Thursday, 28 April 2016

Bogotá's house of pain

We've all had our 'horror' stories when renting rooms, especially in shared accommodation — those of us who have to endure such things that is. In a (slowly) developing city such as Bogotá, less-than-positive experiences in this regard are perhaps more commonplace than in other places. Finding a decent abode at a reasonable price for what's on offer can be quite a chore.
Bogotá's house of pain, Calle 22b #43a-50, Bogotá DC, Colombia.
'Can I have a wash & microwave dry, please?'
Indeed, in this day and age, some lodgings should never be made available for rent to the general public. What's more, some people just shouldn't be landlords/landladies. It's that second point which chiefly concerns us here.

Basically, in the early months of this year this writer had the displeasure of renting a room from a woman who wants all the benefits of being a landlady but accepts pretty much none of the responsibilities.

Fair enough, it was always going to be a temporary solution, yet the initial trappings that came with the lofty monthly rent of $600,000 COP gradually disappeared during the rather painful two-month stay.

You had a table and chairs taken from the communal area, the place where we'd eat and work as there were no desks in the rooms (and who wants to eat food in a window-less room in any case?). This was done without prior warning, the house owner's standard practice as we came to learn.
She also left us without a washing machine for a number of days. A replacement was eventually installed, but one that was quite temperamental.

Despite numerous reminders, bathroom leaks went unfixed — all this at a time when the government was pleading, and continues to plead, conservation.

I managed to find alternative accommodation shortly after the communal table went AWOL. For my friend who also stayed there the agony continued for another month; and things got worse.

The landlady regularly promised to get another table and chairs, but such utterances were about as empty as her stomach is large — let's just say her girth is of some size.

The point of no return for my mate was the arrival of a couple from the Dominican Republic — who were put up in the garage — and the changes made around the house to accommodate them.

Apparently the woman in that relationship is a hairdresser and obviously plans to start her profession from the garage-cum-studio apartment. 'Obviously' is used here because a sink for washing hair was installed in the kitchen (see photo above) — yes, in the communal kitchen where people prepare their meals, 'conveniently' placed beside the microwave. 'Would you like a wash and microwave dry today?' Wonderfully hygienic that.

It's probably fair to say this isn't legal, but if it means the landlady earns some more money, that's the most important thing for her. To heck with standards and regulations.

It must be pointed out that the owner and her family also live in the house, on the second floor. The thing is, they rarely use the facilities as, get this, they own a hotel nearby and spend most of their time there. One can only hope that Casa Fratelly — the name of the hotel, one to avoid perhaps — is a little bit more organised and well-kept. Or maybe our esteemed landlady took lessons from the 'Basil Fawlty School of Hotel Management', and, um, 'improved' upon them.

Whatever the case, pity the poor soul who next takes up residence in Bogotá's house of pain.
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Friday, 22 April 2016

Recalling Ireland's 'terrible beauty'

For many occurrences in life, it is easy to be wise after the event. Yet, while this Sunday, April 24th marks the passing of 100 years since the start of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, no one can say with any certainty what the men and women behind it should or should not have done. ‘A terrible beauty is born’ is how the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, summed up the contrasting emotions of the time. In many ways, it continues to be viewed thus.
Dublin, Ireland, during the Easter Rising of 1916.
Knocking down the old structures to start anew. (Photo from Facebook.)
It's probably fair to say that had there been a national plebiscite at the time to rebel or not, the latter would have won the day. This is not to say that a majority on the island did not want a change in how the country was governed, more that past experiences of failed uprisings had surely left the populace sceptical that a new attempt would succeed. The lack of popular support and indifference that history records when the rising broke out suggest this. (On the democratic front, one can also point to the many occasions when the concerns of the Irish masses were ignored by their colonial masters.)

Yet, it didn't take long for that to change; vindication for the actions of the Rising’s leaders in a sense. However, their stated aim was to achieve an all-island republic; this of course did not happen and has not happened.

Taking into account the political developments at Westminster at the time, it seems that some sort of Home Rule would have been granted once World War One was over, with perhaps separate parliaments for both Dublin and Belfast, considering the vehement opposition to the idea in the north-east. In other words, something very similar to the agreement actually reached between Britain and Ireland in the years after 1916. Or it may have even led to a devolved parliament for a united Ireland, remaining part of the United Kingdom albeit.

Therefore, it could be suggested that the rising and subsequent guerrilla war were unnecessary. Moreover, these further deepened the north-south divide.

On the other hand, we can only assume that a solely political path would have led to Home Rule. Diplomacy had failed in the past, which led some to believe that a forceful ‘stick’ approach was needed to get any meaningful concessions from Britain.

It is in this light we have to judge the actions of those who carried out the 1916 Rising. They did what they felt was necessary at the time.

