Monday, 28 December 2015

2015: finding the positives from a difficult year

2015. Best summed up as a year I'd largely like to scrap from the memory bank. Any time you lose a loved one is never easy; this is made even more difficult when it's someone who left this earth way before her time, someone who had so much more to give.

Yet in some small tribute to my sister Lynda, a person who could find the good in the bad and who displayed great mental strength and positivity where others would have wilted, here I'll go through the personal and not-so-personal plus points of the year as we prepare to bring it to a close:

The gang, Creevy, Lisacul, Co. Roscommon.
Happier times ...
Family first
We weren't to know the hammer blow that was coming, but a family reunion in February to celebrate our parents 40th wedding anniversary provided the opportunity to get all of us together.
It also coincided with a belated 30th birthday for yours truly. Considering what transpired a few months later, this happy get together has taken on an even greater significance. We'll always have the memories.
The final winners in 2015 of IQuiz "The Bogotá Pub Quiz" ...
IQuiz holders going into 2016 ...

IQuiz Bogotá is born
The seeds of the idea to get this going actually came from the February trip home. A night at a pub quiz during my two weeks in Ireland reminded me of how much I enjoy them — even if I seldom win. So on return to Bogotá, in partnership with my Dutch mate Pieter, we set about creating our own quiz night in the Colombian capital. So far it's been eight down and not out.
OK, Pieter may have departed the Bogotá scene, but the hopes are that IQuiz will return in 2016 in some shape or form — minus the promotional videos that is.

Extending the extended 'family', Venezuelan style
It was with much curiosity and a touch of apprehension that I took up a friend's invite to visit her and her family in Caracas. Yes, I've been to Venezuela before, but not to the 'bloody' and 'dangerous' capital city with a heated election taking place.
What I found there was what pretty much felt like a home from home. My hosts were extremely accommodating and great fun, representing in a way all that's good about Venezuela and its people.
The country may be in a bad state politically and economically — the latter making it cheap to visit when entering with foreign currency — but if you're willing to take the security risks there are decent rewards.

Enjoying election day (December 6th, 2015) in Caracas ...
The Venezuelan family!
 Come on you boys in green
Europe's big international summer football (soccer) fest returns next year and Ireland, for the first time ever, will be represented on the double. Both Northern Ireland and the Republic, in varying degrees of impressiveness, booked their places at Euro 2016, so what could be seen as a D-Day-esque invasion of green-clad supporters awaits France in June. Now while the Republic really only made up the numbers at the previous renewal in 2012, and did so very badly at that, it's nice to have the chance to mix it with the 'big boys', times two as it is, all the same. Just ask the Dutch (or Scottish).

There you go. There's not much else to do with 2015 now but to move on from it. Of all the uncertainties there are, what we do know is that time will continue to tick on, however we measure it. Happy New Year to all.
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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Venezuela: Killing with kindness

If you're to take your lead from most Western — as well as Colombian — media, going to Venezuela these days without solid reasons is a very risky undertaking. Throw in a hotly contested and potentially era-ending national election, as we just had, and the advice is to give the place a wide, wide berth.
Puente Internacional Simón Bolívar on the Colombian-Venezuelan border is a much quieter border crossing these days compared to just a few months ago ...
This used to be packed with cars on a daily basis ...
Yet having had a pleasurable experience visiting the country in 2013, the constant invites to return from a Caracas-based friend mixed with a curiosity to see if the current situation was as bad as some would have you think, led me to return. Well that and the desire to spice things up a little by venturing, for the first time, into 'dangerous' Caracas with that aforementioned election looming.

It might sound a little devil-may-care, but the fact that my friend would be hosting me in the Venezuelan capital reduced, I figured, the risk factor considerably.

The first major difference from 30 months ago was encountered before actually entering Venezuela. From previous experience, to get the best price for my Colombian pesos to bolivares (or so it used to go anyway), I changed the best part of my cash in Cúcuta.* The amount of notes I got this time for a similar exchange as before was at least 10 times more. Hyperinflation placed right before your eyes. I felt, uneasy to say the least, like a walking cash machine.
With 100 bolivares the biggest note denomination, you need plenty of them for cash transactions in Venezuela right now ...
You need big pockets in Venezuela these days ...

Then at the border itself, the hustle and bustle of what had been the busiest frontier crossing between Colombia and Venezuela has been replaced, for now anyway, by an almost eerie silence. (Puente Internacional Simón Bolívar, as it's known, has been closed to vehicular traffic for months following this year's border dispute.)

For any tourists making the journey either way this is great; it must rate as the least time consuming nation-state crossing in Latin America. In fact, the most inconvenient thing is trying to find the office to get your entry stamp in San Antonio, Venezuela; it's not done right on the border as it is in Colombia.

The lack of human traffic might be good from a personal viewpoint, but for merchants on either side of the divide it's having an adverse effect.**

With the inflation I expected my big bundles of notes to disappear quite quickly. In reality, while everything appears to have an extra zero added to it compared to 2013, the converted pesos seemed to last longer, a good bit longer. In fact, with the almost unfathomable black market exchange rates it turns out I could have got even more bolivares for my pesos. I'll get it right yet.

I'd also prepared myself for the usual heat foreign visitors to Venezuela can expect from the military and police, especially at checkpoints. This time around only once did I have to step off a bus, along with all the other passengers, and have my stuff searched, half-heartedly as it was.

In one lapse, what you might call a testament to the regard I hold Colombian police in, I asked state police in San Cristóbal for directions. Not the best idea. I was escorted to the nearest station where officers went through everything I was carrying. Pleasantly surprising they didn't take any of the wads of cash stashed in my bag.
Some of the views from up in Parque Nacional Warairarepano in Caracas ...
Impressive sights abound around Caracas ...

It does, however, seem a little ironic that the police tell me to be careful after it was them who, without wanting to sensationalise this, semi-interrogated me whilst making jokes about robbing me and calling me rich. They generally made me feel uncomfortable and more at risk — with a smile albeit — when all I'd done was ask for directions. And you couldn't but be bemused by some of the things they asked: 'What's this?' 'Um, bread.' 'What do you have a camera for?' 'Eh, you're asking what now?' It's a case of, as many of the locals will tell you, trusting more those not associated with the upkeep of law and order. Playing the innocent gringo/foreigner doesn't get you far.

