Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Candy Bar

It's interesting how the value of two weeks can vary depending on the person. For me, the decision to take this two week stint in Venezuela meant, well really, two weeks in a different country rather than another. Normally it would have meant money spent on food and lodging, but because I've been photographing and printing images for the fighters, they've been taking care of me; giving me leftovers from those who have to make weight or sneaking me meal tickets. It's even gotten to the point where the Venezuelan staff think I work for the Colombian press and just pass me on as part of the team. In addition to staying with a couchsurfer, this trip hasn't cost me much outside of the time.

But for many of the fighters' time equals money, two weeks means half a month's salary, which for most of them is the minimum wage in Colombia, or 250.000 pesos, about 150 USD. I asked one fighter, Alexis, what he spends his money on if he lives and dines in the athletic complex supported by the government. He told me "cosas personales" (personal things). When I asked him to elaborate, he said, "Como ropa, cosas por la casa" (like clothes, things for the house), which would seem perhaps like luxuries if the basics were already provided, but then he continued by saying, "Jugetes, cosas para mi nina" (toys, things for my daughter).

Another fighter, Cesàr, also has a child, or almost, as he pridefully showed me a picture of his 9 month pregnant girlfriend. I asked him if he felt it was worth it to miss out on two weeks salary at the eve of his child's birth and he told me, "Ahorita no mucho, porque vine en tercer lugar. Vamos a ver en el otro torneo" (Right now, not much because I came in third place. We'll see at the other tournament). Unlike travelers such as myself, they can't just say the experience alone was worth it. For them time counts; every moment, every fight.

It reminds me of my training sessions in Bogotà. After each day, the coaches would thrown down nutrition bars to the fighters. I never got one. Training in the gyms of all the places I've visited, I wanted to have the barrier of my nationality disappear, be seen as just another fighter. I sweated side by side with these guys, bled with them, collapsed in exhaustion with them, all in an effort to become closer, to just be part of the team. But I wasn't. In the end, I didn't wake up every morning hundreds of miles away from my family (well I did, but the reasons are worlds apart). In the end, I had choices. The sweet science was a hobby, not my way out or to "salir adelante" (to make it). In the end, I was still, a visitor.


Jen said...

That's the strange part about traveling: no matter what you do to fit into the places you go, no matter how long you stay in a place, if you learn the nuances of the local language, or if you make life-long "local" friends, your blue passport is always your ticket out.

I am almost entirely out of money and probably don't have enough to return to Seattle (or so I am claiming in an attempt to justify my desire to remain lost!) and trying to adjust to being in Africa. But I'll always be a white foreigner no matter how long I am here or how much I delve into the local scenes. If anything, my experience of the "local" seems to be dramatized by locals wanting to show me the best of their lives. I suppose if I were here forever after I'd begin to be more accepted, but think about how many places you've been to where expats who've lived in another country for most of their lives are still referred to as expats or the "American/German/Italian/etc."

I don't think I ever responded to your question about the title of that book on Latin American children. Its's called Hidden Lives: Voices of Children in Latin America and the Caribbean by Duncan Green.

Anyways, as always I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your entries as they allow me some space to reflect on my own trip. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Does your passport look crazy? I bet it does. My really good friend is in Bogota right now! I could've linked y'all up if you needed something but I didn't know you were there. Well, if you head up there again sometime between now and December, let me know! I'll be heading down there sometime too before the year is over. No Brasil though, sad! Hope all is going well!

debbiefish said...

a friend had described to me this exact feeling...being involved in a culture, but never feeling like you can ever be a true part of first i didn't understand why he couldn't just be happy with who he is, and where he's from...but i guess what u said about living and doing exactly what your team did, and never being able to be a true part of that culture kind of enlightened me... i guess i'm lucky that working here in taiwan, ppl accept me because i can still speak the language and look like them, which helps alot to connect that culture gap even tho our worlds r so different, but i guess i'll understand this more when i go to japan.