Today I walked from work to my apartment. I teach at a multinational pharmaceutical company near Parque de la 93. For those of you not familiar with Parque de la 93, it’s a pleasant urban park surrounded by upscale cafes, bars, and restaurants. The area is home to a lot of multinationals and fancy apartment buildings. So upon leaving my office, you could be in an upscale sector of any large city — New York, Chicago London– things are shiny and pretty and decidedly first world. By the time you reach the 75, you’ve entered eastern Europe (and not charming, undisturbed by WWII Eastern Europe…): Lots of smallish student bars, Internet cafes, long-haired, guitar-carrying hippies, cement block-style buildings, non-newness and non-shininess. Walk a  little further toward the 65-66 on la Caracas (perhaps the most notorious street in Bogota), and suddenly,  all you see are small hardware stores, used appliance shops, homeless people and drug addicts. I walked by a sitting on cardboard and wearing what looked like blankets  mumbling to herself and preparing a bazuko pipe. She looked like she was about 100 years old and it struck me then that you really do reach a point where you absolutely don’t care what people think of you anymore. As sad as it sounds to say it, it was hard to recognize a human under the blankets, filth and smell. This particular stretch of La Caracas smells so strongly of urine that you can’t even smell the pollution. It’s like a forgotten little section where anything goes and you could be in the worst part of any third world city. It’s pretty crazy how you can cross three different stages of development in a 30 block area.

It always surprises me that North and South America, both colonized at approximately the same time by two European superpowers, had such different societal outcomes. I wonder if Latin America had been conquered by the English instead things would have turned out differently.  This isn’t exactly a very PC entry and some might argue I’m speaking from a middle class perspective, but no matter how you spin it, I feel like poverty is hidden in the U.S; in Latin America, it’s everywhere; it’s a characterizing factor that you can’t escape from no matter what direction you look toward. It’s in your face in a way it isn’t in the U.S. Even in the nicest neighborhood you’re going to see a homeless drug addict sleeping on a bed of cardboard or a middle-aged woman wearing a baseball cap and clothes a little too tight for her 40-year old body selling gum, cell phone minutes and other sweets from a makeshift wooden stand. After living here for a while, seeing a shaky wooden recycling cart pulled by a sad and decrepit-looking mule traveling on the road next to a brand new BMW becomes perfectly normal. You don’t even notice it anymore. This is Colombia — that’s what everyone here says whenever discussing anything unpleasant. That seems to be the general attitude here : This is Colombia and we need to accept the good with the bad and not expect any drastic changes any time soon.  The fact that I’m no longer shocked by anything, from buildings that are literally falling down before my eyes to not blinking when I walk by an ancient woman smoking crack on a street corner kind of tells you how this kind of sad resignation evolves and establishes itself.

Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Colombian culture

Tags: , ,

5 replies

  1. It is sad how easily we get accustomed to our surroundings and accept things as they are. I think this is a human reaction to protect ourselves in a way because we can’t take on all of the problems we see around us. But I never like the excuse that “it is just the way it is” or placing blame else where, whether on the government, colonial history, the “system”, or on the struggling person themselves. I think we all have a role in the society we are apart of, for good and bad. I may be idealistic but I think as a person born into fortunate circumstances I have an obligation to help out people who have been less lucky. This doesn’t mean I’m going to give everything I have to people on the streets. But I try to volunteer my time to a cause I believe in. I think if everyone volunteers and helps others in a way that they enjoy doing it can change a lot. I think there needs to be more of an emphasis on giving in many societies.

  2. Really dramatically different outcomes? I guess you have not been in the US south. As far as the north and the west-let me tell you, many urban centers are as blighted and unpleasant as those in latin america.

    It’s a much, much more complex question than what you post as blatantly misinformed and bigoted-English vs. Spaniards. Major in Latin American or US studies and then speak. Shame on you for posting such an ignorant, pedestrian assumption.

  3. Hey now, SD. I’m from the American South, and have lived there my whole life except for the few months I’ve spent here in Bogota, and I’ve gotta say that the poverty in Appalachia and other parts of the south IS hidden unlike poverty here in Bogota. I’ve been to some shady places in the American South – I grew up in one of them, in fact – and while it may not be a trial to stumble on one lady smoking crack on a corner in a seedy part of Atlanta, you aren’t going to see mules hauling rubbish or entrenched shanty towns like you see in the hills of Bogota. (Detroit has nothing on them.=

    You can’t compare the poverty you see in the U.S. to that in Latin America. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or necessarily makes one country better. Its a damn shame, but don’t call somebody misinformed and ignorant and then hide behind your initials.

    Also, I majored in American history so I guess that means I can talk?

  4. I guess you can get people het up with that kind of statement?
    I suppose I have a fairly mc view on life too. Years spent working in a State Benefits office colours your outlook, like it or no.


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