Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thank You Very Much, Regina Morrow

Before I begin, I would like to readily admit that I in no way have my finger on the pulse of Bogota night life. There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, I have met a lot more people who look like this:

And this:

Than this:

While it is probably good to have the numbers of a few sergeants in my celly in case I ever find myself in a pinch, it is not real helpful in finding out where the party is at.

In addition to this, I have been a little less enthusiastic about going out since somehow finding myself in my 30s. My younger self would never have believed that there would ever come a time when I could have a perfectly nice Friday night with some yoga pants, a glass of Cabernet, and an episode of True Blood. But that time has totally come(and I am loving Pam even more than usual this season and I already loved her a lot).

Often times when I do force myself to put on a pair of pants that has both a button and a zipper, I find myself feeling more like an observer than a participant. I watch the youngsters dancing around to bad electronic music and start to feel a lot like a chaperon at a high school dance. I start to watch the kids in action. I see slightly snarky, but flirty faces and think "that should work well, good job little guy." I also watch the same snarky flirter buy his new lady friend a shot and think "that should wrap it up. Well, played, dude, well played". And yes it has crossed my mind that this type of almost lurking could come across as potentially creepy, but since I am not looking to pull a Demi Moore or a Linda Hogan I don't really care.

When I am not kept busy semi-creepily observing the dance moves and the pick up attempts like a borderline lurker, I can easily become a grump. All it takes is a single stepped on toe or an unpleasant bump and I can start to look like this:

Or this:

Obviously, there is probably a lot more partying going on in this town that I know about or am interested in participating in. However, I think that I would have to search it out or at the very least stop making those damn faces. However, I think that there is a misconception about Colombia that the streets are paved with cocaine and that everyone is constantly gnashing their teeth and making group trips to the bano when they are not busy salsa dancing. Sometimes when people ask me what it is like here they sound as if they envision that there is a Tony Montana (who, yes, I know is Cuban and not Colombian) hiding around every corner waiting to tell you to sat hello to his little friend.

If anything, I find Colombia to be far more conservative than I imagined. The few times I have come home a little bit late I felt like the guards at my building were silently saying "Tsk Tsk!" and everybody seems to be constantly hanging out with their families in much larger quantities of time than I think the average American could handle without bloodshed or therapy.

Am I bummed that I am not experiencing more late nights and danger while I am living here? Absolutely not. While I have a deep affection for wine (which, like most Irish Americans and people in their 30s without a sponsor, I do not really consider a form of alcohol but more like something that all grown ups should drink with dinner and ,no, I do not truly trust people over the age of 6 who drink milk with their meal unless they have spent some time at Betty Ford or they are Amish.) I have never really been interested in anything else (except for sometimes beer and the occasional whiskey). 

Have I abstained from the white stuff because of a strong moral fiber? A deep respect for the law? Out of fear that even those who love me the most could not tolerate my already loquacious self talking even more? Because I have terrible luck and get caught every time I do anything even slightly wrong and after watching Oz and Locked Up Abroad felt life in the big house was probably not for me so it was best to just be a law abiding citizen?

Well, I'm sure all of those things play a part. I would say that Punky Brewster also has a little bit to do with it. She was abandoned at the mall with nothing but her bandannas, mismatched clothes, and a mangy dog. She knew about danger. When she chanted "Just Say No with Punky Power!", I listened. I figured she knew what she was talking about.

But really it's mostly because of Regina Morrow. If you don't know who Regina Morrow is you were probably not a tween in the 80s who read EVERY SINGLE SWEET VALLEY HIGH BOOK. I was.

My best friend Elizabeth and I were very competitive. Each Easter we would compete to see who could eat the most Cadbury Cream Eggs (it is shocking we were not exactly skinny minnies). We would compete to see who got the best grades in school and we would compete to see who could read the most books. For several years we were in a race to see who could read the most Sweet Valley High Books and it was always neck and neck.

The series was about these two beautiful blond twins, Elizabeth and Jessica, who lived in Sweet Valley, California and shared a red fiat. There was something about this that sounded pretty magical to a brunette growing up in Worcester, Mass. There was the smart twin and the bitchy twin and the series followed their adventures as the two most popular girls at their school in Southern California.

Regina Morrow was friends with the smart twin, Elizabeth. She was deaf for most of the series. However, thanks to a radical surgery somewhere around book 30, her hearing was restored and she started going out with rich, bad boy Bruce Patton. However, their relationship was not built to last. Regina did not handle their break up well and fell in with a bad crown and began experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

On the Edge, SVH #40, detailed how she started making bad choices in attempts to mend her broken heart. At the end of the book she is at a party and tries just a tiny bit of cocaine. Guess what??? It triggers an unknown congenital heart defect and Regina dies on the spot. I remembered thinking it was so no fair because A. she had just gotten her hearing restored a few books ago and had barely any time to enjoy it and B. she had spent the majority of the series being so good and the one book where she is a little bad she ends up DEAD.

