Friday, July 11, 2014

A Piggy for Pesos

Yesterday, Maurizio and I walked down the very steep hill atop which our building sits and did some grocery shopping at a local Éxito. We have to do this with relative frequency right now, because we are living without a refrigerator.  My school is meant to supply us with one, as well as a number of other appliances and pieces of furniture (part of their employment package, and an attempt to draw foreign teachers to the school by making it easy to relocate), but these will not arrive till 17 July at the earliest.  So, at the moment, our spacious apartment contains nothing but a table and two chairs, a mattress, and a small styrofoam cooler which we must half-fill with ice every two or three days to keep our cheese, milk, and the occasional chicken breast cold.  The boy has already done this for a month now, poor thing, and he is getting a bit tired of it.  For me, it is not all that terrible, though we have found ourselves eating a lot of eggs, bread, pasta, lentils, and other things that don't have to be refrigerated--but, as you can see from the photo, we also consume a lot of fruit!

The apartment remains cold, because there are no rugs or curtains to warm it up yet, and because the enormous windows that give us such a lovely view of the mountain and the adjacent university campus and let in so much daylight also let in the draughts and let out anything resembling heat (not that we have a heater).  There is a little fireplace, but we haven't got anything to burn at the moment, so we regularly spend our days at home wearing at least three layers apiece.  Aside from the picture of Oxford that I mentioned in my last post, which is still leaning against the wall in the bedroom, there is one decorative item in the house: a giant blue vase of long-stemmed red roses, which Maurizio had waiting for me upon arrival.  They have not wilted even slightly in the six days I have been here, a circumstance I attribute to the fact that it feels like a florist's display case in here, and they add some much-needed colour against the white walls.

In addition, since yesterday, we also have a new pet hanging around the house: a little piggy bank named Wilbur, which we purchased for 6,000 pesos (about $3) from a dapper old man with a snappy fedora, the proprietor of a blanket spread out on a street corner and topped with various bits of pottery.  Mostly piggy banks.

He's Some Pig.
Wilbur is a classic piggy bank--or alcancía en español--that is, not one of those modern pretty porcelain ones with a rubber-corked hole in the belly through which you can access your money, but a smiling sphere of continuous clay with only a tiny slit in the top through which to pop your pesos.  If you want to get the cash out of this cow (pig), you need to smash him with a hammer. (HAM-er!) I am told it is a very satisfying feeling, but I think it would take some dire financial straits to get me to do it, which is, of course, the point.  You aren't supposed to be willing to crack his cute little skull any time you need to top up your Transmilenio card; he is keeping that money safe for when you really need it.  I haven't been able to get a direct answer as to why there are so many piggy banks in Colombia (I saw them all over Cali as well as here in Bogotá), but as far as I can tell, the piggy bank is both a symbol of patience and perseverance, and an educational tool to teach Colombian children to save their money for a brighter future, rather than spending it on their immediate desires.  Sounds like a good idea to me!


  1. En Colombia en el campo se engordaba un cerdo todo el año para comerlo al final del año, las alcancias de cerdo no tienen la apertura por la misma razon que se debe esperar por un determinado periodo de tiempo antes de sacar los beneficios del producto!

  2. Ah, excelente! Gracias por la explicación!