Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Arrival, Food - Friends - Fun: Fatal Spider Bites

I shot up an arm in acknowledgment from my bed (the couch), as old Margs went scrambling around to go pick up the Third Man from the airport; I should've gone with her to hold up a sign for Mr. Fatz, but, what can I say? I'm a jerk.

We'd mopped the floors, swept the balcony, aired out our laundry (that somehow manages to still smell like wet dog), picked up more wine, restocked the tomatoes, gotten him towels! All to remember that we three are the same louts we are back home.

Charley Fatz* arrived two days ago, and the effect has been widely felt; gone are the days of lazing about till 5pm, reading, thinking, dreaming, watching (movies) ... in two short days we've packed in four meals a day, introductions to Colombian friends, baseball games (amateur), hole-in-the-wall dining venues, swimming races (those never ceased, I suppose), and trips to the Texaco, the best gas station/bar/restaurant bonanza, the likes of which none of us have ever seen before.

And there are still two more days left with our cohort, during which we will have to trick him into thinking we're smarter and braver than we are.

After being bitten by a large, compact spider yesterday, our New Arrival simply drew a circle around the infected area of my arm, poked a dot in it, drew an "X" and said -- "Well, we'll just pour some whiskey on it."

And, so we did.

As they went out partying into the late hours, I kept thinking I was getting sick so I went home -- my arm is now nearly rubbed raw, I could've sworn it was swelling, and oof, I thought I had a fever. I might've even had brief moments of reflection; if I'm going down in the Colombian underbrush, at least I should reflect.

Smarter and braver than we think we are? Ooooonnnneee wishes.

Off to the Islands today.

(Note for Mama G: we looked up symptoms for Bad Spider Bites, and I think I'm fine. I don't feel bad, nothing that some sun and beers won't cure -- of course, I won't drink any beers, as it's Sunday, the day of the Lord, and I'd not do anything to offend. [Ahem.] You'll be happy to know we went to a Monastery yesterday ... though, I think Charley Fatz seemed a little radical when he suggested that old Margs and I were brujas who needed to be burned. But I'm FINE.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Las Dudas, but Plodding Along

I really stuck it to myself with that phone call home. Knew it'd happen.

There I was, all happy and content, having recently made the decision to come back -- this time, to Bogota -- and I had to hear old Mama G's voice.

Afterward, Ms. Sands -- that matron of sarcasm, sly looks and inspiring, callous wit -- had to watch me arrange all of Little Morgan's (the Little Rat's) baubles and bracelets and anillos, tying it all up with a headscarf. I maybe even wrote her a little heartfelt note. One can never know.

No doubt Sands' stomach was turning over dinner as I spoke about life in League City, TX and who I missed there, and in New York, and why.

We don't ordinarily tolerate droplets of nostalgia, just as we don't make it a habit of discussing Matters of the Heart.

But I couldn't help it.

For the first time, I started to have my Doubts.

"Will I really be OK?" I thought, aware of my trite, internal sobbing, "Can I continue to wrap myself in deflective jokes and delusional optimism?" -- more internal sobbing -- "It's exhausting."

How I longed to call back home and hear Mama G tell me how she thought I was growing "tubby" (de los fotos, and from when she saw me last month and pinched my sides). I wanted to call Brother G and ask him about the upcoming Baby, and share with him that he should rest assured that I still think he's a lout, a wretched -- wretched -- fool, and perhaps my best friend. [In Your Dreams.]

But then!

We got into a cab, Ms. Sands' disgust at the droplets of nostalgia too much to bear -- I mean, who could?

As we had to push the old Colombian cab down a stretch of the highway as I shouted at the driver that he was drowning the engine, I was sure I could keep plodding along.

Yet, still, I came home and tossed and turned until dawn.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Little Morgan, Telephones and Gorditos

"Ella es pequena o es una gordita?" the lady asked, inquiring, as it were, whether my 10-year-old niece is small or "a chubby little thing." I was trying to buy the spoiled little rat another shirt.

"Ummm, err, uhhh, bueno, ella es ... regular?"

The woman pointed at me and asked whether she was like myself. I nodded with a bit of discomfort, considering I didn't know whether she'd side on small or fat for myself; when I told my brother, Little Morgan's pops, he said:

Charles: I'll slap that woman if she called my child portly!
Charles: Only I can say that.
Did she give you that sympathetic look?
me: oh she did
Charles: Shoulda tipped you off, chica grande. (checking my own guts).
me: checking mine too, oof.

After separating from Ms. Sands for a bit this afternoon, I'd done what I do every time we separate; I wander into the mercados to find cheap things (Mama G's influence for bargains, can't help it) for Brother G's little spawn.

Ms. Sands went off to the book store to find a cookbook (an awesome one, inspired by brutal deaths -- according to its title -- after we found the library only had children cookbooks (?)).

When we re-met, we walked towards the Exito, a Wal-Mart of sorts, to get a taxi. I've walked into and around that megastore of goods so many times, it's embarrassing (one of my favorite pasttimes is to go in and calculate the price changes in their meats, vegetables ... and even their cosmetics, underwear, rice, tuna, beer ... the list, oh, it goes on -- sigh) but I've never stopped by their payphones. I figured they were either defunct or worthless if I needed to call home.

They weren't.

I got to talk to Mama G for 500 pesos (23-ish cents) ... what a surprise. What a surprise. I even got some change back from the old payphone. Who knew?

I'm glad I hadn't known till now -- else I would've been standing at those payphones each day for the past 20 days because she'd have known I could.