Being somewhere around 4th or 5th grade (Elizabeth and I were really good readers, so sometimes we read books that we were a little too young to understand. Around this same time we also read Less Than Zero and learned what a snuff film was.)we knew nothing about drugs and were shocked at Regina's untimely demise. We discussed it at length in hushed tones. Could we have secret and mysterious heart defects that could suddenly kill us? Is this what went on in high school? Were teenagers just dropping dead all of the time? We were terrified. Since this was pre-Internet, we didn't have many tools determine how plausible this scenario was. There was only so much we could figure out using a dictionary and some old Cosmos.

When I look back and try to figure out why I am pretty square I have to say it is largely because of Regina Morrow. I was never tempted to do much experimentation because I always pictured Regina being carried out of the party in a body bag THE ONE TIME SHE WAS BAD. When I would hear stories about wild parties all I could think was "DON'T YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO REGINA MORROW??? WHAT WERE YOU GUYS THINKING??? DO YOU HAVE A DEATH WISH OR SOMETHING??? It just seemed like too big a risk. I bet if Lindsay Lohan head read the Sweet Valley High books when she was little everything would have turned out differently.

As a result, I am more than happy with my very tame night life in Bogota. I am sure there are people living it up right now doing a variety of things that are dangerous and possibly illegal. Since I have no interest in pulling a Regina Morrow and I am pretty sure that the places where these things take place probably don't allow their patrons to wear yoga pants, I am more than fine leaving all of that a mystery.

Maybe if they really want to win the drug war down here they should try translating the Sweet Valley High series into Espanol. That's some scary sh*t.

Friday, July 6, 2012

In Stitches On Lake Titicaca :(

I began my trip to Puno by visiting a farm on the outside of town, eating some edible clay on some potatoes (not for me), looking at some Alpacas, and watching Soul Surfer at the hotel. Once my friends arrived, we set out for Lake Titicaca where we visiting three islands. I was excited since I had never been there and my mother has been talking about a clay model of the Lake she constructed for a projects fair in the 60s ever since I can remember.

Our first stop were the floating islands of Euros. I was not so sure about them. They were constructed by piling a few layers of reeds over some floating sod and didn't really seem that stable. They also didn't seem incredible authentic. As soon as we arrived, the islanders whipped out some looms and started weaving (I think they had just been sitting around before we got there). When our guide began describing how they also ate the reeds they made their islands out of to prevent goiters (which I didn't know were that common) and as a good source of iodine, on cue one of the women jumped up and began chomping away. I got the disturbing feeling that I had stumbled on to some sort of zoo for humans and it made me pretty uncomfortable. 

I then noticed that our boat had pulled away. Our guide told us that to get to the next island, if we wanted, we could buy a ticket for a ride on the traditional read boat. I was confused as to what our option would be if we decided that we were not interested in the traditional reed boat. Swimming? 

However, before our departure we were told we must buy something from the islanders. We were assigned to the islanders in groups of two. They immediately began crying at us to buy their crafts (which honestly were not that good). While the crying made me feel even more uncomfortable than the reed chomping, the not very good crafts were also pretty expensive. I settled for two necklaces and then hightailed it to the reed boat. 

Once we boarded the boat the women of the island came to sing us a good bye song. I can only presume that "Row Row Row Your Boat" is also a traditional song of the Euros Island. They then followed it with an "Hasta La Vist Baby". I was left sorta wondering how they were watching Arnold Schwartzenegger movies from the 90s on the floating islands. Maybe there was a floating island wreck center? I was left unsure how I would enjoy the rest of Lake Titicaca.

However, once we arrived at the next island. I was pleasantly surprised. The islanders were far more laid back. Instead of crying at us they told us that they had some hats. We could buy them or not buy them. I was so impressed by their sales technique that I bought one. I was also cold. 

We were each assigned to a host family who took us to their homes and fed us boiled potatoes and friend cheese by candlelight. My group had to use a combination of our 8th grade Spanish and mime in order to make dinner conversation (I think the miming may have been more successful). They then dressed us up in some native clothes and then took us to the town hall where they pulled us around in a circle while some teenagers played the pan flute. After my friends and I bought a beer our host families sat down and started looking incredible bored. However, the island we were on had no electricity and seemingly few choices of leisure activities so I thought it was possible that they might just always look like that. How many hats can a person really get excited about knitting?

We then returned to the house where it was time for bed. I, however, was unable to sleep very well. This was because after settling in to bed wearing my hat and fluffy alpaca sweater I realized I had to pee. Since the thought of going outside in the cold, dark night to use the outhouse armed only with a flashlight was nothing short of awful, I decided to hold it. ALL NIGHT LONG. Luckily, for my roommates, David and Mayumi, I was unaware that our room came equipped with several bedpans. It could have turned into a Bridesmaid situation and possible put a damper on the rest of our trip.

