Saturday, 30 November 2013

Fighting for 'Free Bogotá'

We value and like to be able to demonstrate our freedom, as relative and limited as it sometimes feels*. On a daily basis, this manifests itself by us walking to and through public places when we want to do so; that is, not being concerned an individual or individuals may potentially violently interrupt us.
The scene of the 'attack'
Leafy suburbs -- eh, not quite

In many places across the world this tends not to be a concern anyway. However, in some parts, minding your own business does not automatically mean you’ll be left to your own devices. And as much as we have wandered Bogotá’s streets at times when, and places where, most others wouldn’t dare, the fact can’t be hidden that each time we do arrive home safely, specifically at night-time, there is a sense of relief. A victory for the common, law-abiding man you might say.

Considering our mentality in this regard, thankfully, luckily even, we can count on one hand the number of times when ‘dodgy’ incidents happened to us on the streets here (for details of earlier occurrences, see However, it would be remiss of us to use the expression that ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself’. For in a number of neighbourhoods (barrios) in this city, and the exact locations can be quite fluid, there exist people who will attack you for the simple reasons that they can; you are different; and/or they feel you have something they want – money, a mobile phone or whatever.

It must be said at this point that in certain parts of the last city we lived in for any considerable length of time, namely North Belfast, such perils were also in existence. Again though we often flagrantly tossed those aside whilst making our way home on foot at night.

To make light of these real threats is clearly not a wise thing to do. We don’t; but there is a conflict between us watching out for a safety and our belief in being able to walk the streets without compromise.

The standard defence mechanism we apply whenever we feel threatened is to to play ‘crazy’; in other words just try and blend in or at least look as equally as deranged and/or intimidating as the person/persons who we secretly wish we didn’t have to pass by. However, our most recent Bogotá late night/early morning incident has given us some more food for thought – we’re pretty much at the banquet stage in this regard now.

This time around there was less an element of opportunism and more a statement of intent in the deeds of the three assailants, at least one of whom was armed with a knife. Although our ill-advised decision to cross the street, parting company momentarily with our two companions, was surely a help in pushing our wannabe muggers into action.
Wrong Way's new 'hood'
'Wrong Way' Country

That they left empty handed (we think we just lost our mobile phone in the commotion rather than it being stolen) was down to our fellow Irish friend’s handy work with his extendible metal baton; something he rarely leaves home without and considering he is another man who likes to feel ‘free’ enough to walk home, a smart move. The idea is to give the holder peace-of-mind and most people hope they never have to use it. On this occasion it certainly was needed and it got a good run out, more than making up for its relatively small cost. We’ve taken note.

Nonetheless, we also realise that had we been on our own that night, or at least certainly minus our friend plus baton, the outcome could have been a whole lot different and much nastier. Throw in the fact that all this happened pretty close to our new abode in Bogotá (La Perseverancia, next to La Macarena) and we would be quite stupid not to take evasive action in the future. Okay, the attackers may have become the attacked that night, but there’s a fair chance they’ll remember our ‘foreign’ faces before we recognise theirs.

Continuing to mix, socialise and do business in the less affluent part of our new barrio – that being the infamous La Perseverancia – as is our wont, might help somewhat. We’re beginning to be known and recognised in what we feel is a positive way. Yet the phrase ‘trust no one’ could have been coined for these parts in dealing with the locals; and we do our best to abide by it.

Perhaps that’s another reason we continue to rely on ourselves to get home safely. Something of a victory for ‘freedom’ each time we do. Or is that just plain old foolhardiness?

*For a related article on 'freedom', see

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Love fool

The default mode for most Irish men has traditionally been to show a cold, hard exterior, especially in matters of the heart. Or more specifically, issues surrounding romance.

