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After almost seven years of having Bogotá as the base, the greatest ‘achievement’ — let’s not get caught up in the semantics here — has been my assimilation to the working-class Bogotá barrio life.
While many locals with aspirations to improve their lot try to get away from it, I found myself actively seeking it out.
Indeed, in the last couple of years, with the departure of some good foreign friends who would regularly ‘force me’ to change scene, I have become even more entrenched in this environment.
Mixing it with the masses
Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with this. I’m a rural, working-class man at heart, so it could be said that I was just ‘finding my level’ in terms of mixing it with Colombia’s normal masses rather than a minority elite, or those wishing they were part of it at least.
Ireland’s working class isn’t quite the same as Colombia’s.
Yet, at the risk of sounding arrogant, most of Ireland’s landed working class (it exists) aren’t quite in the same sphere as the majority of Bogotá’s working class. Having much easier, more affordable access to quality second-and-third-level education plays a big part in that.
Now while it wasn’t by design, from a personal perspective this gap has closed in recent years, monetary speaking that is if nothing else. Alas, this has had more to do with my decreasing earning power rather than the locals getting richer (and, dare I add, better educated).
A passport to riches?
So if you’re a peso-pinching, non-dancing Westerner who’s not a big fan of dating, any appeal that this previously imagined ‘rich’ foreigner had with the local women quickly wanes. “Best to stick with our own kind if this ‘gringo’ isn’t a passport to riches” appears to be the general thinking.
I might yet regret this conservative approach.
Whether that’s fully true or not, I’ve come to accept it anyway, and in a rather indifferent manner in the barrios I frequent. ‘An old conservative head on relatively young shoulders’ you might say, happy out in what are practically ‘gentlemen only’ drinking dens.
Paradoxically, I might come to regret this old-school attitude, this ‘missing out on the action’ when I am older. You know, as the saying goes, ‘You can’t put an old head on young shoulders.’
Nonetheless, the likes of Santandercito and La Perseverancia have remained the focal points. Good friends have been made, some of those friends for life I’d like to think.
My Bogotá experience would have been much different without them. Some people might believe it would have been different for the better, but that can’t be said with any certainty (if I ever get this book sorted, there are plenty more tales to tell on this front!).
Back in 2008, when I took my first solo steps in South America, one of my biggest worries was leaving behind Gaelic football in Ireland. I saw it as a fundamental part of my life. It didn’t, however, take long for me not to miss it. I found other attractions along the way.
Ten years on, I’m now wondering how life will be without the barrios, and by extension the regular mini-escapes to Colombia’s small country towns that I also enjoy exploring so much.
They will be missed if I do have to leave them behind indefinitely. Yet, there’ll be other things to embrace, wherever the road may take me.
New ‘barrios’ await to be broken, so to put it. Though to borrow from the film Casablanca, “We’ll always have Bogotá.” For better or for worse.
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