Sunday, September 21, 2008

Crashing Thoughts

(Parque Tyrona, Colombia)

The sea always reminds me of my father. He once went scuba diving in Hawaii and talked about it ever since. Snorkling, a near relative, perhaps a cousin to scuba, introduced me to that fascination my father fell in love with. Bunches of florscent dancing sea vegetation, schools of fish darting like sliver slits of light from an early 90s sci-fi movie, massive rock formations revealed themselves only after you dived well into their territory, as if they said, "Now you're in my world. Welcome." It was beautiful. I wish my father had been there to share my revelation.

I kept thinking that if somehow the water disappeared entirely and placed me back in the jurisdiction of gravity, I would surely plunge to my death from the height I was hovering above the ocean floor. In fact there were many ways I could have died. A slush of water into the snorkel, a leak in the goggle, an unidentified sea creature startling my breathing pattern, all would have been enough to put an end to a novice swimmer like myself. Perhaps that was what made it so enticing; the fliration with death, the prescence in forbidden territory.

For some reason while I glided over the coral reef, I wondered if the boxer that sold Mandarin oranges had ever gone snorkeling here. I guessed the more probable "no" and in the overdramatized scenerio I played in my head, began visualizing the astonished look on his face when I ran up and asked him, "How was it!?!" But no. The reality of this place was a mix of majority white faces, conversing either about the fear of being beheaded in Colombia or how much they were shitting in Bolivia. Why would they think twice about an orange salesman?

This brief visit back into the backpackers' circuit reaffirmed that it wasn't for me. I could feel my Spanish slipping just from being around English speakers. Within these past few days I've met people from 11 countries, though hardly any of them are from Colombia. It makes me wonder how much you can learn about a place if you spend most of the time around people who aren't from it.

It was a bit strange that the culmination of my travels should now come together in a place that at any moment could kill me. Yet in some ways it made complete sense. My simultaneous relaxation and excitement, my incomplete comprehension of the surroundings. Me, seperated by plastic goggles and a snorkel, always on the outside looking in.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beat Back into Perspective

"No es porque son malos, es porque hay mucho necesidad aqui" (It is not because they are bad, it is because there is a lot of necessity here), explained my coaches as they suggested I move my bag away from the open spaces. That comment somehow escapes me during the rest of my interactions in Cartagena. One would first have to understand that Cartagena is the principal tourist destination in Colombia, meaning constant bombardments of souvenir vendors, panhandlers, and overpriced city guides. I've now been thrice the victim of thievery in this country, most recently by a punk 17yr old kid who swiped a memory chip when I wasn't looking. Of course he lied when I confronted him about it and I felt silly at the thought of physically threatening a teenager. But the blatant dishonesty is what gets me. The lying. I hope what my coaches say is true, that the behavior spawns from necessity and oppression rather than people just innately being ugly organisms.

But the gym teaches me something. Many fighters approach me with a hopeful smile, introduce their matrimonially tied names and respective weight class. They leave me their phone numbers and addresses. They ask me how they look after a sparring session. I suppose the combination of my nationality and unlikely continued prescence at the gym must translate into professional boxing scout. Or maybe they're just so desperate to get an opportunity that they might as well make a pitch to anyone from a place like the United States. I don't know how to tell them that I'm merely a sociology student who doesn't even have a real job. So I don't.

One fighter sells Mandarin oranges on the bus. On a good day he'll make a net total of 10.000 pesos ($6.25) if he sells out the carton. Most often he doesn't. With the costs of lunch and dinner, it's as if he didn't earn anything at all. When I took his picture, I wanted to help him with some bus fare and was deciding whether to give him 2000 or 5000 pesos. I felt shameful at my ability to fiddle between a fourth and a half day's work.

I don't know what the robberies did to me. They took more than mere material possessions. They took my compassion towards pepole, my ability to trust, a part of my humanity. I've been uncharacteristically mean to people, aggressively arguing with random street vendors and complaining to myself about it later. I've become exactly like those I once criticized.

But being in the boxing gym, training with fighters who actually do these things, puts a face and story behind it all. Knowing them instead of salespeople and rather just as people trying to feed themselves and their family, puts everything back into perspective. I can't say I've left behind all the rage instilled from the dishonesty and selfishness I've encountered, but I feel less of it between those ropes. It is like Katherine Dunn says: In the boxing gym, I am earning my right to be kind.