Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two Faced

"Cartagena tiene dos caras" (Cartagena has two faces), was what Guillermo, the guard at the boxing gym told me the other day. Without any need for elaboration, I already knew what he was referring to. The taxi ride from the bus terminal to my hostal was like driving through the gritty streets of an LA ghetto to the paved marble of Beverly Hills, only it was a 10 min drive from each other.

At first we drove by streets filled with trash piled randomly along the roadside, rusted metal grills encrusted over broken glass windows and peeling paint jobs over molded wood that pleaded for renovation, I thought, "so this is Cartagena." But as we passed by the very blatant divider of the historic city center, my eyes were soon greeted by high rises and upscale speciality stores; a metamorphasis into a man-made paradise available for sale or rent to the casual traveler.

The hostal where I first stayed at and now work is located in the richest area of Cartagena, but ironically is my cheapest option as my employment earns the room and board. The boxing gym, unsurprisingly, resides in one of the more impoverished areas and the boxers come from even humbler origins as their neighborhoods don't even appear on the map plastered on our hostal wall. I enter and return to two different places everyday, virtually two different worlds. Each passing day making it harder to comprehend how such inequalities can be in such close vicinity and seemingly overlooked.

When visitors ask me what there is in Cartagena, I try to casually mention in between the Volcano tour and the Chiva party bus that in reality Cartagena is extremely impoverished and retains an underlying system of racial segregation, but most guests just reply with nervous smile and ask where the nearest beach is. Hell, I can't blame them. Most, after all, are on vacation. Perhaps they lead very socially conscious lives and I still haven't learned to lighten up. I've just lost too much faith in humanity to believe that.

(Outside of my hostal.)

(Outside the home of a fighter.)

("Barrio Bocagrande")

("Barrio Olaya")

These two neighborhoods are fifteen minutes away from each other.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Something is...missing.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to file taxes, I just never thought I’d learn it in Venezuela.

As I was sitting at my couchsurfing host’s dining room table, working on some old credit card statements, a stout and lofty figure crept into the house. By the “who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house” look on his face, I knew it was the owner Scot had warned would be pissed if he found me there.

And sure enough, he was, booting us both out and now for the past few weeks I’ve been helping Scot file nearly four years worth of taxes, working anywhere between ten and eighteen hours a day in a kind of hotel that charges by the four hours. I would be lying if I said I always wanted to learn fire-modeling, but here I am nonetheless, diagramming churches and simulating fires to calculate the time people would have to evacuate the premise.

Beyond the short lived revival of my geometry and calculus skills, this unexpected lengthy stay in Venezuela has been a twisted labyrinth of emotions, but most notably, guilt. I don’t think I’ve ever personally caused another person this many problems. I feel like everything I try to help with makes the next thing worse. It would have been better if I just never showed up at all.

I haven’t written anything for the past few weeks, frankly because I’ve felt like I’ve lost my ability to write anything readable. The words no longer effortlessly find each other, translating thoughts into sentences has become painfully difficult to the point where I’ve just lost my will to keep writing. This place has taken something from me and I need to move on to recover it. Maybe I’ll find my integrity there too.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Public Service Announcement

Turn off the idiot box. Turn off the idiot box. Turn off the idiot box. Turn off the idiot box. Turn off the idiot box. Turn off the idiot box. Turn off the idiot box. Turn off the idiot box. Turn.....