Business on a Bike in Bogota

Nancy, a 30-something woman from Bogota, is on her way to work.

Under a sunny Bogota sky, she’s mounted on a motorcycle that is large for her small frame. On the highway headed north, she twists and turns through mid-morning traffic, narrowly missing getting hit by taxis and buses plowing through the heavily congested lanes.

Almost on the outskirts of the city, she turns right into the parking lot of a shopping mall. She parks her motorcycle in a central area and places the helmet on the seat. She opens the metal box attached to the back of the seat, and unfolds a giant green umbrella to shade her while she works.

Nancy is open for business.

Business on a bike in Bogota

For the past 15 years, Nancy has been selling mazamorra in Bogota. This cooked corn porridge is an inheritance from the Spaniards; in Colombia, mazamorra is a soup made of dried yellow or white corn that is cooked until it softens, then is served (chilled or warm) with milk, a raw cane sugar called panela, and grated white cheese.

Adding cheese to mazamorra

Mazamorra originated in Antioquia, where Nancy’s husband is from. He’s the one that cooks the corn every day, and prepares each ingredient used in Nancy’s free-wheeling business: the bags of milk (milk is sold in bags in Colombia, along with other liquids like water and hairspray), the containers of fresh grated cheese, the grated panela (a sugar cane product common in South America). He organizes the containers used to dispense the products – plastic cups and Styrofoam containers with lids –and he tucks a package of napkins into the box, along with plastic spoons.

Then he sends his wife off to sell.

Business is well for this husband and wife team. In a country where the minimum monthly wage – often earned with long hours of work under difficult conditions – is just above US$200, Nancy sells that much in mazamorra every day. At 80% profitability, she and her husband make many times the minimum monthly wage. And, they are owners of their own company. They don’t have to deal with bosses, or the daily commute on packed buses.

Small businesses in Bogota grew by leaps and bounds in 2014; 98% of the companies created were microbusinesses.  These businesses are important to the Colombian economy, since they create employment for a large sector of the population.

If you’re on the autopista norte in the afternoon, Nancy is manning her station every afternoon at CC Autonorte, near Carulla. Drop by, say hi, and have a corn soup that reaches back into the roots of her culture.

For a recipe, try this one.

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