Friday, March 23, 2012

Bogota, You Are Clearly Trying To Give Me The Willies

I have never had nerves of steal. I cry at the dentist and the slightest hint of turbulence on a flight sends me into an absolute panic. Therefore, it is not too surprising that I found all of the police/soldiers with automatic weapons a little difficult to get used to when I first got here. I am used to seeing serious weaponry on clips from the news and movies with Sly Stallone, not at the mall. However, I finally convinced myself that since I am not a thief, a rapist, or a drug trafficker, there is probably little reason for any of these guys to want to riddle me with bullets.

Next I started noticing the dogs. To be clear, I am afraid of all dogs (except for Tootsie Pop), even ones that go to groomers and wear little sweaters. I don´t play favorites. However, I am especially afraid of stray dogs. I would say that even when dogs are well fed and given lots of treats they are at best unpredictable. They are animals after all.  Life on the streets is tough and stressful. I would venture to guess that this sort of life makes no animal less volatile. The fact that all of the strays look really well fed as if they are existing on a steady diet of small children did little to help me chillax. The only thing that helped is that most of the dogs looked really, really sleepy, like they were going nowhere fast. I figured as long as I kept my distance I could probably avoid being attacked by a pack of strays that thought I looked delicious.

I just tried my best to put the knowledge that the suburbs of Bogota has about 30,000 stray dogs out of my mind and forget about that show I saw on Animal Planet about a pack of wild dogs eating an unsuspecting elederly couple out for a Sunday stroll.

As soon as I had finally gotten over the heavy artilliary and the dogs I began to notice something far, far more sinister. MIMES. However, they were not just ordinary mimes. There were silent, but there make up had an added hint of color that made them look like mimeclowns. If I was asked to conjure up an image more disturbing, I´m honestly not sure that I could. Has anyone ever really enjoyed any performance by either a mime or a clown? If so, why? Mimes are especially creepy because of the not talking. I don´t trust the quiet and I double don´t trust the silent. The fact that a mime may or may not be pretending to be trapped in an invisible box only makes them seem more creepy, not less. There is something even more sinister about clowns. All of the forced laughter and silly tricks are just an attempt to distract people until they find the right moment to strike. I know I am not alone in my feelings. There is clearly a reason so many people found Stephen King´s It so terrifying. Combining the two truly might be one of my worst nightmares.

The wierdest part is that I started seeing so many mimeclowns. In New York, I was used to a variety of street performers. There is the tiny Mexican man who does a magic show on The L Train using real bunnies, the man with multicolored dreads who wears antennaes and  plays the saxaphone very loudly even though he doesn´t know how and talks about aliens, and the one-eyed African American guy who does the best rendition of The Carpenter´s Superstar I have ever heard (however, I think just about every song sounds better when it is sung by a guy who sounds like Barry White). Now all of a sudden in Bogota, the only kind of street´performers I see seem to be mimeclowns. I can´t tell you what I would do for a magic show or an extremely untalented saxaphonist.

They especially like to perform at traffic lights. I can honestly say that when I am in the back of a cab trying to figure out if the driver is trying to steal me or not the appearance of a mimeclown juggling fire does little to help me relax. The worst was when I was at the food court at the mall. I had just settled into a plate of Taco Bell because processed cheese always reminds me of bowling alley nacho plates and America. I had had a long week playing the part of Nell while trying to do just about every daily task and just wanted to eat something comforting and chill out. As soon as I took my first bite I started to relax and understood that the way in which I had had to humiliate myself in front of the Taco Bell cahsier had been totally worth it.

My feelings of serenity, however, proved to be short lived. As soon as I finish my first bite who rolls up but a mimeclown carpenter and a mimeclown doctor ready to perform some guerilla theater for the lunchtime crowd. What the hell was going on???? How had I managed to land in a country that was apparently inlove  or obsessed with MIMECLOWNS??? Bogota, was clearly on a mission to give me the willies and I was not into it. I wanted some answers.