To add to this further, a friend of the family I stayed with told me of an incident that happened in a downtown shopping centre the week I was there where two police officers robbed a couple of foreigners of all their belongings in the middle of the day.

No doubt there are decent, trustworthy police and military, but in general it seems the nation's 'protectors' could learn a thing or two from the civilians. The friendliness of the ordinary Venezuelans I dealt with was up there with the best of them. Little things like the bus company employee in San Cristóbal phoning my friend in Caracas to tell her what bus I was on and what station I'd be arriving at. Then when I got to Caracas a stranger lending me his phone to call my friend to say I'd arrived. In some other Latin American countries even friends are reluctant to hand over their phone for a quick call.

My hosts, who live in a part of Caracas where a Western face is seldom seen, were, to say the least, hugely accommodating. It very much felt like a home from home.

The measures you've to take to get around election-day Ley Seca (alcohol prohibition) in Caracas!
Getting round election-day prohibition, Caracas style ...
Yet even though I was staying in a potentially dangerous barrio (you might ask, with reason, where isn't in Caracas), with locals by my side I pretty much felt oblivious to any dangers, dangers that my friends were quick to tell me do exist — gun shot fire was a regular enough sound. Even on election day, passing by fanatical Chavistas (supporters of the current 'socialist revolution'; my host family are not), it felt more like a carnival than a country experiencing political polarisation that is crippling it in many ways.

Tellingly though, I went nowhere without one of my Caraqueño (Caracas natives) friends by my side. For the nine days I was in the city that was fine, but I generally like to wander about places on my own. With my foreign face, I was told that's not the wisest move to make in Caracas. In any case, the tienda-drinking culture you get in Colombia that I enjoy is largely lacking in Caracas' barrios. It's more a style of home drinking or on the street outside your house or nearest tienda.

With political change potentially in the air following the opposition's victory in the parliamentary elections, Venezuela's officialdom might start becoming a little less insecure and seemingly suspicious of all outsiders.

There's a lot of work to be done on that front. For the time being, there's always the friendliness of the locals to fall back on for those willing to visit this beautiful country.

*To get a fair idea of what your pesos are worth against the bolivar on 'street' exchange bureaus, a good web site to check is bolivarcucuta.com. For the street price of dollars and euros versus bolivares, see dollartoday.com.

**Alas, it was far from an efficient border crossing on the Venezuelan side on the return journey; the Christmas rush had begun.

To listen to a radio interview I did on the situation in Venezuela, check out this link: http://bit.ly/22iwq97 (the interview starts about 10 minutes into the play back service, a couple of minutes after the news and sport).
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Friday, 27 November 2015

Tobia or not Tobia?

Bogotá, as much as any 'big smoke' (if not a little bit more than some) can get exhausting after a while. It's generally a good idea to get away from it all on a regular basis.

Now considering I was out of it, and the country, for a whole five weeks recently, that I was happy to leave the city virtually as soon as I got back may not seem like I was completely at ease with returning.
Río Negro, Tobia, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Río Negro, Black River, Tobia.
There might be a half truth to that, but seeing that I was effectively homeless on my return plus the fact there was no immediate rush to get back to my, erm, work here, taking the opportunity to check out a new, hotter and much quieter location didn't take much persuading.

And as has been detailed on this blog before, these type of more alluring places are dotted all around Bogotá. You don't need to travel far to escape the metropolis' madness.

This time around the venue was the small settlement of Tobia, tucked away at 800 metres-above-sea-level off the main road between the towns of La Vega and Villeta, both of which I already explored earlier this year.
Tobia, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Downtown Tobia.

Tobia has been building itself up as an adventure sports/tourism destination for the last number of years now; a place to rival the more well-known San Gil. However, for both foreign and native holiday makers alike, it's not exactly the first place on the 'must-see' list. In fact, you'll meet plenty of Bogotá locals who don't even know it exists, even though it's just a 90-minute drive north-west from the capital.

Nonetheless, from what I discovered during my midweek stay there, you'll do well to find as laid-back, tropical a setting, with plenty of things to keep you active, as this so close to Bogotá.

It offers pretty much all that the far popular San Gil does in terms of extreme sports — minus the steady stream of backpackers and associated hostels. Alongside rafting, kayaking, rock climbing/descending and the like, it has, so the locals say, the second highest zip line/canopy in all of Latin America. Whether it is or not, at over 200 metres above the village and the river it straddles, Río Negro, gliding over in two separate lines at speeds of up to 40 mph, the canopy certainly has a James Bond feel to it. The views, if you're not too spooked, aren't half bad either.

For the more budget-conscious visitor or for those just not that bothered to do any of the paid activities, taking in the nature and vistas with a walk along the banks of the Río Negro, where its waters, in some spots, provide a refreshing dip from the heat, is well worth it.

The old railway line walk, Tobia, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Tobia's natural delights.
The village itself, midweek in any case, is as peaceful as you're likely to find. The Colombian standard of belting out vallenato or ranchero music to eardrum-breaking levels at any time of the day, even in the middle of nowhere, doesn't seem to exist. Indeed, at times it looks like there are more dogs than people, and those humans who are present tend to leave you to your own devices, apart from a few inquisitive, yet pleasant, children.

There are a number of accommodation options, with what appear like the more 'upmarket' ones located a short walk outside the village itself. My Dutch companion and I landed ourselves what must be the best spot in the actual village, Hotel San Pedro, for a very reasonable price. We had the place and its swimming pool to ourselves for the three nights we stayed, save for the sporadic interruptions of day trippers from Bogotá who breakfasted and lunched there.

From what we could gather, this is the weekday norm; day-trip visitors with very few outsiders overnighting it. It can be a different story at weekends, especially holiday ones.

That midweek tranquillity might change a little in the coming years. For when it comes to a quick overland escape from Bogotá, the message is slowly getting it out that 'It's got to be Tobia.'
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Friday, 20 November 2015

An uncomfortable undertaking

It was Benjamin Franklin who said that nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes. Some people, however, manage to find ways around the latter one. As of yet, though, no one has managed to get the better of the former.

The Grim Reaper will be visiting all of us ...
Death: The unwanted but unavoidable guest. (Image: villains.wikia.com)
For something so inevitable, that many of us give very little, if any, considered thought in planning for our own demise  could be viewed in a puzzling light.

