Pretty high up on the list of things that impact my life here in Buenos Aires: MONEDAS. Moneda is the spanish word for coin, and although the Argentine mint printed more last year than in the history of the country, there is a severe shortage of them here in the city. Unfortunately, you also need coins to ride any of the hundreds of colectivos (buses) which are the main form of transportation. There are multiple theories as to why there is a shortage and/or where the monedas go. Some say that people are hoarding them to be melted down because the metal is worth more than the actual coin. I don't like this theory, because while it is ridiculous, it just does not address the issue in the way that the other theory does. This other theory is - THE MOB.
Supposedly the mob is connected to the privatized bus system ( I mean, why wouldn't it be?). The heavy metal machines that suck down our monedas everyday are then emptied out and moved to mob headquarters, where bosses sell the coins back at an 8% increase to poor kiosco (little gum, candy, soda and cell phone card stand) owners who need to make change for their customers. Apparently the government seized over 1,000,000,000 one peso monedas from the mob and returned it to them in bills. Because of this shortage it seems that kioscos get a lot more play than they used to, and my friends and I are all getting fat off the alfajores that we are forced to buy everyday to get change. However, you really have to hit it right, otherwise kiosco owners will flat out deny your purchase or give you the item for free.
Sometimes good things come from the moneda shortage, like free rides on the subte (Buenos Aires subway) or real bonding between people on the street. One day a woman willingly gave me two two-dollar bills and a one peso moneda (the most rare kind!) instead of a five. It was literally the most unexpected/nonsensical thing that has happened to me thus far here. Or, one day a little old lady happily gave my friend Amy two peso coins in exchange for a two peso bill because she had no money to ride the bus. Minus a few people who have moneda connections, it kind of bonds people together. Also, once in a while I'm not even trying to get monedas and am instead buying a fashion magazine and a Fanta and I'll get it for cheaper. I try to keep these positives in mind everyday because the rest of it is so annoying.
I've been trying to become an expert moneda hoarder, but I'm still pretty bad at it. You have to lie and confront in order to be successful, and while I've got the lying part down ("No, I don't have 5/10/50 cents") I tend to give up easily if somebody says they don't have monedas to give me in change. One day I had to take an extremely expensive taxi because I was denied three times in a row in my neighborhood and was going to be late for class registration at UBA. Or, for instance, today I was buying cheap gold hoop earings at Onda, the Argentine version of Claire's, to replace the nice gold hoop earrings I have been wearing for a year that were knocked off of me while fighting off my muggers, and they needed to give me 50 cents. Instead of 50 cents, they gave me the ugliest thing I have ever seen in my life:
I think it would be so funny to make a documentary about the things that people have done for monedas. I myself am considering prostitution.
Just kidding. Sort of.