Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Epilogue en Venezuela

Alexis lost his first fights at both tournaments. I'm not exactly sure what he plans on doing afterwards, but I believe it will be continuing in his daily routine. Right now he only boxes part time, the other half he spends working at a factory that makes dish drying racks. He was the same fighter who told me the danger in his strata-2* neighborhood was "normal". I hope he can find more peaceful normalcy in his future.

Jeyson advanced to the semi-finals of the first tournament but eventually lost to a fellow Colombian who is headed to the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing. In my opinion he was robbed of the decision at the second tourney. No shame in his performances and he doesn't seem to think so either. When I asked him if he saw a future in boxing, he seemed doubtful, saying he'd rather settle with something that allowed him to travel. China was where he would go first.

Pitalua, the "hothead", came up short in both tournaments, but accepted his silver medal with graceful sportsmanship. Of all the fighters, he had been apart from his family the longest, 2 years and counting, simply saying things between him and his mother haven't worked out. But I remember him telling me the reason he began boxing was for his mother, to give her a better life and for her to be proud of him. If and when they do reunite, I'm sure he will have accomplished both.

Fiader Hernandez placed a respectful third at both tournaments, having the difficult task of fighting his teammate at the former. These were to be his last amateur tournaments as he plans to turn pro later this month. This career change will force him to move from the strata-3 neighborhood of the athletic apartments to a strata-1, as the league does not support pro-fighters. Before we parted, I begrudingly exchanged my hat for one of his shirts, thinking it would be a small token of well-wishing for his uncertain future.

Cesár bettered his third place performance by triumphantly winning the gold at the following tournament. The look on his face reminded me of when he was reminiscing about art school. I couldn't be happier for him. I hope now the trip was worth it for him and his soon-to-be family. Before I left, he gave me one of his training jersyes and said "quiero que tengas eso, para un recuerdo de Bogotá, y ahora tú puedes decir que habia un tiempo que conocías Cesár Villanaer" (I want you to have this, for a souvenir of Bogotá and now you can say there was a time that you knew Cesár Villanaer).

This has been the longest and probably in the closest proximity that I've stayed with a boxing team. If I learned anything, it was the unselfish act of sharing. It was difficult to part with the hat that I really liked and traveled with for so long, but I remembered the generosity of Cesár and thought gestures like that needed to be passed on. To the final moments the team helped carry me as they insisted on me riding their bus as close as possible to my next destination. It wasn't until I descended those steps did I realized that I may never see or know any of them ever again. But I suppose I'm slowly learning how to accept the inevitable, and perhaps Cesàr was right. At least I can always say there was a time where we did know each other.

*Colombia is literally stratified. Cities are divided into sections called "stratas", ranking from 1 to 6. The number indicates accordingly the area's local income, availability of public services and so on. Strata-1 and strata-2 neighborhoods have the least amount of resources and unsurprisingly, the highest incidents of violent crime.

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