With the benefit of hindsight you could argue, as some do, that it was the wrong move. Be that as it may, respect must be given to those who made what was for many akin to a suicidal attack on the forces of what they viewed as an oppressive regime.
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Monday, 11 April 2016

My true Bogotá love

Considering the, um, pop star-esque lifestyle I lead, I've been reluctant to get into a lasting relationship. You know, I'd lose a certain appeal (don’t laugh) if I was suddenly no longer 'on the market'.

However, it's time to come clean. To be honest, I had been trying to tell myself that this wasn't real love, it was all just a passing phase, but it's been obvious for some time now that this is not the case. In fact, it's well over two years since we started seeing each other and it's been as steady as the best of them.

La Perseverancia, Bogotá DC, Colombia.
Love is all around ...
It wasn't quite love at first sight, but things quickly got off the ground nonetheless. We've already got past that initial 'scaffolding building phase' and reached the point where we're now comfortable seeing each other much less than at first; a sign of a mature, real, trusting relationship that, something that's not easy to find, especially in a country where jealousy and insecurity are commonplace.

Now she wouldn't be seen as the classiest in some people's eyes, but that's not a concern from my point of view. What's more, she's far from high maintenance — indeed she's usually fairly generous, much more so than the average Colombiana, even with her limited resources (the very odd time she might ask me directly for money, but she's learning not to).

She has been a little 'improper' with some of my expat mates — this is not to say she's unfriendly, it's just best if she only has to deal with no more than a couple of foreigners at any one time. She's also largely viewed in a bad light by those who may have never met her but have heard about her. But hey, who doesn't have a dark side? And love making one blind or impairing sound judgement this is not, I hasten to add. I just prefer to accentuate her positives, of which she has many.

It's not my style to do public declarations of love, yet my dearest La Perseverancia, you have been my Bogotá standard-bearer since we first accidentally crossed paths back in 2013. More reliable and understanding than any woman.

Regardless of what the future holds in store for us, you'll always have a special place in my heart.
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Monday, 4 April 2016

Stop! Don't bin that food!

So Colombians throw some 9.76 million tonnes of food in the rubbish bin each year. That's over 200 kilograms per person, if it were divided equally, which of course it isn't (witness the country's many homeless scavenging through bins as proof of that).

Un-egg-ceptable food waste!
Un-egg-ceptable!
Obviously enough, such food waste isn't unique to here, it happens across the globe, especially and unsurprisingly among those who aren't staring at bare plates on a regular basis — if they have plates at all that is. Yet it should hit home more in countries such as Colombia where the sight of malnourished and starving people is never too far away.

The thought of binning food brings me back to my younger days. When my siblings and I were reluctant to finish a meal we were given, our mother, in her bid to make us eat up, would say 'think of the starving children in Africa'. Although it was said in good faith, the strategy was pretty useless all the same. It wasn't like the already prepared food we didn't eat was going to be of any help to those starving in Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, as my brother used to cheekily say, he was refusing to eat as a symbolic gesture to those deprived.

It took a few years for us to truly understand the point of our mother's message, even if it wasn't and isn't of any practical help to the people actually in need of the food: we should be grateful that we have something to eat.

However, many of us appear not to be grateful going by the waste figures above.

Alongside immediately dumping good leftovers in the bin, you’ve got the commonplace practice of storing cooked food in the fridge or wherever with the idea of consuming it at a later date. In my experience, in my ongoing house-sharing years I've found that this rarely sees the light of day again — well only when it's being dumped after acquiring some sort of new biological culture. Come on guys, give me the leftovers and I'll gladly scoff them down — save money and cooking time.

It must be pointed out here that when you're buying food only for yourself or just a few other adults, limiting waste is, or at least should be, a little easier. It gets somewhat trickier when you're feeding children, as I experienced when helping to look after my nephews last year. I had guidelines to follow but it was either a case of the less common 'we haven't enough' or the more usual 'we've too much/we don't want any more' (yet, funnily enough, there was always room for sugar-laden delights). After a while I just put on less for me, let the lads eat, and then take their leftovers, which would normally suffice.

It all pretty much aligns itself with my current practice of eating to hunger rather than the clock (breakfast excepted) and/or taking small portions; try to eat well, but not to excess.

Private food waste aside, it is in the public domain — fast food outlets, restaurants and the like — where, arguably, you have the biggest culprits in this regard. You can't blame the businesses in question entirely. If their customers leave behind grub, too 'proud' to ask for a doggy bag as you'll often see, what can they do about it? Dishing out smaller portions is one solution anyway — that'd do a good few already well-fed people no harm at all.

The idea isn't that we should all return to a subsistence existence, although at our current consumption rates for a range of finite resources that mightn't be such a bad thing. It's more a case of us being a little more efficient in both cooking and eating. A situation where we're binning perfectly good — or what once was perfectly good but was just left to waste — food should never arise.
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