OK, you can make the argument that we're too busy living to be thinking about such morbid things. Plus, the younger you are and/or feel, taking time out to organise both how you want your body disposed of when you breathe your last and where and to whom you'd like your earthly belongings left may seem an unnecessary distraction. 'I've plenty of time for that sure.'

That may just be the case, but the thing is we never know exactly when we'll depart this world as we know it. Throw in the fact that the older you get or if faced with a potentially terminal illness, you may not want to think about death; imagining it might just bring it on more quickly.

Taking all these points together, then we'll never feel predisposed to preparing the legal and practical necessities for when we die. You could say it's a selfish approach; 'Let those I leave behind deal with all that pernickety stuff.'

Yet dealing with death is seldom easy, so we can all play our part in removing at least some of the potential trauma ahead of our own passing. And seeing how I generally go along with the 'not thinking about it' approach when you're battling a severe illness, especially in relation to younger adults, the best time to think about and plan for your death is when you feel in rude health.

There are the rather straightforward things such as: electing for either burial or cremation; the type of coffin you'd like (and perhaps where you'd like it purchased — there are other options than just relying on a costly undertaker to source it for you); the clothes you want on your dead body; how you'd like your funeral arranged, for example where you'd like your body to spend its last hours before burial/cremation, an open or closed coffin, etc.; and yes or no to your organs being donated.

Having arrangements made, in a legally binding way, for how any savings and/or assets you have are distributed is, to state the obvious, a very prudent move. If you have sufficient funds to pay for your own funeral, these should be made available to cover it as soon as is legally possible. If you're an expatriate, as is currently the case for me, expecting other family members to shoulder the cost of having your body repatriated isn't the nicest parting gift (I might be just left where I am!).

For the record, to put it publicly here — subject to future changes — I'll go for cremation (that was the result of a coin toss), a reasonably-priced wicker coffin (if people would like to see my dead body before it's disposed of, fair enough), my last night at my parental home, I'm easy on the clothes as long as they're mine, and if my organs after my death can be of use to other people, then go for them.

On the money front, whatever bits I have in accounts in Colombia, the Republic of Ireland and the UK, they should be used to pay for funeral costs. If there's anything left over (unlikely at this remove), distribute it among my parents and siblings (or siblings' children).

There you go. Of course I fully hope that the provisions in my 'death plan' change many times before it's actually needed, but putting off making one at all isn't best practice. Death is the one thing that awaits us all.
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Friday, 6 November 2015

The future is All Black

So another Rugby World Cup is put to bed and with it the team that has always been described as the globe's greatest has officially cemented its number one status — for now at least.

The New Zealand All Blacks' triumph takes their World Cup winners tally to an unmatched three, they are the first to claim back-to-back successes and this time, unlike the previous ones, they did it on foreign soil.
New Zealand, Rugby World Cup winners 2015. Who can stop them in 2019?
The All Blacks: champions once more. Photos from Facebook.
There can be no denying their superiority in the game right now. The final did give us the two best teams in the world at this moment in time, but New Zealand were just that bit better than Australia in practically every facet.

The stream of rugby talent flowing into the All Blacks shows no sign of abating. For sure, big guns are leaving the scene in the shape of Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith (with captain fantastic Richie McCaw still to make his mind up about his future). Yet the rugby-playing culture in New Zealand, where it is true to say the game is a religion there, has ensured very abled successors are ready to fill the huge voids left.

The man who crossed the line in clinical fashion for the All Blacks' final try in the decider, Beauden Barrett, is sure to be one of those. Others that should maintain the side's frighteningly (frightening for the other nations that is) high standards include Sam Whitelock, Ben Smith, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Aaron Smith. Already people are pencilling them in to make it three-in-a-row in Japan 2019. We'll give it a little time yet.

The question that is regularly asked, though, is 'Why New Zealand?' In terms of overall numbers playing the game, it's well behind the leading nation in this regard, England. This is obviously understandable considering the small population of New Zealand compared to England — 4.47 million versus 53.01 million.

What much of the All Blacks success comes down to, as alluded to earlier, is culture. The outgoing Irish captain Paul O'Connell touched on this in an interview earlier this week. Looking at the rugby-playing differences between Ireland and New Zealand, two countries with similar numbers of registered players, O'Connell noted how in the latter country the sight of children getting together to play with the oval ball at school breaks or whenever is commonplace. Rugby is bred into them.

If any team can find a suitable replacement for the great Dan Carter, it's the All Blacks.
The perfect 10: Dan Carter drops for New Zealand.
By contrast, in Ireland, you're more likely to see young lads mimicking the moves of their heroes who play our national games of Gaelic football and hurling, or soccer, during their downtime. In many areas of Ireland — as happens in other top rugby-playing nations — rugby isn't the first, or even the second, sport on the list.

Of course that's just one element to it. The support structures and player management in New Zealand are second to none. Plus, while we see the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter as superstars, the modesty instilled in each All Black player is to be admired. It's a cliché in most team sports these days, but the idea that no one player is bigger than the team truly holds for the All Blacks.

Whatever they may have just won, or on the rare occasion lost, on the field, these guys are still expected to sweep up their dressing room after each game. Becoming an All Black may be the pinnacle for many New Zealanders, but it comes with responsibilities and high standards that must be maintained.

The All Blacks are certainly standard-bearers, not just for Rugby Union or sport in general but for many other walks of life, too, they set an example that you could do worse to follow.

It's not always about winning, either; the All Blacks have just found the right formula to ensure they invariably do. Contenders for Japan 2019, the work starts now.
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Friday, 30 October 2015

Indomitable spirit, indestructible energy

The Wrong Way approach to spirituality and such like has very much been in the contemporary science sphere. The closest thing to the belief that we have an immortal, incorporeal soul is the idea that the energy running through our living bodies continues in some shape or form after we breathe our last.
Lynda's double rainbow ...
Double rainbow: An impressive message.
That those who leave this life can make strong, 'real' contact with us in the shape of the persona they once were is something I've never really given much credence to. Nonetheless, over the last few weeks there have been a number of incidents that have been curious if nothing else in relation to this.

Now before we look at those, it must be stated that when you have just lost a loved one — as our family has — you are more likely to be open to the notion that the deceased is still very much with you. Happenings that otherwise you might completely dismiss or give no notice to at all can take on other meanings in such emotionally distraught times.