Misty thoughts...
Things are a little hazy right now
It’s generally something we’ve subscribed to over the years. Now this is not to say that we suppress emotions – not a healthy thing to do that obviously. No, we just tend to deal with them internally. “‘Tis our business and ours only” kind of approach; and the majority of time we feel that’s not a bad way to go. Heck we’ve made it this far, just about.

However, considering we’re in a place that’s a bit more, let’s say, ‘emotionally liberal’, we’re going to deal with some personal romantic issues here.

You could perhaps blame this ‘softened’ approach on the Colombian air we’re once again breathing – well that and the local ‘chicas’, or ladies if you will. That withstanding, this could be seen as an advisory tale and we always like to help where we can; we’re just not sure what the advice actually is.

Now as regular readers will be aware (cue long, awkward silence), we were back in the homeland between August and early November this year. A family wedding drew us back while visa issues coupled with doubts as to our next move kept us there a bit longer than we had initially expected; well that and mammy’s cooking of course.

Before we left, we had met a girl here in Bogotá who seemed to tick a lot of the right boxes for us. Indeed, we thought she was so cool that we were happy not to let her Santander background bias our thoughts; we like to live dangerously from time-to-time.*

While we seemed to be getting on well, we were never anything other than casual partners; the fact that our departure date for Ireland was looming together with uncertainty as to whether we would be returning to Colombia or not played a big part in this.

So when we did leave, it was a case of let’s see what happens. We did keep in regular, practically daily contact via Facebook and the occasional Skype call. Thus, we stayed on each other’s radar in a sense.

A quite significant spanner was thrown into the works at the end of September when our ‘friend’ (we’ll call her Colombiana from here on) told us she had met someone else. On further examination, Colombiana told us that it wasn’t that serious, and we continued to stay in friendly contact.

Once we finally sorted out our next move, that being the default option of a return to Bogotá, we were quick to let Colombiana know our news. This was greeted with the extremely generous offer of picking us up from the airport (we’d never had anyone specifically come to a South American airport to collect us) along with the suggestion that we stay at her apartment for the first few days. Nice.
This left us under the impression that perhaps we could pick things up from where we had left them in August, maybe bring them a bit further.

However, we were left in the dark, until we arrived, of one rather important piece of information. Namely that the relationship with the guy Colombiana had met in September, who for the record is Spanish and not Colombian, had now advanced into a more serious stage. Well, put it this way, when a man decides he’s going to divorce his wife on the strength of meeting another woman, it does take on an element of seriousness, right?

Cherly Cole; not looking too bad if we say so ourselves...
Cheryl -- worth fighting for? Probably
Now contrast that bold statement of intent with our heretofore laissez-faire attitude and you can, maybe, understand why Colombiana went for the, what might be seen as, ‘steadier’ option (we’ll put the divorce issue to one side for now – sure marriage these days isn’t what it used to be).

Needless to say our presence in her apartment for those first few days on our return – as generous as the offer was – wasn’t the most comfortable. Although it must be pointed out that we’re still very much on friendly terms and we have met up since finding alternative accommodation.

So where does this leave us? Any serious analysis can’t ignore the fact that we were quite relaxed about our relationship before leaving. Or at least we thought we were; a first hearing of Passenger’s ‘Let her go’ song on the flight back to Europe did resonate and left us pondering things somewhat.**

There is though the argument that we’re just lusting more for Colombiana now for the simple fact that she’s currently out of reach, in a romantic sense anyway. Verifying that, given the current circumstances, is not easy however.

There are generally two schools of thought as to what to do. Follow the Cheryl Cole (or should that be Tweedy once again?) lead and ‘fight for this love, for if it’s worth having it’s worth fighting for’.** Or we go with our tried, but not altogether trusted, laissez-faire attitude – whatever will be, will be.

The phrase ‘time will tell’ lets you know, perhaps, which one we’re leaning towards. Right, we’ve said enough. We’re reverting to type now and putting those emotions firmly back on the inside.

