my last post was a clever little piece where my stomache issues became a metaphor to describe my colombian relationship. while it may have seemed like just a bit of literary genius, my intestinal trauma is now a story of its own.
i only recently realized it had become a force to be reckoned with, and was likely having an effect on my energy level and general loveableness. i think i’ve been unusally obtuse, cranky, short tempered, and lethargic. slowly the joy of being here and my freedom has started to run away from me. after a brief respite and then once again essentially urinating food out of my asshole (i’m told world travelers discuss human waste quite a bit. in an effort to be worldly, i will as well.), i decided i had enough. i went to the clinic/hospital place; the fancy one.
this is the part where i weave a tale of my crazy experience in a developing country’s hospital. except it’s not very crazy; i’m just a brat. it begins now. in a very caribbean way, getting medical attention required walking back and forth all over the hospital getting directions from the customer service station like, “go that way until you get to that thing and then go right.” meanwhile, i’m wondering why i haven’t been tossed on a cot in some overcrowded room where i can moan and groan like a whiny gringa. i wanted inpatient nurses with serious attitude eye rolling my frailty as they poked and prodded, and demanded i give samples of some bodily fluid or other. i got none of this. instead, i searched for consentimiento wherever i could find it and lashed out when it didn’t come.
no one should have to pay for shit, especially when your shit is caused by a poor public sewer system, but all told i’ve paid about 100 or so greenbacks for drugs and services rendered. the first bill was for my consult with a really fucking smarmy doctor who was all sophomoric about colombian bacteria’s resistance to CIPRO and prescribed meds before running any tests. i saw this once before when my friend took his dog to the vet; they just prescribe based on symptoms, which actually reminds me of modern psychiatry. i’m kind of into it. the logic is i can then decide to pay for tests or just trust the doctor’s economical yet superficial assessment of my ailment. i like labs, results, charts, official diagnoses, and spending money. i’ll take the stool sample, please.
since i’m in a medical facility, in choosing a restroom to render a stool sample it didn’t occur to me to to check for two essential parts of basic hygiene: 1) toilet paper, and 2) soap. my bathroom had neither of these things. i’ll spare you the details. then, i walked around looking for a lab analysis place which once i found appeared locked and closed to my narrow euro vision; no one answered when i knocked and a giant sign said “cerrado.” i went back to servicio al cliente who told me i just had to knock really loudly, they were in the back. “i did that. there’s a sign that says closed. can you call them for me? is there a phone?” no. i’d like to say, dear reader, that at this point, my body has not retained any food or water for about two days. i was weak as a kitten, nauseated, and pissed. the folks at servicio al cliente bore the brunt of my assholery, but they were good sports all in all. the lab lady said it would be an hour for results, then a bunch of shit happened -including my first case of vomiting in i don’t know how many years. i slept on various couches in various waiting rooms, one which was inhabited by a young lady who had one of those painful and incessant dry coughs, that while i’m sure was frustrating and difficult for her, irritated the living crap out of me. if i wasn’t sure she was close to death, i would have killed her.
after my tests came back and i found a random doctor meandering about to read them to me, i made two new friends:
these are not my actual house guests, just representations. i acquired them… who knows when? it could have been my first day in santa marta as symptoms start occurring maybe 1 or 2 weeks after infection, if they show at all. street food. fish. ocean swims. river jaunts. fruit juice. ass play with prostitutes while frolicking in poo water. there is nothing i can do but wait these bitches out, i’m told. everybody still has suggestions for me, but my biggest battle is to CIPRO or not to CIPRO? i’m not allowed to eat street food anymore, i have to be super obnoxious when i eat out and ask about how things are cooked, and my wet dreams about fresh, raw vegetables are doomed to forever give me gastrointestinal blue balls. being a vegetarian from san francisco -where all digestive dreams come true- i don’t travel to eat, but this shit, figuratively and literally, makes me want to go home. almost…
in the mind of a disordered eater with body dysmorphia, dysentery seems like a small price to pay for an express diet abroad. it would be totally worth it, i used to think (and probably still do). a few days of diarrhea for rapid weight loss and a smaller stomache. i’ll take it! i don’t have dysentery, but i’ve had some weird stomache issue for about two weeks. i blame the cookies n’ cream milkshake at the mall, but it might have been the bite of chicken i had later on that day. anything i eat is followed by belly discomfort, bloating, and immediate evacuation. i’ve had a few days of relief, but really it’s been continuous. i miss food so bad. the joy of anticipating my next meal, savoring it, and masticating without fear seem like privileges of a past life. and much like in my past life, as soon as i express bodily trouble everybody has a diagnosis and a remedy; it’s never the remedy i want, either, that of sympathy and support. folks are always trying to asses and solve your life. so i get, “that sounds like…” a parasite, bacteria, a virus, food poisoning, dysentery, or dengue; “you should get some…” electrolytes, more water, agua panela, maalox, sancocho, arroz con pollo, this antibiotic, that antibiotic, or suero en polvo. no joda. i always resist advice. i just want my body to heal itself and people to comfort me from a healthy, emotional distance. i hate being sick anywhere, but i hate having a gringo illness even more.