Acclimating and Crouching on Floors, Looking for Feet

We consider ourselves quite accustomed to the city these days; we're acclimated to the food -- not without minor "hiccups" here and there -- and we no longer walk with our heads down, tails between our legs. Mostly, our egos are buoyed by our success in terms of making friends and navigation -- and not walking into any sorts of disasters that all the naysayers and doubt-providers predicted we'd find ourselves in back home.

But every once in a while, we falter.

Say, when someone knocks on the door of our apartment, where the doorman and guards stand watch day and night, in a city where our Old Men friends jot down taxi IDs when we leave from wherever we depart. (We recently learned that los viejos slip out behind us and take down taxi information, "just in case.")

Sometimes we cower at 2 p.m. and tip-toe around our apartment for the next hour, "just in case." Juuuuuust in case it's The Banditos.

And then we peer beneath the door to see if any feet are lurking; it kind of reminds me of senior year of college, when the old roommate and I would jump in the closet when we heard a knock while writing our theses. It was most certainly our Senior Tutor telling us to "Get out. Just, get out." Now, it's The Banditos saying, "Countryside." and pointing to their tanks, which are awaiting us in the driveway. Most certainly.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"It's all a competition."

Every day is the same. Or, every day is similar. We wake up, we walk down to the pool; we share snarky lines down the stairs (we don't want to use the elevator, because whomever suggests it would be the lazy one) -- and then the competition begins.

"Pool first? Or, are you going to read?" one of us endeavors to ask, laying out the gauntlet -- you can't throw one here, it'd be too crude.

The response is crucial.

"I might do some laps."

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking -- too hot."

Begrudgingly, we strip down to our swim gear and wade into the pool, which is unfortunately populated with little Latin American children at the moment because of Holy Week.

Old Margs is a much better swimmer than I am, but we learned early on that when it comes to swimming or speaking Spanish (two things for which we should hang our heads in shame) or finding a Colombian husband (Margs' mother asked her if there was a Colombian version of -- oh, the expectations) it doesn't matter the level of expertise: all that matters is who sticks it out longer.

After swimming, we prepare to head into the Old City, or some small barrio where we want to eat ... when one emerges from their room wearing a dress or silly baubles, the other squints in suspicion and re-enters their own room, ready to one-up the traitorous "friend."

"You put on your face, I see what you did. You put on your face. Don't think I don't know what you did. Doesn't matter, your hair looks like slime when it's wet like that," one will say, with endearment.

We compete over everything; how many pages we read in one sitting, how many words we've written, how many pitches we've sent out, how many minutes we slept, how many loads of laundry we've done, how many ridiculous professions of love we hear while we observe the salsa dancers. It usually starts with how many laps, though.

One thing we never have to compete over, I thought, is the obscene or absurd things told to us in bars. Benjamin (Ben-ha-meen), our good friend, recently told old Margs that he wanted to shave off her hair (blond, una rubia) and stick it in his pocket. When he made the motions of shaving off someone's head and then shoved his hands in the pockets of his pants, I knew she'd won -- that night.

"It's all a competition, Morgs, all a competition."

It should be mentioned, however, that we've gotten into one actual fight -- a fight that nearly made one of us tumble over the Old City's walls. We were walking around and one of us was upset that the other had tipped too much at our most recent destination.

"It was, what, 50 cents?! YOU said you were going to have peso coins ready to go! What was I supposed to do?"

"Oh, what, you don't have lips that move? You can't speak up when we're over charged?!?! I don't have a JOB!"

"I don't have a job! I don't have any money, god, you putz, get it together."

"Ooohh, you want to climb up on this wall?"


Then I jumped up, sans cowardice, then jumped down so quickly that I was the biggest chicken from here to home.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"But what about your Security?!" And Having a Hard Head

The weather can be a rough deal some days in Cartagena. Seated right alongside the Caribbean, the wind blows so strongly sometimes that you're thrown off balance; yet the sun is so hot you don't know whether wind is to blame or dehydration. Given our affinity for old men in little old bars, who collect Beer Trophies all throughout the day, it could be the Costenitas or Aguiltas (mini beers) contributing to our disorientation.

Whatever it is, it's delightfully trying.

But that's really the only rough deal. Sixteen days deep in this place -- after a respite with a congressman and his girlfriend, who wants to bring bikram yoga to Bogota, on a horse farm -- I know that I don't want to go back to the dismal streets of Manhattan just yet.

A week before we left New York for this beautiful worm-hole of a city, I received a call from my mother. I wouldn't have known it was from her, hadn't my cell phone told me so. When I answered, there was only a muffled whimper on the other end.

"Mama?? Mamaaaa. Mama!" I asked and then exclaimed a couple times, using a slight, Mexican intonation reserved only for her.

Then there were several minutes spent cajoling her to speak.

Finally, "I jus' don' know. I jus' don' know why. Why? Why you (joo) have to do this to me. Mijita, you so hard-headed. Why Colombia? COLOMBIA? You're So Hard Headed! With your brother and the new baby -- with that Woman, bah, that Woman -- and now you. What about your Security?!"

Oh, my security??

That question had arisen many times in my brain tunnels prior to the trip -- and in old Margs' as well: we both have admitted that we thought about considering our plane fare a big mistake and forgoing the whole deal up until days before the trip was set.


My security in New York no longer exists; I lost a job I hated, I love my roommates, but lord knows how long I'll be able to bunk with them, and I have but a few people I might miss if I choose not to stay (somehow) there. One of them is with me.

Perhaps there was something in my subconscious that sought out environs that seem "insecure" ... based on HBO portrayals of this place ... who knows? What I do know, however, is that my security in New York is no more secure than it is in Colombia -- here, at least, I know I can buy food for two days for $2 and speak with some of the most endearing and grateful people I've ever met.

No es posible in Nueva York.