So of course, I took it to the internets. What I found out was so much wierder than I imagined. I learned that in 2004 Bogota elected this mayor who was an academic, a mathematician, and a philosopher. He was into the idea that if people know the rules and are "sensitized by art, humor, and creativity they are much more likely to accept them". His ideas were based on a Nobel Prize winning economist, Douglass North, who looked at the tension between formal and informal rules. apparently, when these two things clash it does bad things to the economy. The first part I am totally down with. I like the concept of not shoving rules down people´s throats, but finding a pleasing way to suggest them. That´s a good idea, right? However, the way the Mayor expressed this idea, I find nothing short of incredibly scary.

Traffic is a huge problem in Bogota. In addition to this, a lot of pedestrians don´t like to follow the rules. So what did they mayor do to fix this problem? He hired MIMES!!!! He began with 20 mimes who were hired to shadow pedestrians and mock reckless drivers. The program was so successful he hired 400 more. These means that at some point in 2004 there were 420 mimes roaming the streets of this city. Just the idea of this gives me the shivers. The program was so popular he talked about it at Harvard and several other Latin American countries copied his idea. Clearly, Colombia has some sort of long history with this particular artform.

 It´s not like I don´t have faith in the good people of New York, but I can´t help thinking that if Bloomberg tried a similar program in the Big Apple at the end of the day there would be a lot of messed up mimes wandering around. I just don´t think too many people in Brooklyn or the Bronx would take kindly to a mime telling them how to drive or cross the street. Come to think of it, I can´t think of a single part of Manhatten or the surrounding burroughs were people would be OK with it.

Since I haven´t seen any official mimes directing traffic, my guess is that the mayor who came next didn´t keep the program in place. Therefore all of the mimes I keep seeing "entertaining" people around the city must have been left jobless after the program was disbanded and have been forced to freelance. They must have also added the clown touches to broaded their appeal which accounts for the fact that most of them looklike mimeclowns. It´s enough to make a girl sleep with one eye open.

My greatest fear is that somehow the mimeclowns and the straydogs will somehow join forces. That I will start to see puppies dressed as mimeclowns or the two performing joint fire juggling acts while my taxi is topped at a red light. If that happens, I´m not sure I´ll be able to stay unless I figure out how you say "valium" in Espanol.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is It Possible To Turn The Sexy Down? Just A Little?

After two plus weeks in Bogota one thing is for certain: I will be extremely surprised if I start singing this 90s classic to myself at any point this year:

I wasn't singing this song last year either, but for completely different reasons. The ladies at my local salon turned my hair orange and I looked a lot more like some sort Carrot Top/Ronald McDonald hybrid than I did a youngish Julianne Moore. I also was surrounded by little men with inexplicably long fingernails who always wore Batik shirts which always reminded me of Tattoo from Fantasy Island even after a Google search proved this to be erroneous (Tattoo always wore a white suit). They did, however, look a lot like Hawaiian shirt and, let's face it, very, very few men look like Magnum PI in a Hawaiian shirt.

Usually guys in Hawaiian shirts look a lot more like the same type of guys who might want to wear a hat like this:

In addition to this, the country was also filled with women who favored man pants, orthopedic shoes, and toe socks who liked to remind me that I was really, really big. It never really felt like an atmosphere where anyone was about to up the sexy. Especially, not when I stopped wearing make up and usually found myself covered in a mixture of perspiration and bug spray. At times I would catch sight of myself in a mirror while out to dinner and think "Dear God".