as much as i own my gringoness and am happy to proclaim it when the inevitable question of “where are you from?” arises, there are some extranjero stereotypes i avoid participating in and succumbing to. por ejemplo, walking around with a pack of shirtless white boys in flip flops, speaking english really loud on a bus, photographing stuff, or taking a towel to the beach. there is one that i am deeply immersed in, though, and i didn’t realize what i caught until it was too late. i am now 3 weeks into a monogamous relationship with a 21 year old samario, or santa martan. i know, right? it makes me almost as nauseated as a cookies n’ cream and poo water milkshake.
i have learned there is an epidemic of older gringo ladies (gringo meaning anyone foreign and white) coming to santa marta and taking on a local boy for companionship and sex. just like in the movies! they whisk them away on trips or cruises, take them out to eat, fill them up with all the cocaine and vagina they want, and then go home. when i walk around with my boy, this is what i imagine everyone is thinking when i get eyeballs and whispers. “she’s got gringo fever,” they say. i understand these looks, i give them to myself and would likely give them to others, but i know the sincerity and honesty in my relationship so i try to ignore their prognosis. i’m not the only one who got the bug, either. colombian girls break into sweats over gringo boys (my previous definition of gringo applies). these are average joe gringo boys paired up with obnoxiously fine ass women. this shit’s airborne, i swear.
as much as i know (hope) my lovely caribbean fling is a passing fervor, it is the most committed, fun, and easy relationship i’ve had in the last 5 years. thus far it has been completely drama free, extremely sweet, and full of good sex and outdoor adventures. riding motorcycles, smooching under waterfalls, and hand feeding each other on the beach. it’s a little nauseous. issues of class, culture, and age do inevitably seep in, and i have to take my temperature and a deep breath, but i’m still not looking for an analysis or a cure. i’m just letting it run its course.
two of my friends were in a store when they heard crazy commotion outside in the plaza. they ran out and folks were crowded around some cops holding onto a young kid with a bloody face. the cops were protecting him; trying to get him out of there while the mob was following, yelling, and grabbing for him. he had apparently just tried to snatch someone’s bag, and the pueblo was furious. they wanted street justice.
i was leaving one of the barrios on a bus a few weeks back and suddenly all the passengers started yelling at the driver to go; he put the bus in reverse, looked back, and hauled ass the eff out of there. i looked in front of us and saw a mob of young guys throwing rocks towards something and everyone else running towards us. i was full of riot adrenaline wanting to know what crazy shit must have popped off to create such a raucous. a lady on the bus told me maybe a car ran over a street dog or a motorcyclist or something. huh? that’s it? street justice. any time something goes down, todo el pueblo comes out to see and ensure shit happens right. and, of course, to gossip about it. they linger for hours afterwards. community. i love it.