Perhaps the most strange occurrence was to do with white feathers. My brother-in-law, looking for a sign from his late wife, my sister Lynda, that everything would be OK and that he and his three boys would cope without her asked her to send a feather. Moments later, looking out his kitchen window a single white feather was stuck to the leg of a deck chair. On closer inspection, the feather was held in place with a long human hair, which my brother-in-law attributes to Lynda.

I had been sitting on the same chair just a short time beforehand and had the feather been anywhere else I probably would have hit it and removed it. But no; it stayed in place for my brother-in-law to see.

No doubt earthly, mundane explanations can be given for this and it was purely coincidental, yet it is thought-provoking all the same. It's not like there are feathers floating about the area in question all the time, let alone strategically stuck to the legs of chairs.

Outside of that, a couple of days after Lynda's passing my brother-in-law heard for the first time the song Wasn't Expecting That by Jamie Lawson. As he says, he could have written it himself considering how the lyrics mirror his own situation. Fair enough, the timing of the song becoming a massive hit in the UK is probably just pure random, but you could, as we have, ask 'Why now?'; a song, tailor-made for the situation as it is, becoming hugely popular at this moment.

Lynda's feather?
A sign from another dimension ..?
Then you had the quite spectacular double rainbow that arced itself behind my sister's house a few days after she died. In some Eastern cultures, aligning with my sister's strong spirituality, double rainbows carry profound meaning, symbolising transformation. The material world is represented by the first arc, while the second one is the spiritual realm.

For the Chinese, the red of a rainbow is symbolic of the feet and violet represents the head. So a primary rainbow appears to illustrate a human descending from heaven. Since the secondary arc has reversed colours, with red on the bottom and violet on top, it is said to represent ascending from the material Earth to heaven.

Another sign or message or coincidence, whatever you want to call it, was in a local supermarket where my brother-in-law spotted the book My Lynda — the less common Lynda with a 'y' that is, as my sister spelt it — written by a British man who recently lost his celebrity wife Lynda to cancer. Needless to say it struck a chord; and again, the timing of its release was very appropriate.

There have been other, let's call them perplexing coincidences, but I won't go into them all here. They all beg the question, is Lynda still communicating with us from some other place? My heart would like to say 'yes' but my head says 'no'.

What I will say, though, is that for somebody who displayed enormous strength in the face of what turned out to be an unwinnable battle for her mortal body, Lynda's energy, positivity and spirit can not have just vanished. Science tells us as much; her energy has not died.

She may be physically gone (and free from the terrible pain she endured in her last weeks) but she continues to exert a strong, positive influence. For those of us mourning her loss, we can take comfort and strength from this. Rest well Lynda, you deserve it.
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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Bogotá's perpetually broken windows

A couple of years back this blog looked at some of Bogotá's 'broken windows'. That is to say, in relation to the broken windows theory on crime and its prevention, things in the Colombian capital that could be seen as pointing to a lawlessness nature, or at least letting what seem like minor things get out of hand. With the city's mayoral elections just over a month away,* here we revisit those broken windows to see what, if anything, has changed:

Human faeces on the street; a common sight in city-centre Bogotá ...
Spot the poo ...
Faeces on the streets
Considering all the other problems Bogotá has, this one rates pretty low. However, it doesn't take away from the disgusting nature of it, made all the worse that the poo you see, or stand in, is just as likely to be from humans than dogs (or police horses).

From a city centre, La Candelaría/Las Aguas point of view, not much has changed with this problem. OK, some portable free-to-use public toilets have been installed in a few key locations, but they seem to be locked more than they are open.

The continued rejuvenation of the principle Carrera Séptima (Seventh Avenue) in the centre is bringing a new gloss to things around there; but that the lot for the main perpetrators of this particular problem hasn't changed, it's hard to envisage things staying clean and shiny for long.

Aggressive beggars
At best, we can say this one has stayed the same over the last few years. That's the optimistic view. Again, looking at it from a tourist/expat-heavy city centre perspective, it could be argued that things have actually regressed.

As stated in the original, it’s a thin line to cross from aggressively asking for money to aggressively taking it. Beggars aside, the more dangerous out-and-out thieves certainly appear to be as strong in number as ever.

Giving such types a more positive raison d'être is an ongoing challenge, one that neither the mayor's office nor national government seem capable of meeting.

Transmilenio delinquents
With the recent fare increase for Bogotá's flagship public transport system, we'll probably see more rather than less of these in the coming months and years. OK, the extra revenue will be used, so we're being told, to increase security and improve the overall service and infrastructure of the operation.

Chances are, if you can reduce the number of 'fare hoppers', you'll reduce the incidents of theft inside the system.

Rubbish
For good or bad, this is the area where outgoing mayor Gustavo Petro will be remembered the most.
Has his Basura Cero (Zero Rubbish) programme been effective? In short, no.

In his defence, securing a lasting peace in Colombia may be easier than dealing with its rubbish problem. In most barrios of the city if people used standard wheelie bins to leave their waste for collection, the bins wouldn't be in their possession for long.

Another manhole cover in a state of disrepair & left that way in Bogotá DC ...
Warning tape was actually put around this hole; it didn't last though.
You see anything that isn't firmly — firmly — fixed to Mother Earth or well secured in other ways generally goes 'missing' in these parts.

So the custom of leaving rubbish for collection in random locations on the street in easily ruptured plastic bags continues. And so does the custom of the city's many homeless ripping them opening looking for discarded 'treasures'. Such a sight to behold.

Infrastructure issues, neglected buildings
As mentioned above, if things aren't firmly secured around Bogotá, they will be taken.
In relation to manhole covers, their regular disappearance continues to be a problem for city authorities and citizens alike.

What's more, if and when they do vanish, it's normally some time before they are replaced. The practice of placing a 'warning stick' in them is still standard procedure.

Then you have ones that are just in a state of disrepair — as is the case for footpaths and roads in general. Be it a lack of resources or whatever, but the desire to get them up to a functional standard is obviously lacking.

Defaced buildings in Bogotá, Colombia.
There's graffiti and there's just defacing things as above.
Graffiti
This certainly hasn't gone away; in any case, in general here, it's not a crime. Plus, you'll see some very impressive graffiti in Bogotá — in fact, it has become a popular tourist attraction.
Nonetheless, not all of it is sanctioned and not all of it can be described as art; it's just vandalism, plain and simple. How about decoratively painting the building or monument in question guys, rather than just attacking it with ugly spray paint squiggles?

