Friday, May 29, 2009

What I've been doing

(Bombera de Mauro Mina, Estadio Nacional - Lima, Peru. Moments before my first sparring session with Jonathan "El Depredador" Maicelo)

It's been a while since I posted about what I've actually been doing, but it's hard to write anything when I've been doing, well, nothing really. I leave my hotel room everyday for two things. 1) to eat lunch and 2) to train at the boxing gym. This voluntary isolation probably explains the evident increase of self-criticisms, but I think it's good. It's giving me time to reflect on my past experiences and truly understand what made them. I've now realized that I no longer know what the hell I am doing in this world, but I will say this. I am in better shape.

(Jonathan Maicelo before his bout against Jesus Camacho in Lima, Peru)

The only conscious reason I am still here is to help my sparring partner, Maicelo (you remember, the one that kicked my ass a few blog posts ago), get ready for his upcoming fights. It turns out Maicelo is the #1 lightweight prospect in Peru, so I don't feel that bad about the ass thrashing that I received when I first got here. Apparently I've been the only sparring partner he's had as I'm told nobody else is willing to trade punches with him. Can't say I blame em. Many people tell me it's because he's medio loco, but maybe only inside the ring. Outside the ring I've found him to be a completely humble and intelligent person.

(A self-portrait representing him in the culture of boxing. He says the colors represent the races of the world because for him, boxing is the only time all people can come together at the same time and place without fighting.)

One time we walked by a woman and her small child asking for money on the street, and he nonchalantly dropped in some change, like it was what you were supposed to do when you saw something like that. He didn't hesitate, didn't make sure I was watching, just did it. I once asked him where he bought a particular shirt he was wearing. He pulled out a spare one and gave it to me. One day he asked me if I believed in God and I answered that I did. The next day, he brought me a rosary; said it was meant to protect me on my journeys. This is the kind of guy he is.

(Giving tips in between rounds to a young fan and aspiring boxer)

After learning I hadn't tried to typical Peruvian "Cerviche", he invited me to a plate (which he paid for) in his neighborhood, "El Callao", known around here as una zona brava, and bien peligroso if you didn't know anyone that lived there. Sure enough, his barrio resembled much of what I had saw in Motupe or San Juan de Lurigancho. Unpaved, gritty dirt roads, sprouted with dilapidated brick buildings covered in torn campaign ads and beer posters.

(Littered beach by his home. Pictured in the background is where he tells me the "drug addicts and thieves" hang out.)

We'd hang out, sometimes. He'd call me a friend, sort of. He doesn't trust anyone, let alone reporters. He told me he hated how other writers would portray him as "weak" or "suffering", despised it when people tried to investigate his fatherless childhood. "I don't have a father," he'd answer, "Punto". He didn't want people to pity him. "You've been to my house," he would say to me, "I'm living well."

(Everything pictured has been earned through competing in combat sports.)

It made me think about writing, about portraying characters and how we develop our stories. I certainly didn't pity him, but like all the boxers I've met, he was still fighting to better his life with the odds stacked against him. It's just the unfairness of it all that frustrates me. I try to help out to alleviate the guilt of my privilege. Some way. Any way. Of all the gyms I've traveled to, most fighters ask me for something, usually a connection, some money, whatever. Maicelo hasn't asked for anything of the sort. The only thing he's asked me for is rounds in the ring. Can you believe that? Me. Boxing. Needed.

I'm actually touched, not necessarily because I think I could be an adequate sparring partner, but because it is something that isn't reflective of the privilege created from structural inequalities. Boxing is like that. In that squared circle, everything else in the world gets thrown out. You're pitted against your fears, your insecurities and all you have to overcome them is your own will. I've come to find the few moments I am in the ring are the only times during the day I feel productive. I originally thought staying would help others, but I'm starting to realize that I need those daily sparring sessions as much as they do.

And truthfully, Maicelo has rekindled my belief in the sincerity of people. I think that's worth something, and in some ways, I feel that's part of what I'm really fighting for. I hope that at some point he can call me a friend. I hope that I can maybe teach him to trust, just as he has taught me to maintain faith in humanity. I hope that by the end of all this, I can look back, and say it was all worthwhile.


sabrina said...


Zelda's brain box said...

Oufff, sigh.. I love this one. Good to see your smile on that picture!