it all makes perfect sense to me. at least, in the context of this country. if you’re used to protecting yourself, if you don’t trust cops or each other, then you just do it yourself. this includes commerce too. street food is the obvious example alive and well here and quickly appropriated by yuppies worldwide. pay phones here are people on the street sitting at tables with cell phones chained down and you pay for minutos to make phone calls. i’m not sure how profits are made but i adore it. when i want coffee, i walk around until i find someone with a coffee thermos and pay a quarter for a cup. same goes for juice, lemonade, ice cream, fruit, fish, live chickens, purebred dogs, batteries, cigarettes, photocopies, sunglasses, incense, remote controls, massages, belts, etc. street enterprise. the people do for themselves. there’s no regulation or permits or legal hoops at all. you just invest in some shit and walk around selling it. if you’re extra fancy, you might have a megaphone. or a burro.
coming from a bureaucratic framework my regulatory gut wonders what happens if something makes someone sick or if you buy some bunk shit that doesn’t work, but around here, you just take care of it yourself. you don’t run to daddy; you run to the people. i mean, the only downside is that the people are generally fucking crazy, but it’s not really like our system is all that much better. the gang and the government are no different, or so perry farrel taught me. generally, i’m all for the regulation of corporate entities, to the point of their undoing really, but these are just ordinary civilians. though maybe wal-mart started as a street cart too. this way of being inspires me to consider retail as a way to support myself, something that generally makes me want to throw up. but like, i could totally come up with something to sell. translation services? an advice booth ala lucy? plastic bottle crafts? poo water support group? someone’s bound to pay or trade for that.
it’s strange to revel in street commerce so much as it seems to be capitalism at its purest, and i hate capitalism. but maybe if i tag it as a community market, it’s actually anarchy at its best? money is still involved though… i don’t really know fuck all about anarchy. either way, it all feels very liberating. i can just come up with an idea that could fill a community need and simultaneously support me financially or otherwise. about a third of colombians i talk to tell me they like the states but would never move there. freedom is just talk there, they say. they like their more tactile, lawless freedom here. i gotta say, i dig the pueblo too.
the problem is i just can’t find it in myself to care. i thought only my brain was fried from social work, but it seems like my heart and soul have suffered from third degree burns as well. when i met up with my volunteer organization for the first time, the director told me he would be leaving to the states in a few days. his eyes went wide as saucers when he realized my bilingualacity. “we could really use a volunteer director while i’m away…” “huh,” i said, “good luck with that.” two other volunteers who had been here for a week were suckered into the interim director position, and the first couple of weeks here, i found myself getting jazzed about organizing and planning shit, and then a few hours later not wanting anything to do with it. all the feelings i had at my job in san francisco came rising up in my belly like dysentery: intense avoidance of commitments made; getting easily overwhelmed; utter boredom; indifference; frustration at the ineptitude, lack of organization, bureaucracy, and futility inherent in social service organizations. fuck it. i quickly pulled out before creating something i would abandon. there are enough orphaned babies in the world.
i positioned myself as translation and interpretation support and advisor. which generally meant i got to boss everybody around and hold no responsibility. i could handle that for a while, but recently i can’t even deal with that. volunteers get easily frustrated by lack of structure and want to have meetings with me about it. no. i see volunteers show up to teach a class with no lesson plan and wonder why the kids go ape shit. not my problem. i see us raising money and have no idea where it goes. typical. i see myself seeing rampant poverty in barrios, street children begging, pregnant 12 year olds, and lack of information and access to existing services. uninspired. is this what happens in old age? i know how to coordinate this shit. i’m still paying off loans for the training i received to do it, but somehow i just can’t bring myself to care. will it come back? i am hopeful that the body is elastic and will eventually recuperate from past damage, but i don’t see signs of this yet.
just as bad, i find myself desiring things again. strappy wedges, tank tops of every color, more shorts, pretty sandals, strapless tops, cute sundresses, another bathing suit, nail polish, hair conditioner, a better life through purchasing power. there are no used goods stores around here so the shopping mall is slowly reeling me in like a sad fish resigned to its fate. the hook is so sparkly and pretty. i want to put it in my mouth.
i haven’t forgotten why i came here, but i’m not sure what the end result should look like anymore. all i can do is resist my old urges of complacency and complicity as best i can, do the least harm possible, maintain an existence in the every day, and not force a change upon myself that i will only mutiny. but really that’s just not good enough. i know.