So it's pretty much a case of 'as you were' with these issues in Bogotá. The (slow) roll-out of the integrated public-private transport system could be seen as at least one positive development under Gustavo Petro's stewardship. And the asses and carts seem to have largely disappeared from the streets. If only some of the same old asses running the place would disappear, too. We can dream, can't we?

*For an earlier piece on the main candidates running for mayor see Broken Bogotá: Who can fix it?
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Monday, 7 September 2015

"Put the 'rucking' rugby on, ¡por favor!"

The bars/tiendas are stocking up. Replica jerseys of the competing nations are being sold on the street. There's giddy excitement in the air. Yep, Rugby World Cup 2015 is almost upon us and Colombia is gearing up for it with gusto.

OK, I might be in dreamland there. Yes, the tiendas are stocking up, but that's a never-ending process. Yes, replica jerseys are being sold on the streets, but they always are and there's not a rugby one to be found. And yes, there's giddy excitement (or is that nervousness?) in the air — in a land with so many gorgeous (flaky as some may be) women about, that's inevitable.

Paul O'Connell (and son) after his last home game for Ireland.
Ireland's talismanic leader, Paul O'Connell. (Photo from Facebook.)
Considering there isn't a Colombian link to rugby union's showcase event — not one that I know of anyway — that the tournament will pass off without registering much of a beat in these parts isn't surprising. There's also the fact that rugby is very much a minority sport here. It is played in some universities and elsewhere but it's generally expat-led. The vast majority of football-mad locals have no idea of what rugby is about nor, understandably enough, do they have any interest in it; indeed even those who actually play it here don't seem to get it.

Thankfully, via ESPN Latin America, the battle for the Webb Ellis trophy will be broadcast on TV in the region. The only snag is convincing my local tienda owner to put it on; a Spanish football second division match would take precedence over the likes of Ireland-France. Perhaps I can arouse the locals' curiosity sufficiently enough to get them slightly interested (and supporting Ireland of course) in order to watch the games.

There's always the internet or an interested party's house (somebody who has a TV that is), but it can be nice to watch these things in a bar/tienda, if you could just get people not to interrupt your viewing.

As for the competition itself, well despite the genuine effort that will come from the other nations involved (20 in total), you can be pretty certain that the winner will come from one of the top-seven ranked teams in the world. Those are, in current order; New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, Wales, Ireland and France.

There are those who say you could narrow it down even further, to simply one — New Zealand. That's being a little disrespectful to the others, especially previous winners South Africa, Australia and England, but there's no doubt that the All Blacks, like always, are the team to beat.

What makes them more formidable this time around is that what had been a recurring theme for them in renewals prior to 2011 — cracking under the pressure of expectation — doesn't appear to be part of the equation this time around. Winning on home soil four years ago, their first global triumph in the professional era, has only added to their aura of invincibility.

Yet, the bookmakers aren't about to pay out on them just yet. Of the chasing pack, it could be argued that the big Northern Hemisphere sides come into this as strong as ever. And that it is being held in England and Wales, that should be a help to both those sides, as well as Ireland who go into the tournament as the best team in Europe for the past two seasons.

The All Blacks perform the Haka before the 2011 World Cup final.
Formidable: the All Blacks. (Photo from Facebook.)
Indeed expectations for the latter — although tempered somewhat by previous demoralising experiences when hopes were high as well as warm-up defeats to Wales and England which have left some doubts — are that at least a maiden semi-final can be reached. In this regard, defeating France in the pool stage and thus avoiding a potential last-eight clash with the All Blacks could be key to attaining that goal.

That brings us on to the South American powerhouse in the mix, Argentina, Ireland's other possible quarter-final opponents. Los Pumas in many ways have been world rugby's breath of fresh air in recent years. While they have long been producing top-class players, it had been difficult for them to maintain consistency against the more traditional rugby-playing nations.

A lot of this was down to their geographical isolation and relatively poor organisational structures back home, meaning their most talented plied their trade miles from Argentina. Both drawbacks still exist but their merited inclusion to the Rugby Championship (formerly the Tri-Nations) in 2012 has seen them play Australia, New Zealand and South Africa on an annual basis.

Such tests have only helped to improve their competitiveness — note their historic first ever win over South Africa this year. Were they to meet Ireland in the last eight, they'd certainly fancy their chances of another World Cup success against their old foes.

South America has another representative in the shape of Uruguay. Their best hope will be to keep losing margins respectable in what is the toughest pool in the tournament with England, Australia, Wales and an unpredictable Fiji expected to lead the charge, perhaps in that order.

So who can we expect to see going head to head in the Halloween final? Well, at this stage it would be a shock if the All Blacks weren’t there. Who will join them is a far trickier prediction. Depending on how the pools go, we could end up with an Australia-New Zealand final. Ireland had been touted as potential finalists, but as mentioned their lead-in games have watered down such thoughts. The smarter money might be on hosts England, with fortress Twickenham giving them an extra edge, making the final cut.

But as anyone who has ever kicked a rugby ball knows, it can bounce in strange ways. Perhaps France have been saving themselves for this moment; a coup de foudre of sorts, on enemy territory? The next six weeks or so will tell a tale.
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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Border battles: What next for Colombia and Venezuela?

In many ways there is a sense of inevitability to all of this. Although those who call the shots in both Colombia and Venezuela are pretty much from the same stock, the ideologies they (claim) to follow are far from similar.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's actions have increased tension with neighbours Colombia.
Nicolás Maduro: quashing Colombians. (Photo from Facebook.)
Considering socialist Venezuela's anti-US stance, having a neighbour that is, politically speaking anyway, rather cosy with Washington has always been a sore point.

Throw in a president who has been feeling the heat both inside and outside his country since taking office in 2013 from a more charismatic and popular deceased predecessor, then attempting to unite the people against 'foreign insurgents' isn't without historical precedence. Problems at home? Create a distracting rallying point.

In fact, in this particular case, it's a line Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro (as Hugo Chávez before) has been spinning for some time: Colombian paramilitaries are active in his country, plotting to overthrow his rule. Colombia is also the source of narco-trafficking and other illegal activities that run into Venezuela. And all these actions are getting clandestine support from none other than former Colombian president and current state senator Álvaro Uribe.