*For a, erm, light-hearted look at Colombian women's personality traits broken down by regions, see Colombia's locas

**You can check out Let Her Go by Passenger here; and for Cheryl Cole's Fight For This Love see

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Globish affair

Many native English speakers, ourselves included, can be accused of laziness and/or indifference when it comes to learning other languages. Fair enough comment, especially when compared to the linguistic exploits of the likes of the Dutch and Germans, to name just two nationalities.

The fact that our language (yes we’re Irish but we won’t pretend to be anything close to fluent Gaelic speakers) is the world’s chief business tongue means we generally more than survive and mingle in foreign countries without having to master – or even come close to mastering – others.
It's the thought/effort that counts, right?
'Is there a refund if we don't make it across the bridge?'

Basically, if English isn't your first language, there’s a high chance it’s your second, or at least you desire it to be. In contrast, for native English speakers, there isn't a common second language we gravitate towards. Looking at our situation here, we have what we’ll describe as an ‘okay’ grasp of Spanish simply because we've spent the last two years plus surrounded by it in Colombia and elsewhere. Had things worked out differently, it could be French or German or Dutch or what have you that we’d have as our ‘second language’ (we’ll use that lightly). In other words, things happened by chance rather than design. For those who have English as their number two tongue, the chances they gained it in such a similar ad hoc manner are pretty slim.

At the risk of making an excuse for many native English speakers’ ‘language laziness’, the words of a good Israeli friend are a nice synopsis of the current state-of-play. As he opined, in a professional context in any case, knowing Spanish is great if you’re in a country where it’s widely spoken (as we have been) or if you need it for work, but outside of that it’s not going to win you much favour. The same can be said for most other languages. (Obviously being able to speak and understand every language on the planet would be great, but let’s stay in the realms of reality for now).

In fact it can be a bit frustrating when we make efforts to speak to somebody in their first language – we’re specifically referring to Spanish here – and they automatically switch to speaking English. Our Spanish isn't that bad, come on! Moreover, in all our travels across the world, we only need one hand to count the number of times English was not the default language when we found ourselves with groups of people from a range of diverse countries.

Taking all this on board, it leads us on to the rapidly growing, evolving and contested area of ‘Globish’ – that is of course ‘Global English’, or as some might see it, ‘dumbed-down English’. To put it simply, it’s the ‘English’ you’re likely to hear if, for example and to give it a truly international or ‘global’ feel considering the point we’re making, a Colombian man strikes up a conversation with a Chinese counterpart at Frankfurt airport. What’s spoken is unlikely to meet the approval of English language ‘guardians’ in Oxford or Cambridge (we'll put aside ‘Irish English’ for the moment), but the people in question will fully understand each other (more or less) in their common tongue.

For us, anything that helps different cultures communicate and comprehend each other is generally a good thing. Thus we do our best not to frown upon what at times seems like the ‘bastardisation’ of English (it must be pointed out though that some non-native English speakers have a better understanding of the language than many native ones).
Some 'minor' spelling mistakes on a Colombian TV production
Even, ahem, 'quality' Colombian TV productions make some mistakes

Now due to its position as the global business language, it’s fair to say that there is a greater tolerance of English not being spoken entirely correctly. We find, and given where we’re coming from there’s perhaps no surprise in this, native English speakers are more inclined to let errors made by others role compared to when an English speaker tries to speak in another language.

Maybe we’re just being a bit paranoid about this; but if we wanted to we could, for example, correct every second word uttered by some of our Colombian acquaintances. In a teaching environment, that’s obviously what we’re paid to do; but outside of that, if we get the sentiment, we’re happy to let things go. We believe it's not as smooth vice versa. Then again, we would, wouldn't we?

With more time, this might not be an issue. Yes, we haven’t really needed excellent Spanish in a professional context here in Colombia. However for matters closer to the heart, it may be prudent to be much sharper than we currently are. Then again, maybe not.

For more on English in Colombia, check out The 'money' tongue at