Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Post-Bogota Blues

I'm dealing with a serious post-Bogota hangover.

Honestly, I wasn't that excited about going, at first.  I'd never been to South America, so I knew it would be interesting to go, but we had just finished a bunch of little trips here, and my summer felt like it was already half gone, and I just didn't know how difficult or fun or sad or whatever the trip would be.  I was tired, too, and wanting to just relax a little and get into some writing.

But, the trip was amazing.  Way beyond, on every level--personal, spiritual, professional.  And now, I've got the stuck-in-America blues.

Here's the thing:  There were a lot of bummers about living in Bogota for a week.  In a new city, I love to be able to go out and walk all around by myself and explore and that kind of thing and, well, that just wouldn't have been smart in Bogota (though, for the record, I never once felt in danger).  Also, because of our conference schedule, we had to get up really early in the mornings and, because of my drinking schedule, I went to bed very late at night.  So I didn't treat my body so great while I was there and it led to me feeling everything a little extra much and maybe being a bit weepy and sentimental.  This was amplified by the fact of so many Bogota residents coming to our conference and sharing their stories, honestly, authentically, and beautifully, with us, who normally do everything we can to not be ourselves in academic settings.

Also, I ate a lot of white bread and drank a lot of coke.  And wine.  And beer.  And I wore skinny pants out dancing without a tunic, just in a regular old shirt.  A gringa pretending to salsa, big old booty out.  All while speaking what my friend calls unethically bad Spanish.  Without a care!  Hola!  Buenos dias!  Dos minutos, por favor!

But Bogota felt alive to me in ways living here doesn't.  It's got the big-city excitement going on, for sure, but the people also seem more alive, more part of the communal.  Food comes slowly, one plate at a time, and late at night.  There is fresh-squeezed juice with every meal (god bless lulos!).  There is music coming from every window.  Buildings are painted bright colors.  Cars careen around corners.  People talk loudly in the streets until late.  Fat, happy dogs, teats out, roam all over the place.  People juggle, people yell, people bike, large pieces of furniture balanced on the handlebars, up hills.  Everyone hugs, everyone kisses.

Above all, there is a sense that you are not alone.  For example, we visited one of the poorest parts of Bogota.  There were some serious security concerns because of gang activities, so we could only go to certain parts.  But while we were visiting one of the safer parts in Soacha, I had to pee, and my friend Juan took me into a bar to do it.  The owner personally cleaned the bathroom before letting me use it, and sent his kid out to buy toilet paper, using money they really couldn't spare.  And they wouldn't accept any money for it in return.  I threw some on the counter anyway, and then felt like an asshole for it.

People steal each other's stuff in Bogota, even if you're just inviting them over for a party.  You can get mugged.  You can get kidnapped.  But you can also be deeply cared for.  And seen.  And you are part of the people.  For me, this was the largest truth of that city.

I think, sometimes, I find living here lonely.  Or isolating.  Or alienating.  Something like that.  Not all the time, but maybe now, in contrast to life there, for sure.  Here, I'm one of those people stuck in a car, in traffic that doesn't move, in Fellini's 8 1/2.  Bogota was my floating out and above.

I realize I was only there a week, and my perceptions are no doubt skewed toward the tourist side of things.  There is no question there is a great deal of sadness and injustice in Bogota.  It just felt more real, less simulacrum, than life here.  I don't know how else to put it.  And that dissonance is giving me the blues.


  1. pretty amazing that you have the emotional insight to see/feel this in just one week. most visitors I know make pretty lame, and sometimes hurtful, observations even after one month.

    Yes, there is a lot of sadness and injustice in Bogota but some how less fortunate people find ways to cope, to smile, to dance, to sing, and yes like the guy who offer you the bathroom, to be more human and decent.

    what is it about struggling with injustices that make people very real while those who have plenty live an isolated/alienated life? Juan

  2. My one word answer would be: fear. that's why I isolate, anyway. Fear of being judged, being seen, being hurt. I think sometimes when you have a lot of stuff/freedoms/whatever, but are in a society that encourages you consume everything, stuff it down, make it hidden, be "normal," blend in, it results in some pretty weird pathologies.

    Anyway, thanks for the validation :).

  3. I spent 3 weeks in Cuba in my senior year of college. It changed my perspective, and it changed my life. I could nod my head at many of the things you said here and say, "I know exactly what she means." -Cassie

  4. Thanks, Cassie. It helps a lot to know I'm not the only one!

  5. This post speaks to me on so many levels. I really appreciated this window into your trip, and I am so glad you had such a positive, life-changing (in small, sometimes intangible, ways) experiences in Bogota. Remember, too, that YOU opened yourself to it. As Juan said, many people he knows have made "lame" pronouncements about the area, but you saw past the surface and had meaningful exchanges with the people and the culture. Not everyone is willing to do that. I can't wait to hear more about it. xo meege

  6. Juje,

    I, too, know what you mean. And I think South America and other parts of the world really ARE, in fact, places in which human beings are more alive, even when material conditions in some parts appear sometimes shocking from our perspective. Even though neo-liberalism is colonizing the glob, many southern hemisphere societies (if I may generalize via my limited experience) are not nearly as far down the road of individualist consumerism and big box suburbophilia we are, and it shows in the way they live.

    I never felt more alive than when I was in Brazil and Argentina--especially the night I walked around with 3 German and 1 Dutch gay boy trying to find the seats we bought last-minute from a scalper at Carnival, which were the serious PEOPLE'S seats. We privileged, straight off the cruise ship, walked through blocks and blocks of favelas, some of the gnarliest, world-famous slums in Rio--and you know what? I'm not trying to romanticize it and I know it was the big holiday of the year, but there was so much music, color, and life in there. And when we got to the section of the bleachers where our "seats" were, there were in fact no vacancies at all, but everyone was totally welcoming and generous with their beer and food anyway! Then we watched one of the most amazing processions of human creativity and light on the planet, with our mouths agape, for the next 3 hours! I would not have traded having those cheap seats in Rio for anything.

    Buenos Aires, too--and that's a big, pretty rich, more European city. But it still felt alive in a different way from almost anywhere I've been in the U.S., with the possible exceptions of New Orleans and New York. It's a different kind of alive in S. America. If I won the lottery, I'd travel around down there for at least a year.

    Happy, at any rate, to get together soon so we can remember how much warmth, friends, life, love we have here, even though we get so isolated from each other through the obsessively busy lives we lead.

    Love you,


  7. Colonizing the "glob"! Ha! Surely you can decipher my typos. :)

  8. Love this comment, Nuj, you big glob-trotter. Thank you :).

  9. Excellent piece S@#$!@$%r. Not sure if you use your full name on here. I feel what you're talking about. Two times I traveled through Mexico, once when I was 17 and I almost made it to Guatemala...But there was some kind of passion for living that I'd never felt anywhere else--although that could flip to an opposite extreme and, say, get you pistol whipped by a Federale or punched by some drug dealer's girlfriend. Loved reading this because it took me back.