Sunday, 17 October 2010

The chronicles of “YES”- the hapless misadventures of eternal acquiescence

On my 21st birthday, I shaved the word “YES” into my head. Partly because it was megalolz and partly because it summed up the attitude I wished to adopt over the forthcoming year, open to new experiences, i.e. saying  “yes” to everything. Since arriving in Colombia, this has proved fruitful, if  time consuming, as my new YES attitude has led to me joining a kickball team (a sort of hybrid of football, netball and rounders), a classical choir, salsa classes, Thai boxing classes (sweaty), taking on sole responsibility for the musical education of 40 4 year olds (as discussed), allowing an unknown woman to make me lunch every day, and buying quite a lot of plastic crap that I neither like nor want. In fact, the only thing I have said no to is Jehovah’s Witnesses, two rather dreamy boys who I thought I was well in with until they produced a picture of a Colombian utopia and while looking at me with sad eyes called me “God’s lost daughter”. They told me to read the bible. I said, “NO”. It was unsettling. 
The YES philosophy has also led me to accept all manner of dates with all manner of men. It seems that here in coastal Colombia the men find me irresistible due to my full set of teeth, and not having conceived more than 3 children before the age of 18. (N.B. THIS IS A GROSS GENERALISATION) And so the invitations have flooded in, as I write I am on a working/coffee/date with a businessman I met in a coffee shop. He doesn’t know I am writing about him... Others have included being set up with the British Consulate (HELLO penthouse apartment/get- out- of- jail- free- card) and Mojitos, shellfish soup and African Samba with a photographer.  However, I have also been asked out by crusty old men on street corners with no hands and only one ear with pet crabs on their shoulders and so I really feel that one must draw the line somewhere.
I still live with darling Diego the fitness instructor. Now darling Diego is very sweet, means very well and has introduced me to almost all the friends I now count amongst my closest. However, darling Diego has been fatally stricken by the plague of Narcissus. His resulting words and actions range from the cruel: “You really should try and lose that tummy you know”, to the annoying:   “Diego, you have been staring at yourself in my mirror for over an hour now,” to the utterly ridiculous, “You know, people ask me, ‘Diego, how do you have such a great body?’ and I say, simple, it’s genetics, (laughing), and I eat a lot of cornflakes”. If I even mention a female friend in England, he makes me show him photos of them on Facebook, unprompted gives them a mark out of 100, then proceeds to show me his top 10 best looking friends on Facebook, and describe in details why their bodies are better. This has happened at least four times. It’s getting a little repetitive. He also expects me to be impressed by his list of “celebrity” friends, and becomes agitated when I reveal that I am not familiar with Colombian soap stars.

Me and Darling Diego
Something that I had not expected here is the rain. While 90% of the time it is blisteringly hot and sunny (on average 31 degrees C, day and night), every now and then there will be 3 or 4 days of rain. And I’m not talking about the irritating British splitter splatter: rain here means the seas stir into a bubbling fury, the skies blacken, the heavens open and within minutes the streets are feet deep in swirling, hot, brown water. Fork lightening cracks open the sky as the thunder splits deafeningly right overhead. All very Sound of Music My Favourite Things scene.  Because I live right on the sea front the sea spills right out over the beach up to the door of my building, making it impossible to cross the road. A few young entrepreneurs have started a business charging people around 10p for a piggy back ride across the road, or 15p to be towed on a sort of trolley. But seeing as I’m so darn pretty, (read: have a full set of teeth) I seem to be acquiring such luxuries for free. It’s all rather awkward, clambering onto some young Roberto’s back as he winks to his mates and cars drive past honking their horns and purposefully trying to splash you. Another consequence of the rain is that in the impoverished barrio where I work, the streets flood with sewage. Therefore, no one leaves their houses. Therefore, the whole of last week I was left twiddling my thumbs, waiting in vain for students to arrive. Of course it is not their fault, but it was definitely a week of frustration and a bad feeling that I was wasting precious time.
However, this week the classes more than made up for last week’s disillusion.  The sun was out, the clouds had vanished, and my students seemed to be filled with a sort of cheerful resolution. Wednesday was a big day. I brought the Coldplay song Fix You, to listen to, with the lyrics, but with words missing to fill in the blanks. Having heard it through a couple of times, the blanks filled and the words translated, the class asked to listen to the song one final time.  I was surprised, as none of them seemed to warm whole-heartedly to Chris Martin’s generic ballad, and put it on. To my utmost surprise, these kids, whose parents are drug addicts, spend nights avoiding gangs and live in houses without electricity or toilets, all began singing along, and continued doing so the whole way through, like a bizarre Hispanic Coldplay choir. It was all so incongruous that I was completely taken aback, and the class laughed as I dabbed my eyes. “DIZZY IZZY!” they shouted, and some threw books at me. Affectionately...(?) ‘(dizzy’ is a word we learnt on Monday, when discussing illness and injury. It has quickly become a class favourite).
In other news, I have made my official Colombian debut in performance, singing at a friend’s surprise birthday party. The guy was fortunately called Alejandro, so it was an accident waiting to happen really would sing him the Lady Gaga modern classic. In spite of beginner’s nerves and rum induced blurred vision, my rendition went down a storm, and set the tone for a completely bizarre night involving light sabers, being hit on the head by a flying pineapple, inexplicable tears and Colombians attempting Australian accents. It is strange here how sometimes it seems like there is something mysterious or magical in the air which sends people into a frenzy for no ostensible reason. It is little wonder that Marquez always wrote of a land where science and magic cohabitate, naturally side by side. It seems to be universally excepted that nothing is really as it seems, and as the people often say, “Anything is possible in Cartagena.”


1 comment:

  1. Hi, Izzy. Now that sounds like a real gap year! You are certainly having a great experience - and giving one to the locals, too! You are a great writer, you've really found your niche. I look forward to the next installment, and perhaps getting the full published version for Christmas.
    Stay safe.
    All the best
    Iain McW