The next morning it was time to head back to the boat. I am not sure if it was my lack of sleep or my natural clumsiness, but on the way I stepped in a ditch (while talking of course) and fell on a rock. When I took a look at it on the boat, it looked sorta bad and deep. However, since I was in the middle of Lake Titicaca there was not much I could do besides clean the cut with a baby wipe, dab some anti-bacterial ointment on it, and throw a band aid on it. I then tried to enjoy the scenery.

The problem was that I inherited a touch of White Coat Syndrome, an irrational fear of doctors and health problems, from my mother. When she goes to the doctors she usually breaks out into a cold sweat and her blood pressure spikes to heart attack levels (My mother's White Coat Syndrome has actually improved since she has become pals with her doctor. She might be one of the few ladies charming enough to make friends with someone while profusely sweating and wearing only a johnny). My symptoms are more mental. I just become convinced that the doctor has very, very terrible news for me. Luckily, I am usually pretty healthy (yes, I am knocking on wood right now) so my condition does not show itself very often. 

I checked my cut a few hours later. It was still bleeding. All I could think about this was this girl:

I was soon convinced that a Peruvian superbug was in the process of devouring my knee and probably my entire leg.

I knew I was being nutso, but that didn't stop me. I remembered a conversation I had with my best uncle (by marriage) who told be my entire family was completely irrational. At the time I had feigned confusion, but I knew exactly what I he was talking about. However, it is not entirely our fault. Almost all of our ancestors don't just hail from Ireland, but from the West of Ireland. In addition to being inhabited by people who believe in fairies and alcoholism, they also have the highest rate of schizophrenia in the WORLD (the Internet told me researchers blame the misery of colonial oppression, malnutrition, and old sperm {apparently a lot of guys did not get married until they were almost 50 because of property laws and old sperm gives you a much higher chance of making a crazy baby. Again, mom you were right about the dangers of bunk sperm}). This just can't be DNA that gives a person a talent for logic or reason. But I am afraid it is DNA that can make a person predisposed to something like White Coat Syndrome.

When I returned to the mainland 7 hours later and my knee was still bleeding I knew that I was going to have to go see a doctor. Luckily, we were traveling with a guide who was able to take me to the local tourist clinic.

When I went in to see the doctor she told me that the skin was muerte and I needed stitches. Not only had I never had stitches before, but I was not exactly thrilled that I would be getting them in Puno, Peru for the first time. It is a dusty and ramshackle town where more than an average amount of its people appear to be suffering from a variety of serious, serious medical problems. In addition to this, when my friends arrived and stepped off the bus, the first thing they saw was a pool of blood. Therefore, upon hearing my diagnosis translated to me by my guide I did what any grown woman and seasoned traveler would do. I cried. At first they were just big silent tears, but once the needle came out I added some whimpering that increased with volume each time the needle got closer. This is when they turned up the volume on the TV in the waiting room where my friend David was patiently waiting for me.

As I was trying to pull myself I looked over and saw a toaster over. All I could think was, what the hell is the toaster oven for??? Have I stumbled into some kind of tourist clinic ER/ tuna melt station? Just as I was trying to forget about the mysterious toaster oven I looked on the table that held all the doctor supplies and saw a bottle of Aqua Net. If there is a medical use for Aqua Net I surely couldn't come up with it. I tried to start reading the board filled with all of the post cards from all over the world thanking the doctors for their good medical help while they were traveling, but all I kept thinking was that the patients they had not helped successfully probably weren't around to write any postcards.

I could feel that the anaesthetic was starting to wear off a little bit on my knee and I was starting to feel the stitches a little more. However, since it is the needles that really get to me and I felt I had already reached my quotient for crying and whimpering for the day, I decided to just power through. In an effort to distract myself I started chit chatting with my guide. He began to tell me how his girlfriend had lost her eye as a child due to lack of health care in Peru and was about to loose the sight in her other one. Her last hope was to get on a list to be seen by a team of Colombian doctors volunteering in Lima. I found this story to be a great source of comfort.

After the stitches were finished my friend David treated me to a glass of red wine, like a true friend (antibiotic be damned!). I would love to say that after it was finished I became less crazy, but that would be a lie. I had nightmares for several nights. One of which was about me being unable to graduate from high school because the Burger King drive through was so slow I could never make it to class on time. This felt frightening Young Adult of me. 

I started feeling better yesterday because I was able to see an American doctor who took a look at my knee and didn't seem to think it was about to fall off. I guess I'm just an American American after all. One who likes doctors that have attended med schools I have heard of and who don't use their offices to make tasty sandwiches and fix their hair in between patients.