This siege mentality, whether perceived or real, appears to have reached a head for the Maduro administration with its decision to expel over a thousand Colombian citizens from the country and close the border.

Understandably, the sight of their countrymen fleeing across that border, taking whatever of their belongings they can before their dwellings are to be, allegedly, demolished has angered Colombians at home.

So far, the reaction from Bogotá has been strong words only; President Juan Manuel Santos is hoping on finding a diplomatic solution to this mini-crisis. Such a position isn't surprising from a man currently trying to close a peace deal with guerrillas to end over 50 years of internal conflict in his country. The dove isn't about to turn into a hawk just yet.

If the more belligerent Uribe or any of his Centro Democrático party colleagues were calling the shots things could be far more delicate than they are at present. Indeed Uribe has already called the Venezuelan government's action as 'an attempt at genocide'. This came 24 hours after Maduro accused him of being a paramilitary leader and an assassin.

However, the idea of this escalating into anything more serious is unlikely at this remove. Alongside the Santos diplomacy, in many ways the Venezuelan leadership is on a tightrope. Engaging in what many at home would see as an unnecessary military confrontation with the neighbours could be the beginning of the end for Maduro and co.

We're not quite at the brink, but both parties would do well to recall their shared heritage. The many people in the two states who venerate the great liberator from old Spanish rule, Simón Bolívar, should remember that if he had had his way there would be no border. Yet right now that line in the map seems as pronounced as ever.
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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Safety alert! Love building with shoddy scaffolding

There is a poem by the late Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, entitled 'Scaffolding'. In it, he explains how builders rely heavily on scaffolding to aid them in the early stages of construction. (OK, they may be able to build something without it, but it's unlikely to be anything of note.)

Then, once the edifice is built, down come the temporary assists, discarded more or less for good, save for the odd repair every now and again.
'Romance scaffolding': it can be darn costly.
Scaffolding: important, but at what price? (Photo from Facebook.)
For Heaney, scaffolding is a metaphor for the the early stages of a relationship. When you have a budding romance, the flowers, the chocolates, the dinners, the holidays, all that kind of stuff is similar to scaffolding. Vitally important at first, but once all necessary external works are completed and the 'love nest' is free-standing, what were once seen as romance essentials are then largely forgotten about.

Of course, before you go building any construct, prudent practice is to do a cost analysis. And when it's a partnership, as any aspiring romance must be, the costs should be split — or at the very least there should be some give and take in both the initial investment and subsequent labour. If the burden involved is falling all on one side, well the project is pretty much doomed.

This is one of the biggest issues facing many Western men in Colombia. The 'princess mentality' is still strong in these parts. The thoughts of anything approaching 50-50 are non-existent.

In such an environment, it's not too difficult to understand how a male-chauvinist culture exists. When you have a 'partner' who shows very little in the way of being equal, well it's then difficult to treat her as such.

The attitude that some men may have when dating these types, in its mildest form, is that they're with an escort girl rather than actually going out with somebody by mutual consent. In stronger forms, and as oft happens, the door to abuse is left open.

There's a lot at play in all of this. As mentioned, Colombia and Latin America in general still have societies that are largely male dominated, more so than many Western countries in any case. What's more, from personal experience and anecdotal evidence — allowing for a few refreshing exceptions — many women seem content, in monetary terms, to be 'submissive'. And when there are plenty of men willing to pay for their every need (it's what we're for, isn't it?) you can't blame them really.

You see, one of the principal rules of reproduction, as this is what it basically comes down to, hasn't changed since our caveman days — the dominant male gets the lion's share. What has changed in modern society is how that dominant male rises to the top. While physical strength and cunning can still play a role, what is more significant now is money and prestige, alongside, importantly in this context, a strong belief in monogamy, something that could be seen as a mitigating factor in a few powerful, rich males 'sweeping the board' so to put it.

Whatever the case, Heaney's belief in the importance of 'romance scaffolding' is hard to argue with. However, both the cost and reliability of it seems to be a little different in certain parts of the world compared to others.
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Thursday, 6 August 2015

Going underground

By the very virtue of the fact that I maintain a blog as well as being a paid contributor to an on-line media group, the internet and its associated tools are important for me. Indeed for practically all journalists and writers these days, it's almost an essential part of the gig, especially for those trying to get their name 'out there' or build up a following. Of course the same could be said for most, if not all, professions.
Colombian wilderness, Pandi, Cundinamarca.
A life in the wilderness ... ... perhaps it'd get boring after a while ..?

Therefore, and only looking at this from a work perspective not a social one, when it fails you, it makes your working life damn difficult, frustrating and close to impossible. You could say it's like an old-school trench digger without a shovel; the whole operation becomes infinitely harder.

OK, while a man being asked to dig trenches mightn't be too bothered if he's without his shovel through no fault of his own — it should mean a less taxing day — the majority of us who rely on the internet tool get stressed out when we don't have it.

In Bogotá's historical centre La Candelaría, where only one seemingly incompetent operator, ETB, is the provider, irregular, unreliable service is par for the course; as is the case for many things throughout Colombia you could argue.

Now I've been trying to let it slide, to not get worked up about it. There are far worse, life or death problems both here and elsewhere that make no internet connection pale into insignificance. It's a First World issue being played out in a Second/Third World country. But when you pay for a 'service' where a large part of your income depends on it functioning as promised, it can be hard not to lose the cool when it frequently fails.

It does, however, make me dream about being in a position to leave the communications loop, to go underground so to put it. That is, not to be reliant on the internet and all associated with it; both good and evil as these things can be. About the only way you can do that, though, is if you escape from the 'madness' and go to live in the middle of the jungle or some other wilderness, completely removing yourself from the modern world.

Trench digging in World War I.
Maybe it's time to return to some more 'honest' work? (Photo: firstworldwar.com.)
It must be said that in many ways I am a conservative technology user as is. I'm still pretty much a smartphone novice, with my use of it limited enough. It enables me to write practically anywhere I am and WhatsApp is a cheap way of maintaining work and social contacts. For both monetary and 'switching off' reasons I don't have a data plan. So I can only use the phone to its fullest when I'm connected to Wi-Fi and that's enough; when I'm out socialising I don't need to be checking e-mails nor engaging in virtual chats.

Yet the idea of totally withdrawing from technology and virtual communication while still living in the modern world is akin to becoming a nobody (I'm not quite there yet, so I like to think). Invasive technology has come to dominate our lives in almost every facet; not being part of it puts you at a distinct disadvantage.

