Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Crazy Day in Bogota: or Fear is Overrated.

So, this week I nearly gave myself a heart attack, which as a healthy twenty-one year old filled with vim and vigor really shouldn’t be possible. So let me explain about how this strange occurrence almost came to fruition. On Friday morning I got into a taxi with one of my mentor/hosts/bosses (we really need to come up with titles at some point) in order to buy giant barrels for my aquaponic system. I knew that we were going to have to cross some of the worst neighborhoods in town in order to get to the region where all of materials and workshops were located. There have been a spate of robberies here where someone is using a smartphone in a taxi and has someone wrench open the door and grab their phone. So, being a cautious tourist, I was wearing my coat with my wallet and phone on the inside pockets. I was pretty safe, I thought. I have been becoming much more comfortable here having seen no violence or theft and the only indication that I not in a fully developed country being a high instance of homeless people which can be found in any American city as well as a great deal of trash that is not picked up.
Colombian Bin Laden*
We drove through the horrifically paved streets past regions I was starting to get to know and finally turned a corner at which point I could feel myself sink down into my seat slightly. There was a man in full cammo (not the uniform of the colombian military or police) up ahead carrying what looked like an AK47 or M5. With recent events in Nice and around the world, I instantly panicked thinking that maybe he was stopping cars looking for Americans. Once again, I cursed my blond hair and clothes that stand out as not being from around here. This whole time I was trying not to look like I was panicking. I’m supposed to be brave and not judge people based on their appearance, but this man looked like every person that media and culture had taught me to demonize and fear. I mean, he looked exactly like Osama Bin Laden which I could see because at this point he was knocking on our window. My eyes were certainly wide enough to take in his beard and turban and I pressed myself away from the window. My host, Alex, waved him off and we drove on. Alex leaned over and said, “Just by the way, his gun is made out of wood.” I think I breathed a sigh of relief audible in space. It turns out that that man is an Osama Bin Laden impersonator and people here pay money to have their pictures taken with him. Decide for yourself if you would have reacted seeing this man walking towards you on a street somewhere. I not completely proud of my reaction, but I'm glad I didn't say anything or do anything too embarrassing or judgmental.

Tejo board with pink gunpowder packets**
All was well and good until I went out that night with a coworker and the Colombian women’s lacrosse team (my coworker plays on the team and invited me to join them). We were going to play Tejo, a traditional Colombian game something like corn-hole, along with the coaches they’d flown in from the U.S. I’m pretty sure I was brought in to help the Americans (the ones from the U.S. not the South Americans. How much hubris do we have saying that we’re American?) feel a little less isolated. We walked into this tiny bar and grabbed beers at which point I heard a gunshot from right behind me in the bar. I jumped along with all the other Americans and looked wildly round at a cheerfully laughing group of Colombians. With all the shootings in the U.S., I’ve started to build up a fear muscle whenever I’m in public. The good news is that a) I wasn’t shot in a bar in Colombia, and b) that tejo is played with small packets of gunpowder similar to pop-its. The game centers around throwing a heavy weight at a board covered in clay which has a metal target ring on it and four gunpowder filled packets placed on the ring. If you are lucky, you get your weight into the middle or manage to hit one of the gunpowder packets with a sound remarkably similar to a gunshot. After jumping the first couple of times, we managed to loudly proclaim tejo anytime someone actually managed to hit one of the packets which between that and the thirty rack of beer we were required to drink with our game stopped us jumping very quickly. It was one of the most pleasant nights of my life.

On a less terrifying note, the next day I helped out at an event for kids who needs prosthesis. The Men upstairs work on prosthesis for kids and needed someone to help with an activity for the parents and other parts of the family while the kids were learning how to use minecraft, cad, and figuring out self-narratives. It was one of those experiences where while it is in progress, you know you are doing something worth doing (something we all strive for, but don’t always find in day-to-day activities).

*Image credit Getty Images. Link to article about the Man here
**Image credit to Uncover Colombia

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