Letter from Bogota
Well, first of all, sorry I haven’t written anything in so long. I’m certainly not busy, so I must be very, very lazy. Here’s the latest:
Matt got his leave approved and we’ll be in the U.S. for two weeks over Christmas. We’ll be flying into Atlanta on December 20th, where we’ll borrow a car from his parents and drive to Washington. We’ll be in DC from the 21st until the morning of the 24th. We’ll drive down to North Carolina and spend our first Christmas somewhere quiet, probably Chapel Hill. On the 26th, we drive to the Johnson cabin in Franklin, N.C. It’s in a dry county (the South really has those), but there’s some wicked mini golf to be played. On December 31, we’re driving back to Atlanta for the Widespread Panic show (anyone got headphones I can borrow?). We’ll be in Atlanta until January 4th. I’m not really sure yet where we’re staying for most of the trip, but we’ll let y’all know as things get firmed up.
I’m starting to figure out the basics of living in Bogota: 1. If anyone asks, say you’re Canadian - they’re not as rich a source of ransom money 2. Never buy food from a street vendor, unless salmonella is your favorite hobby 3. Look both ways before crossing the street, even if its one-way, then run like hell.
I’ve never seen anything like the roads in Bogota. Imagine the battle scene from The Two Towers, the mall the day after Thanksgiving, AND Grand Theft Auto. Violence, chaos, and utter disregard for the rule of law? Fun! Not only do pedestrians NOT have the right of way, the government puts a star on the street wherever somebody got hit. The stars exist to warn pedestrians, not drivers. Awesome. Weirdly enough, I’ve only seen one car accident, and it was a minor fender-bender.
If you want high adventure for less than a dollar, take a cab ride. Bogota cabbies are notorious for breaking the laws of traffic, common decency, and physics. Stop signs are a suggestion, speed limits are nonexistent, and street vendors are target practice. Riding in a taxi is made even more fun by the fact that taxis are late-model Hyundais that don’t have seat belts. Sometimes there’s a belt, and sometimes there’s a buckle, but never both.
My Spanish is improving by leaps and bounds. I can now speak in complete sentences, thanks largely to my tutor, Diana. I meet with her three times a week, which can get stressful. When you’re in a class with 20 other people, you can hide. When you have a private tutor, information just keeps getting shoveled in until you explode.
I still make the occasional amusing mistake, mainly because some words sound very similar. Example: ham is jamon, and soap is jabon. I went to the store the other day and tried to buy ham to wash myself, but at least I didn’t eat a soap and cheese sandwich.
Last Saturday, Matt and I went to a Casino Night party hosted by the British Ambassador. The week before was spent shopping for a cocktail dress. Shopping in Bogota is interesting, if only because the shop clerks are even more aggressive than the cab drivers. One woman literally tried to block me from exiting the store, and then chased me with a halter-neck lace dress more appropriate for Britney Spears than an old married lady like me. The language issue reared its ugly little head: I don’t speak Spanish, and Matt doesn’t speak Women’s Clothing. We finally found a nice Italian boutique where they customized a little black dress for me.
Overall, fashion is more European than American in flavor. American brands like Tommy Hilfiger (known here as “Preppy”) and Esprit are expensive, but Moschino sweaters sell for only $30. Oh, and all the women wear low-rider jeans with significant butt cleavage. I’ve never felt like such a conservative dresser before.
Speaking of butts and cleavage, we hosted a Casino Night pre-party for Matt’s friends. We gained instant Kennedy class by serving cocktail weenies and Maker’s Mark. Then a fairly hefty swarm of us crossed the street and went to the party. I won about 40,000 pesos at the slots (about $13, served as a supremely heavy bucket of change), while Matt lost the same amount at the blackjack tables. By the way, Colombia is perhaps the only country in the world where you can tell your wife, “I lost 40,000 gambling,” and NOT spend the night on the couch. Viva exchange rates! Matt and I were also spotted on the local news. We’re famous!
However, we had to leave the party early because of the explosion at the Bogota Beer Company. We weren’t sure if Matt would have to go in to work, so we went home and drank coffee until we were relatively sober. (We also checked out “Hot Ticket”, the MGM Saturday night soft-core film. Last week was lesbian housewives finding themselves with each other, or some such Oprah nonsense. It wasn’t as great as the guy who turned into a monkey and then bumped uglies with a princess, so we didn’t bother with it for long. Besides, Saturday soft-core isn’t as interesting as it used to be, because they show full frontal nudity and tantric sex at two in the afternoon on the Film Zone channel. Wow, I'd never realized how prudish Americans really are.)
As for the Bogota Beer Company, one person was killed in the explosion (a young Colombian woman), and 72 were injured. The only American to be seriously hurt was an American Airlines pilot. Basically, a FARC operative was told to hit some gringos, so he lobbed a grenade into the most popular expat bar in Bogota. The grenade hit a propane heater and the whole place went up in flames.
We never went there anyway - it’s just not wise to be with large groups of foreigners. Overall, our lives haven’t changed much. We’ve been told to not go out with large groups of Americans, not to eat on patios, and to avoid expat bars. All of those things should be pretty easy for me, as I don’t have enough friends to constitute a “large group”, I don’t like to eat on patios because it’s cold out, and most of the expat bars are kind of cheesy.
Anyways, that’s it for now. Wubba wubba, good-bye, God bless (10 points if you know who I’m quoting). See you at Christmas!
On a random note, if you look at the top of my site, Blogger lists these searches as "related information": "7th Heaven" and "How to Make a Bong." Awesome.