That being so, the key is to try and take control of it, not let it control you. We need to find the balance and know when to step back from it. The machines may be rising, but we're still the ones at the pulley.
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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Escaping with the masses

In general, leaving Bogotá on a public holiday weekend, or puente as it's known in these parts, can be more hassle than it's really worth, especially if you're going overland as the majority tend to do.

Apart from the obligatory long queues at the bus terminals alongside inflated prices both for tickets and in hotels/hostels, there are the traffic jams on outward and inward journeys that have to be contended with.
Bogotá from a distance ...
Sometimes it can be good to put Bogotá well in the background ...
The Wrong Way stance has usually been to stay put; when you're a freelance worker you can take your breaks at more relaxed times, on your own terms (that's the theory anyway, practice has been somewhat different). What's more, as Bogotá tends to be a little quieter at such holiday times it can be nice to take in this, relatively speaking, more tranquil side to it.

However, with a little flexibility, getting out of the metropolis on a long weekend — and Colombia has plenty of them each year — need not be a massive chore.

Avoiding the peak times, in a similar way to using Bogotá's Transmilenio, is a big help. If you can leave before close of business on Friday and return in the early hours on Tuesday morning (that will be place dependent, but anything within eight hours of the capital fits into this) you should avoid the worst of the queues. If an early Friday departure is difficult, leaving late on Saturday or early on Sunday is also an option.

The 'ideal' Friday and Sunday morning/early afternoon escapes were something I squeezed into one weekend recently; returning to Bogotá in between two different places. Of course the destination plays an important part too; if you're going somewhere with a festival in full swing then getting in and out can be taxing at any time during its duration, plus accommodation will be both hard to come by and more expensive than normal.

That aside, most of the sunnier towns and villages outside of 'the big smoke' are lively on holiday weekends, if not on standard ones.

My recent, and what this year has been rare, sojourn out of Bogotá was firstly camping in the wilderness of a mountain desert outside the city followed by a trip to a popular 'sun city' for Bogotanos, Giradot — let's call it a second-rate, more unkept Villeta.

The main plaza in Giradot, Cundinamarca.
Giradot: it has a more aesthetically pleasing side to it ...
Both were squeezed into the same weekend, but thankfully there were no annoyingly long queues at bus terminals nor being stuck standstill (for too long) as peak travel times were avoided. (It must be said that travelling solo helps. Things could have got messy for the return journey from Giradot had there been a group with me looking to travel together; another plus point to 'singlehood'!) Neither were things ridiculously overpriced; that's always good.

Thus the whole idea to get away from, and forget about, the big concrete jungle and chill out in a, um, smaller one — the mountain wilderness excepted — was fulfilled without encountering additional stress (let's let my friend's misplacing of our food supplies for the mountain camp and a gold-digging acquaintance in Giradot slide).

A miscalculation on the return, leaving in the early evening on Monday rather than staying put early on Tuesday meant that the trip back turned into more of an odyssey than it needed to have been; an accident en route didn't help things either.

There's also still plenty of room for improvement on the main arteries leading into the capital and elsewhere. Colombia could learn a little from neighbouring Ecuador on this front (just saying like ...). Nothing is perfect though, right?
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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Foreign teething difficulties

There's a scene in the Godfather Part II movie where a sick Hyman Roth, in Havana, is being seen to by a Cuban doctor who only speaks Spanish. Before leaving, the doctor gives his instructions as to what Roth should do to recuperate. As this is being relayed in English to Roth he says he wants his doctor flown in from the US as he doesn't trust one 'who can't speak English.'

Happy tooth, free from Wrong Way's mouth ...
The tooth is ... ... not in Wrong Way's mouth anyway.

It was, perhaps, a tad unfair to the Cuban doctor, he was probably competent enough. (After all, it wasn't Roth's bad health that eventually killed him but a bullet.)

Fictitious as that episode is, this is very often how people feel when dealing with medical professionals (and others) who don't speak their native tongue. The fears or lack of confidence may be unfounded yet the prejudice is hard to put to one side.

Personally, for most of my time in Bogotá I'd managed to avoid such encounters. However in recent months this has changed a little. A long-standing dental issue i.e. having a false front tooth for over a decade and a half, has required attention for the first time in years.

The results of the dentists/orthodontists advice or labour I've had thus far have been — bar one — underwhelming.

Leaving aside the experience of the first 'dentist' who didn't even wear gloves when inspecting my mouth with his hands, most of the others consulted immediately offered the most expensive option available without a thought given to cheaper alternatives.

Wrong Way: can't handle the tooth.
Indeed. (Image from cartoonstock.com.)
Basically we're referring to an implant with the accompanying surgery required for it.

OK, I'm obviously no expert in this but what had worked well for five years, a relatively cheap Maryland bridge, would be fine again. Or failing that — and for reasons I don't comprehend some of the dentists have said it's not an option — a standard denture would do the trick for now.

Also, it has to be stated that, unlike Mr Roth, my Spanish is good enough to both explain my situation and understand, more or less, what I'm being told. And I don't — or at least didn't at the start — have a negative opinion of these guys. All this apparent subterfuge must be because I'm not from these shores.

The whole experience has certainly made one question the mantra, which usually comes from North Americans, that dentistry standards in Colombia are exceptionally high.

A reason, maybe, for such a viewpoint is that the 'gringos' are really screwed over back home when it comes to this line of work.

Regardless of that, it be might be time to call for my own native English speaking dentist. Mother tongue knows best.
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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Light-touch romance

The Wrong Way approach to dating, or more appropriately trying to set up dates, has been to follow in some ways the economic policy of light-touch regulation. A laissez-faire style; um, beating about the bush rather than grabbing it by the hands you could say.

In one sense it's a personality trait. If a woman doesn't initially 'take the bait' so to put it, the desire to persist quickly wanes. One doesn't want to come across as desperate after all; pride is at stake.

The game of love; not one Wrong Way is wont to play ...
'So you're telling me there's a chance?!' Um, perhaps not ... (Image from wikihow.)

Yet we are talking about 'the game of love', or at least 'a game of attraction', and in Colombia they like to play it as much as anywhere, if not more so (well some sort of version of it anyway). And once a Colombiana feels she has the upper hand, you're entering into dangerous territory. Indeed, in many ways, the game is up. (And do recall there is the Colombian 'princess mentality', with a vicious streak, that has to be factored into this also.)

