Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No Cover

Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson once said, “The best things in life are free.” While at times I have questioned Janet's wisdom—for example, her decision to pick Jermaine Dupri over me—I think they nailed this one right on the head. I’ve never been a huge fan of “things” and I hate paying a cover charge just to hang out with people. This may explain why I’ve always been slightly allergic to Los Angeles.

Don’t get me wrong—sometimes you have to shell out some dough and it can be worth it. Way back in July, Javi and I jumped on the opportunity to buy pre-sale tickets for two Colombia World Cup Qualifying matches against Uruguay and Paraguay. That proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to Colombia.

That being said, my motto is still, “If it’s for free, then it’s for me, and give me three.” A good thing is only that much gooder when you don’t have to pay for it. Last weekend we hosted a Jornada de Salud* at my worksite, offering vaccinations, dental and medical appointments, and even a yoga workshop—all for free! The only tough part was getting to work by 7:00 am on Saturday morning. 

Luckily I had the rest of the afternoon to rest and recharge my batteries for the Halloween weekend festivities. Being a big fan of “free,” I’m always looking for a bargain when it comes to social outings. For that reason I was dragging my feet last Saturday as I left the house to meet my friends at Trucupey, a club in Barranquilla. Rumor had it that the cover charge for the Halloween party was  20,000 pesos—almost ten dollars. Goodlordthatsalotamoney, especially when I’m balling on a Peace Corps budget. I decided to suck it up because I hadn’t hung out with the conejitas* for a couple of weeks.

We had a pretty good time waiting in The Line (another thing I hate doing), checking out the local costumes—Señor T, mummies on stilts, Mario & Luigi. Eventually, we got the word that due to spontaneous inflation, the cover charge had doubled to 40,000. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one in our group that wasn’t havin’ it. Natally made a good faith effort to sweet-talk the cashier, then she tried getting ugly—at one point I think I heard her say, “Look honey, I can count.” Surprisingly, neither strategy worked, so we all stepped out of line with heads held high and began to plot out a Plan B.

The first suggestion was to head to Calle 84, a neighborhood with a strip of clubs and lounges. It’s not my favorite place to hang out in Barranquilla, mostly because the drinks are expensive and it feels a little fancy. The last time I found myself there was back in September on Dia del Amor y Amistad, the Colombian equivalent of Valentine’s Day. After searching around for a place with an available table that wouldn’t charge us just to step inside, I decided that I had to make my move. I talked some of the crew into heading back to my barrio, where the (free) party never stops—literally. That September night (and morning) turned out to be nothing short of epic. When I went to bed at 7:00 am the party was still going. When I woke up at 11:00 am the party was still going. Yes, that is the sun rising in the background.

If it worked for Amor y Amistad, why not give it a shot for Halloween? This time we showed up in my barrio with two taxis full of folks ready to party. Unfortunately, when we got to my house the neighborhood was dead... just my host-mom, Chabela, and three friends chatting on the front patio. We greeted them, got the guests comfortable, then I made a beer run. When I got back from the corner store, Chabela had already borrowed a stereo from the neighbors and had it hooked up and bumpin'. The night warmed up pretty fast but the tipping point came when Chabela reemerged, freshly showered, dressed in all black and ready to get down.

If I had a dollar for every time one of my friends told me that my barrio was their new favorite place in Barranquilla, I would have enough money to pay the cover charge at Trucupey next time. But I still wouldn’t do it—I would pile into a taxi, head back to my hood, and hope to have half as much fun as I did last weekend. 

Happy Halloween and Pura Vida,


*Jornada de Salud  = Health Day
** Conejitas = Extra Cute Bunny Rabbits

Sunday, October 21, 2012

And We're Back

It’s been about a month since my lost post, which is by far the longest I’ve gone without checking in since I started this blog—not counting the chunks of time that I’ve spent back at home in the Bay Area. Like any good excuse, I’ll start off by saying, “See, what had happened was...”

