.
- Me: I would like to meet you in Santo Domingo and walk down with you, may I?
- Justo: Sure, meet me at 4:30 a.m. at the Santo Domingo metro cable car station.
- Me: Deal.
Friday August 1st, 2014 – 4:30 a.m.
As we walked down the mountain I got a chance to talk to Justo Manuel about his life. I first asked about his business. I asked him where he had gotten the wheelbarrow that he uses. He told me that he got it from a construction job he had five years ago. He worked construction most of his life, up until five years ago. The man whom he was working for gave him the wheelbarrow.
I then asked him about where he lives. He said that he owns the little place that he lives in and that he pays 18,000 pesos a month on property taxes. He does not have electricity, nor hot water. He has a gas tank for cooking, which is about to run out and raising the money to refill it is always a struggle.
This brought me to my third question, his family. He told me that his wife left him when his children were very young, that he rarely talks to any of his kids, and that he does not have any other family for support. That is why he had to resort to selling bananas. This is his account, I am aware that those family matter may be a lot more complicated.
I finally asked him how old he was. He laughed and said that he is 73 years old. This absolutely floored me. I could not imagine any 73-year-old person working as hard as he does every day. A person his age should be enjoying his grandkids, kicking back on an easy chair, hanging out at bingo halls, not walking two hours to sell bananas.
I got a grip and I focused on the positives: Justo owns the house he lives in, if we found a way for him to double his sales per day he could take a couple of days off per week, if we got him a better wheel barrel it wouldn’t be so hard on him. (ESL students: If you don’t understand conditionals take a look at my quick lesson on the topic here.)
We arrived at the small location that sells bananas by the crate. Justo pays 1,000 pesos a day to store his wheelbarrow there and a crate of bananas (100) costs 9,000 pesos. So we are talking about a very slim profit margin. Justo loaded his wheelbarrow with fresh bananas and we were off. We walked up to Oriental Avenue and walked towards Ayacucho. I asked Justo to let me take the wheelbarrow. It was pretty heavy and not easy to maneuver.
After a few minutes I passed it off to my brother, who also struggled, due to the fact that he’s 6’4″, and had to bend down even further than I did. My brother then passed it off to Joel, who also admitted it to be tiresome.
We finally arrived at his usual post near San Ignacio Park. We had sold a few bananas on the way up. Namely people were curious as to why 3 big, young dudes were pushing a banana cart around. We even got one cyclist to buy 10 bananas. A few clients later we decided to go have breakfast. As we sat and ate I asked Justo a couple questions.
- Me: What are your greatest challenges in your business?
- Justo: Well…I don’t have a street vendor license, so I constantly get hassled by the public space workers. I know it’s their job, but obtaining that license is costly and time consuming. I don’t have neither the time nor the money to get it.
- Me: What would you do if you had $200,000 pesos (about $120 US Dollars) right now?
- Justo: I would go to the doctor to see about my ears. I’ve got something wrong with them and I can’t hear very well and it affects my business sometimes. I would also fill up the gas tank in my house for cooking.
Paisa Power – No Pity
Marriam-Webster Dictionary defines “hero” as a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities. I admire Justo Manuel for his work ethic, for his humility, for his resolve, and for his honest hard work.
It is easy for one to feel pity for Justo Manuel, it would be just as easy for us to just raise money and hand it over to him. I do not think this is an effective way to help Justo; he does not want your pity, nor does he know that we are raising money to help him.
This Paisa Power segment is meant to empower hard working people, and help them get ahead.
All money donated will be used to pay for Justo’s medical bills, his gas tank, and the rest will be invested into his business.
If you feel this is a worthy cause and would like to help, here’s what you can do:
- Join us for the next Medellín Buzz Spanish/English Conversation Club Cocktail Party this Saturday in Poblado. All proceeds from alcohol sales will be donated. Additional info: Conversation Club Cocktail Party (click here for details).
- Transfer or deposit your donation for Justo Manuel into my Bancolombia account. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the details.
- Donate via PayPal. Click on the button below.
Thank you for your donations!
About the writer – Andrew Macia
Hello, my name is Andrew Macia and I am the founder of the Medellin Buzz. I am an advanced level English teacher here in Medellin, and I also have a website development, and marketing company which I run from home.
My idea with the Medellin Buzz is to push those who are learning English and to integrate native speakers with non-native speakers.
I love living in Medellin and I love Colombia. I want to give back to the community and this is the best way I know how. Let’s practice English and Spanish and have a great time!
About the Medellin Buzz
The Medellin Buzz is lighthearted news source for English as a Second Language learners in Medellin, Colombia. The Medellin Buzz is written in a way that is easy to understand.