So basically, that's why I try not to engage in it too much. Something either happens early doors or it doesn't happen at all; case closed, you move on (save for the odd ill-advised late night WhatsApp/Facebook message).

Further to that, as an expat acquaintance here mused to me — and I apologise in advance for the crudeness of this — 'once you tap a hole, you're in control', so the longer that doesn't happen the greater the chance of things getting out of hand. That theory may require more in-depth analysis but let's leave that for now.

Thus, putting all that together, there have been a number of doors left slightly ajar but not 'aggressively' pursued. An interest is shown, yet not to the point where you're jumping through fire rings to demonstrate your desire. As the pop group the Black Eyed Peas put it, 'meet me halfway', por favor.

Yes, there are always the thoughts that a new strategy might be needed; after all, one definition of stupidity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. However this is balanced out by the feeling that 'this is how I roll' and while things could always be better, they're not too bad at the moment either. I'm relatively in control.

*There are plenty of previous posts that relate to what's here, but one place to start is Love fool.
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Thursday, 9 July 2015

'Who's a good sport, eh?'

There's no doubt that sport can have a very positive impact on society. For one, those who actually engage in a sport generally have much better all-round health than those who don't.

Then you have the uniting aspect to it. Sports can bring together a diverse range of people and help to break down barriers, especially racial or political ones.

Nelson Mandela with Fifa president Sepp Blatter. You could say a force of good meets a force of evil ...
Sport: it has its good and evil sides. (Photo from fourfourtwo.com.)

For one, in post-apartheid South Africa, both rugby and football (soccer) were seen as important in this regard. Rugby in the African country had mainly been the preserve of the white elite and the national team, the Springboks, was seen as a symbol of white supremacy for many blacks.

The oval-ball game’s part in helping to 'build bridges' came in 1995, when South Africa hosted and won the World Cup. The moment when then president Nelson Mandela — a man who spent decades in prison under white minority rule — walked on to the pitch dressed in a Springbok jersey to present the trophy to team captain Francois Pienaar is etched in history. Black and white, united in sport.

Football's day came in 2010 when South Africa hosted the Fifa World Cup. Again, a sport that had once represented division — football was predominantly a black affair — brought the country together.

Yet there are many in the Rainbow Nation who feel the transformative powers of those momentous occasions have been exaggerated in some quarters. In other words, once the fanfare died down, things pretty much returned to how they had been — better than the dark days of apartheid for sure but far from an equal country.

Indeed, as much as sport can be seen as a uniting force, it can be just as divisive, too. In the case of another region slowly emerging from a troubled past, sporting splits exist in Northern Ireland. The differences may not be as marked as previously, but rugby is still associated more so with the British nationalist, Protestant community while Irish (Gaelic) football and hurling are chiefly played by those from the Irish nationalist, Catholic tradition.

Support of football/soccer in general could be seen as the one commonality between the two. However, the team you follow very much depends on what 'side' you come from. Tensions in the terraces and on the pitch are at breaking point when the two 'tribes' meet.

Of course such rivalries aren't unique to current or recent conflict zones. There doesn't need to be political, racial nor religious differences at play for fierce, and sometimes deadly, sporting clashes to emerge, especially so in the world of football.

Wrong Way playing Gaelic football with Naomh Bríd in Belfast.
'Is it football or a fight or both today lads?'
Here in Bogotá, authorities are on high alert when you have a Millonarios-Santa Fe derby, to name but one. Only this year in Buenos Aires you had violent scenes that forced the abandonment of the Boca Juniors-River Plate clásico.

Moreover, while we're often quick to highlight the benefits of playing team sports, they can also instil some very negative practices in people. I've seen and been part of what can only be described as on-field violence to the extent that if the same conduct was being carried out on the streets the culprits would be locked up. Damn the rules and sportsmanship when you're defending your team's honour.

What all this highlights is that sport, like other things such as politics and religion, can be both a force for good and a force for evil. And in the same way as most other human interests, it comes down to the mindset of the individual in how he or she utilises it.
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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

'Look pretty darling, the camera's on you.'

I recently had to write an article for another publication looking at a new movement, centred in Argentina and labelled on social media 'NiUnaMenos' ('NotOneLess'), calling for an end to violence against women.

Football babes.
More than just objects ... (Photo from Facebook.)

Many of the protesters involved in this have spoken about how they believe that many men see women as mere objects, nothing more, with this being one of the root causes of male violence towards them. And considering the statistics that are available on this crime, it would seem that it is a particular problem in Latin America.

There are many facets to it of course, education and culture being perhaps two of the main areas where changes are needed in order to turn the tide.

Having been a keen observer of the latest Copa América, the build up to each match, on Colombian TV anyway, has mostly consisted of shots of the prettiest women in the stands, at times in slow motion, while the presenters/commentators chat, unseen, about the upcoming game.

Now in theory there's nothing inherently wrong with this; and it's not like the women pictured are up in arms (well in a negative, metaphorical sense that is) about it.

The question it poses, however, is does such behaviour reinforce the idea of 'women as objects'? It shouldn't really, but maybe it does.

Now it can also be said that there is nothing wrong with admiring the beauty of women, it's natural. What's more, it doesn't take a man behind a TV camera to give us suggestive views of women. A quick glance through Facebook pictures of those of the opposite sex and you'll see a good number do it themselves; the provocative selfie in the bathroom or bedroom mirror is a favourite for many Colombianas in any case. As a man it can be difficult not to have a second look.

Ni Una Menos: Latin America's women protest against violence towards women.
Not one less: South American women take to the streets (Photo from Facebook.)
There's, though, and you'd like to think this is obvious to most, a difference between admiring the beauty of a person and treating them as an object or sub-human. For some men, however, crossing that divide may not be such an obstacle.

Looking at a lot of men's treatment of women in these parts from a northern European perspective, you certainly notice more, outwardly anyway, male chauvinism at play. But you have to balance that out with, as mentioned above, how some women 'market' themselves here.

The bottom line is, the much sought after gender equality may be impossible from a natural, genetic standpoint, but that, needless to say, doesn't open the door for macho violence.

For sure, the causes of domestic disputes, one of the main areas where violence against women arises, are rarely black-and-white. But violent aggression seldom solves anything.
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