Now of course I was prepared for Colombia to be a little different. I've seen that video with Shakira where she manages to make being covered in oil and dirt look really erotic and does those things with her tummy that don't really look like they should be possible. I also knew it was a place where even your average joes and geeks can do all these dances that I am pretty sure my body could never learn how to do. I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I do hail from a people who are, in general, much better at guzzling beers and eating potatoes than dancing. I believe there is a pretty good reason why the Irish invented these to wear while doing dances where no part of your body above the knee moves AT ALL:

And not these (and to be honest I have no idea what a person would do in one of these):

I've only been out a couple of times at night and I have to admit that I've been having  some staring problems. On my behalf, it did look like every women at the restaurant I was at had been allowed to choose the most perfect bum and had then thrown on a very tiny, very bright, lycra skirt for a night of sexy dancing. Make no mistake, I was not having any sort of sexual identity crisis (I'm not that hip), nor was I on the verge of turning into some sort of old time-y masher. I was just very, very impressed. The thought of wearing a hot pink mini skirt has never even crossed my mine, however, I saw clearly why this is not the case for everyone. Maybe it had something to do with their lack of muffin tops and saddlebags. 

There is something a little overwhelming about being surrounded by so many hotties with perfect bums who also have their hair and nails did, and killer moves on the dance floor. It sorta makes me want to just throw on some yoga pants and put my hair up in a ponytail (like I did my first Friday here when I went to the mall in a sweatsuit in search of a McFlurry because nothing says glamorous, international traveler like a trip to a food court in order to do some solo TGIF-ing). I mean, how could you even begin to compete with ladies who can probably actually do the lambada? It almost makes me miss the Hawaiian shirts and man pants of Indo just a little bit.

I knew I was in for a little bit of trouble even before I left when I picked up a copy of Culture Shock Colombia during a bathroom stop at Barnes and Nobles when I was still in NYC. I opened the book to the dating section. It spent several pages explaining how gorgeous, aggressive, and flirtatious Colombian women are and how this leads to foreign dudes instantly finding bodacious girlfriends who fill their social calendars up and give them lots of kisses and good times. The following paragraph was pretty short. It said this:

Colombian men do not feel this way about foreign women.


But then I got in the taxi to head to work this morning. The driver kept telling me how pretty I was (which  is not exactly what you want to hear when you are stuck in traffic in a foreign city with a stranger who looks looks like he may or may not be winking at you in the rearview mirror). It seemed like a good time to admit that, yes, I did live with my imaginary husband who also teaches English. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that I must be a terrible liar in 8th grade Spanish just like I am in my native tongue because I'm pretty sure the driver threw me a side eye. He asked if Colombian men bothered me all the time. I said no, because I'm old. I thought it was a good time to be honest so I told him my age. He looked shocked. At first I was a little flattered and then I realized he was probably shocked because I had just told him I was 56.

 He asked why my husband didn't go to work with me to which I smoothly replied "Ummm.... He school no same of him". Apparently, this did not fool my sly cabbie because he then asked me how to say "hacer amor" (make love) in English and he did a little something with his tongue. I figured it was best to just shrug and say "no entiendo". I guess I'm a real Johnny No Fun, but I didn't really feel like discussing love making with my 50 something year old driver at 9 am. I hadn't even had any coffee yet. But, at least this could mean I have a niche, right? 


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Devil's Breath?!?!?!? Aye Dios Mio!!!

This is my friend Sofia (a member of the BFF trifecta that made me vote). She likes to do really helpful things like email me articles about the most terrifying parts of a place I am about to visit. To provide the optimum amount of helpfulness she always sends these articles either just before I leave or just after I arrive. For example, a few hours after landing on Flores Island in Indonesia last year to see the Komodo Dragons she sent me this:

This article made me feel especially good since not only had I failed to research the dragons before I left, I had totally forgotten that one had nearly bitten off Sharon Stone's X hubby's foot. When I learned that the dragons were all out in the open, could digest bones, and the guides only carried a big stick for protection I felt even better.

