Thursday, 22 July 2010

Boobs, loos and tear gas

I took a bus yesterday morning. A taxi furiously hooted as we got on at the bus stop, he was beside himself that we should fly in the face of the one rule of the road: anarchy. Buses conventionally swing across to pick up passengers whenever they happen to nonchalantly stick out an arm, finger or flick their eyes.

The driver did adhere to the conventional go-kart style of weaving through the traffic. Like his colleagues, he was a discontented fellow who treated life like a fake £5 note that he was doing his best to gamble away.

My destination was the airport. There are always those who feel the need to dress up if they are going to fly. As I swept blushing out of the Ladies toilettes (the symbol really is very androgyneous), I bounced off a woman who looked like an unsubtle edition of Maxim. I’ve never been so close to such a heady combination of silicon, perfume and cleavage—and certainly not in a lavatory.

Later in the day, I went down to the bank. It was a beautiful office that had closed at 4pm (banks are a by-word for wealthy, self-serving bureaucracy everywhere. What other industry has a holiday named after it?).

Outside on the Septima, a thousands’ strong march streamed past. At its vanguard, angry men carried sticks. Behind them, a few young women appeared, some in flip-flops. They were mostly black or indigenous and there was a militant-looking group in light green t-shirts and bandanas.

I asked one man who they were; he ignored me. So I asked one of the militant-looking women, and she refused to speak to even look at me. As I turned away, I knocked into a young man. We apologized and he called me: “Patron”, which means land or slave owner.

They were some of Colombia’s 3.3 million displaced. Hungry and understandably angry, they were wanted their rights. What I suspect they were going to get was tear gassed.

The day before had been Colombia’s bicentenary of independence. The same road had been packed with people but these were much more good-humoured.

I was impressed by them, a similar event in London would have been heaving with people out on the lash. The few drunks stumbling about were embarrassingly conspicuous as opposed to depressingly unremarkable.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Sporting glory escapes again

After years of opportunity to shine, my skills as a cricketer are not so much unrecognized as unrecognizable. Regardless, I found myself in a taxi about to represent Colombia against the visiting national Chile team.

My selection was despite having described myself as the anti-all rounder, without any discernable ability in batting or bowling, and a throwing arm like a confused 10-year-old girl asked to put the shot. It promised to be an interesting international sporting debut.

There were positive signs that I might not be entirely lost, when I heard one of the Chilenos say in a suspiciously good Yorkshire accent: “I’d like an Aguila, that’s a good morning beer.”

Having lost the toss, we honorary Colombians were sent out to field. I strode out attempting to look confident while clad in my new, blindingly white clothes rather than “whites”. My substitute kit seemed more appropriate to an ageing Ibizan Lothario than the summer game.

My attempts to buy a box had been met with bemused looks rather than success. At least I wasn’t wearing jeans, unlike the Canadian in our team (geographically, he was the closest we had to a Colombian; the Chilenos boasted a Yank—their captain.)

The first few overs passed without any conspicuous displays of incompetence: success!

The least I could do was look keen, so when a ball play was played past me, I was off like Usain Bolt’s pasty English uncle. Arms and legs pumping, my cricket hat some way behind, I pounded over the Bogotá sports club outfield. I knew one goal: save the four.

Strong, fast, fit, slip, slide, sodden, bottom, pond. Pond! Clearly there were drainage issues in the outfield and my whites were no longer so white. And it was a four.

Later, I took a catch and opened the batting with the Canadian. He was rather good, better than me anyway. At least I scored one run, after one of my airy wafts finally clipped an edge.

We were making a reasonable game of it, until drinks, when it all fell apart and the Chilenos tidied up our remaining batsmen. All that was left was an afternoon of drinking beer and acquiring sunburn. Stibbs succeeds again.

After some hours, a very elegant Colombian appeared with a tray of whiskys and put them on our table. While he went back into the clubhouse (lined with pictures of the Royal Family), we tidied up the new arrivals. When he sashayed back, he announced he would be leading a tutored whisky tasting.


I could get used to international sport, I thought a little later as I sat on the Transmilenio bus back into town, feeling quite content with my day.

However, I did seem to be drawing an unusual amount of quizzical looks from the dressed-up Colombians on their way out on the town. As I looked around, I was rather conspicuous: the only gringo, radiantly sunburnt, dressed all in white, covered in grass stains and wearing a huge, filthy once-white hat.

What possible context could explain such weird garb? What sort of weird religious sect would take such a man?

I took the stares manfully and thought, these are things I’d do for my country, or at least someone else’s.