See, what had happened was, I was really busy because my dad and his wife came to visit me here in Colombia for a week at the end of September. Before you get all riled up by my reference to Lita as my dad’s wife, you have to understand that it’s exactly how I introduced her to folks here—and in Cape Verde when they came to visit me there. When I first described her as my madrastra, or stepmother, people wrinkled up their faces and told me that it was a little feo* to call her that. I guess Cinderella has tarred the image of stepmothers across the globe, because I’ve always thought the word had an ugly ring to it in English too. So, I reverted back to introducing them as mi papá y su mujer to my friends and colleagues during the course of a great weeklong visit.

Having the folks in town was excellent for so many reasons. Spending time with them is always a treat—we enjoy each others company, whether trekking around town, or sitting around reading. Plus, it was a great excuse for me to do a lot of things that I've been wanting to do anyway. In between meals in Barranquilla, we checked out the Casa del Carnaval and Museo del Caribe. One highlight of the week was sharing dinner with my closest friends here. It was particularly fun to watch and listen to them digest my dad's sense of humor, eventually realizing that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I have to give a special shout and many thanks to my friend and fellow volunteer, Kaspar, who volunteered to be our tour guide for the afternoon during our overnight trip Cartagena

Why has it taken me so long to write about their visit? See, what had happened was, I had broken my camera just before they got to town. And, see-see, I was so busy hosting them that I never got around to replacing it. Naturally, with no pictures to document my adventures I was slightly less motivated to update my blog. Why did it take me so long to get my camera replaced? See, what had happened was, I’d been trying to get me some nice white linen plants ever since I’d arrived in Colombia and realized that I could actually get away with wearing them here—before, during, or after Labor Day. I finally took the plunge, but the purchase put a small dent in my finances that made replacing my camera a little more difficult.

Fortunately, I finally I did get paid, and I took my debit card straight to the camera store where I picked up a new one—the exact same model that I had just broken. But, see what had happened was, when I tried to use the camera about a week ago, it wouldn't turn on. I tried every possible approach I could think of to troubleshoot the problem—I swapped out the battery, swapped out the USB cord, etc, but I couldn’t get the thing to charge up. Like the professional American consumer that I am, I had saved the receipt, so I headed back to the store, fully prepared to cause a scene like Willie getting fired. Fortunately for the clerk (and for the glass display cases), she was able identify the problem as a defective memory card—the one component I did not think to swap out. I left the store happy with a new working camera, without even having to Cap'n Crunch on anybody.

I promise you though, everything has been golden, even though I haven't taken the time to share as much as I normally do. Work is going well, and I've settled into a role where I feel like I'm contributing to the quality of the program by supporting the coaches and administrative team.

It's also been rewarding to be involved with the Pre-Service Training process for the group of future TEL Volunteers that arrived back in August. Right now I'm working with Eric and Javi—the two other Peace Corps Response Volunteers who work with Fútbol Con Corazón—to lead a training session on designing and implementing Youth Development projects.

Speaking of Youth Development projects, I just rolled back into town after a long weekend in Campo De La Cruz and Suan, two small towns located a two-hour bus ride outside of Barranquilla. Currently, there are three Peace Corps Response Volunteers working in that region, doing different types of community development and disaster relief/reconstruction work in an area that was inundated and devastated by flooding in late 2010/2011. I was there to meet with local community leaders to discuss the possibility of organizing sports clinics for local youth, for whom there is a dangerous lack of activities. 

Of course I took some time to enjoy myself and get to know a new part of Colombia. To cap off a fun and productive weekend, Bob went to work in the kitchen, serving up a Sunday brunch of French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and fresh papaya. After knocking down a few plates, I hit the hammock and dug into my book, La Casa de los Espíritus by Isabel Allende. I'll spare you yet another one of those reading-in-the-hammock-god-life-is-hard pictures.

So now I’m all set. Fresh off a great visit from my folks and a couple of trips out of town, with a new pair of white linen pants and a replacement camera to document it all. Now if it would just stop raining for one night, I could those put pants to use and implement my master plan to achieve flyness.

Pura Vida,


*feo = ugly, rude