Luckily, Sofia also decided to help me prepare for my ten months in Colombia by sending me this a few weeks before I left:

This Vice documentary (which scared the Bejeezuz out of me! Thanks, Sof ;)) looks at the use of a drug known as Devil's Breath, or Burundanga, in Colombia. It's called Devil's Breath because legend has it that this drug steals your soul and was used by ancient Colombian Indian tribes to convince the wives and slaves of fallen chiefs that they would really, really enjoy being buried alive. Some describe it as a form of "chemical hypnotism" because people under the influence of the drug have no free will and can easily be coerced into doing anything that they are told. Criminals sprinkle it on food, blow a powder form in victim's faces, or slip it into people's drinks. They then ask them to do things like take out large sums of cash from ATM machines, hand over their cars, or prostitute themselves for free. One victim reportedly even helped thieves empty out his apartment of all of his worldly possessions. The victims are alert and articulate the entire time, just unable to resist suggestion. Apparently, our free will is less related to any sort of inherent human quality we naturally possess and more related to the work of a neurotransmitter called acetycholine. Burundanga inhibits this neurotransmitter and also blocks the formation of memories, making it impossible for victims to identify their assailants. Yikes.

It comes from the flowers on the Borrachero ("get you drunk") Tree which is native to Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador (but, luck for me, it is only widely used as a crime drug in Colombia). Some claim that even sleeping under the tree can give you strange dreams. In addition to using it to turn people into wide awake zombies that can't wait to give thieves all of their money or have sex with large groups of strange men, it is also used to make a drug called Scopolamine. This drug is used to to treat nausea, motion sickness, and Parkinson's Disease. Some doctors think it might also help the symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. Back in the day it was also used to create "Twilight Sleep" which knocked women out during childbirth like Betty Draper. Both the CIA and Josef "The Angel of Death" Mengele also did some experimenting with it years ago to see how it could aid in interrogations.

After watching the documentary I decided to do a little research since this Burundanga seemed seriously scary. I first decided to forward the documentary to my one Colombian friend, a former student of mine,  and ask him if  it was real common. He replied: "I don't not". While his reply made me perhaps doubt my talents as an English teacher, it also made me fee like maybe it wasn't such a big thing and that the Vice crew had perhaps been a little bit dramatical in their depiction of how common the drug was. I felt better. If a native Colombian didn't even know about it, that had to be a good sign, right?

Then I decided to see what the Google world had to say, just to play it safe and double check. 500 victims in Bogota each month??? Burundanga is responsible for 1/2 of all Emergency Room admissions??? Aye Caramba! It started to feel as though maybe there was something being lost in translation between my former student and myself and this Devil's Breath actually was a big deal. Did I have another year of complete sobriety and DVD watching to look forward to? I did that last year and it proved to be a touch boring and just not the right fit for any Irish American.

However, then I got some good news. During a meeting about how to be safe in Colombia I was told that the Devil's Breath is usually used by super hot Colombian women to steal from gringos.I took this to mean that the drug was used more commonly for stealing and less for raping or forced prostituting. Apparently, they usually come up and ask some guy if they could buy him a drink. I can't help thinking that this method must be extremely effective.

I think that if a lady who looked this hot(and it's totally possible because I saw several ladies that looked almost this hot at the SUPERMARKET. What they look like when they are all gussied up for a night out on the town I don't even want to know)came up and offered to buy me a drink I would have a pretty hard time telling her to hit the bricks and I don't even like girls that way. I imagine that men must just get sort of discombobulated and forget that sometimes bandits and thieves are really, really sexy.

So, I figured that the only way I could be in any real danger of having any Devil's Breath slipped into my cerveza is if I suddenly became interested in becoming a Drag King (the opposite of a dude that looks like a lady).

Murray Hill, NYC Drag King (Yes, it's a chick)

Luckily, I have never felt even the slightest desire to wear a double breasted suit or sport either a John Waters or Magnum PI style stache, so I would probably not be in too, too much danger. I could focus my fears on the fact that I currently reside in the kidnapping capitol of the world. 

 Then I had another thought. In very, very itsy bitsy daily doses would it be possible to convince some nice Colombian man that what he really, really wanted was a housewife in her mid 30s who would greet him after a hard day's work by saying something like this:

It was just a thought. If it can make a Colombian diplomat disappear after a function and come to under arrest in Chile for attempting to smuggle drugs, I think it might be possible.