Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Green light for 'Rape' in Colombia ... oops!

Well it may have seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact considering the pretty poor level of English in Colombia in general, most people probably have no issue with it, insofar as the meaning is lost on them. Plus, what it represents is something largely positive, or at least that’s the hope.

The Rape men; oh dear...
Politicians supporting Rape, including Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro (centre). (From Facebook.)
Yet, given the initiative is due to ‘breathe new life’ into Colombia in terms of development, promoting it under its acronym Rape is a tad unfortunate. OK, in Spanish this obviously does not have the same meaning as it does in English. It just stands for the not-at-all controversial Región Administrativa de Planeación Especial (Administrative Region for Special Planning, or something to that effect).

However, in a country that is officially trying to significantly increase the use of English among the populace, a little more thought could have gone into this one.
Sperm Sports, Bogotá.
Sperm Sports. Erm ... (From civico.com.)

Picture the moment when the guys behind this thing look to Big Daddy USA for some financial assistance: “Any chance you could fire us a few million dollars for our novel Rape project? We’re just trying to improve the lot for our most neglected and vulnerable.” “Erm, your ‘what’ project?” Cue a bit of awkward explaining.

Now even allowing for what appears a rather odd liking for not very appropriate English words in certain contexts, à la the adjacent photos, surely those working with Rape don’t really want the name. Well you’d hope so, once they’ve been told its English significance.
Colombia's alco store; just what we were looking for...
These stores could prove a hit in Ireland.

So here’s a suggestion. Rename it Región Administrativa de Planeación, Infraestructura y Desarrollo (Administrative Region for Planning, Infrastructure and Development; that works, right?), or Rapid in its acronym form. Much less offensive don’t you think? Indeed, it’s even progressive sounding. Heck, some people get paid big bucks for such consultancy work. Here I am proffering this for nothing.

You know where to find me guys.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Colombia – a banker's paradise revisited

There are a lot of things that can irk expatriates here in Colombia. After a time, most come to learn that the best way to deal with them is to, well, not deal with them. Either grin and bear them or laugh them off. Trying to find solutions to whatever may be bothering you is generally a futile exercise.

Colombia's Davivienda bank.
Davivienda; nice little bank... (Image from Facebook.)
However, like it is for the opposite sex (whichever that is for you) and pretty much all over the world, the majority of us have found – usually to our annoyance – that we can’t live with or, more pertinently, without banks.

Thus, I find it a little more difficult to simply ‘let it go’ when it comes to banking in Colombia. This is a topic I wrote about before; the fact that I still have a bank account here shows that I have learnt to take the ‘punitive’ hits somewhat. Every now and again though, the red mist descends in relation to this whole area.

You see I still don’t understand why my bank, Davivienda, charges me 9,500 COP (Colombian pesos, just slightly under four euro) per month to have what is quite erroneously termed a ‘savings’ account. Or maybe the savings refers to what Davivienda makes with my hard-earned cash? The title makes a bit more sense if you look at it that way.

Whenever I question Davivienda employees about this, some of whom I have worked with in a freelance capacity, they explain the fee as the cost of managing my account, along with the peace of mind that my money is secure. Fair enough on the second point, but don’t they use my deposited money to lend to other people, generating handsome revenue for themselves?

As for the management of my account, heck they must be flat out there. For one, the last time I used my debit card to make a transaction was in April of this year. When it comes to making deposits, I’m the one that does it, in person, standing in ridiculously slow-moving queues to do so. It should be me asking for a fee (or interest as we call it for savings accounts in Ireland and the UK).

Now in fairness, I do get sent a text message each time there is account activity; that includes when I go on line to view the status of things (alas, it’s not that great). So perhaps the random figure of 9,500 COP is used to put credit into Davivienda’s ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone. They must be damn expensive text messages at that. Just don’t forget to send me a birthday text guys; it will all have been worth it then.

To add further insult to injury, I was told that if I had a nominated account i.e. one in which an employer deposits my wages, I wouldn’t be charged anything. The snag here is that I don’t have a full-time employer. So it seems if you’re a freelancer, trying to make it on your own minus all the relative security and benefits of full-time work, you get even more screwed by the system here. Of course, there’s a fair chance I’m missing a trick or two; for if there is a simple way to avoid these fees, the banks will be the last ones to tell you.

It must be said that it’s not just Davivienda that’s at this – it’s basically the same with them all. It’s the way things operate here. The international banks must love it.

Plus for many hard-pressed, working-class Colombians it’s not an issue. They either have the aforementioned nominated account or just don’t have an account at all. Under the mattress is best for the majority.

Indeed it appears banking in Colombia is either for the very rich (who tend to get fees waived) or idiots. At the moment I fall into that latter category.

I suppose somebody’s got to contribute towards those semi-comical Davivienda advertisements (see video above). Wrong Way, always giving.

Friday, 19 September 2014

'Flagtastic' result! Thanks Scotland!

Phew! They’ve pulled through, and with a little bit more to spare than it looked immediately beforehand. A huge section of Colombian society can breathe easy once more. The ‘right’ decision has been made. Scotland is staying in the UK.

The Union Jack hung proudly from a Bogotá city bus.
Why bother with the Colombian tricolour when you can fly the Union Jack?
You see had our Tartan friends voted to leave, one of the possible changes made to a streamlined union would have caused a big headache here in Colombia.

I’m referring to a modified Union Jack, minus Scotland’s cross of St Andrew and the accompanying blue colour. This is because the most popular flag in Colombia is, it appears, not their own national tricolour but that of the UK.

The Union Jack colours on display in Bogotá. What a surprise -- not.
'Jack on the back.'
It’s everywhere. Taxis, buses, shop windows, pubs, clothing, dogs – the works. It’s a safe bet that the majority of those here who have this strange affinity with it have no real idea of the place it represents. For one, you’ll meet Colombians who think that London is a country, if they’ve actually heard of the place before that is.

In some ways I can see the attraction that this mixture of white and red crosses on a blue background has. As flags go, it’s aesthetically impressive. Plus, it did represent greatness and endeavour in the not-too-distant past.

Yet, at the same time, for others the flag is – or at least was – a symbol of repression and subjugation.

As an Irishman born into and brought up on the nationalist, separatist tradition, that latter interpretation was the one I was destined to follow. Nowadays, with what I hope is a more balanced, worldly view of things, I tend to be more relaxed when I see the good old Union Flag. Well during my sober, right-thinking moments that is.

Sure isn’t it just three colours put together in a particular pattern after all? At times, though, it’s not just bulls that can have adverse reactions to flags and how they’re flown, or not flown as the case may be. (Check out the video below or click on the following link for an example of that: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HkyokhX9Ag.)

In weaker moments, I do question Colombians who display the flag or wear it on their jeans, T-shirts and such like. A lot of them, as alluded to above, don’t know its origins. Plus they tend to be a bit bemused why it should bother me. Fair enough; as I said, I’m learning to let it go.

However, when I don my Venezuelan football shirt – the country that is now Venezuela being the birthplace of Simón Bolívar, the chief liberator of South America from ‘old’ Spanish rule and thus a Colombian hero – it doesn’t go down too well with some here. Come on guys, the two peoples and national flags are practically the same, right?*

I guess we could all do well to retract from this rather abstract symbolism and focus on more concrete, practical things. Now where did I put my Union Jack briefs?
*For a more general piece on Colombian (and others') independence, read Whose land is it anyway?

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scotland: Rising to be the nation again?

It is said that all good things come to those who wait. So after a political union with its fellow British neighbours to the south, England and Wales, since 1707, Scotland may be about to once again go it alone. Well that is ‘go it alone’ insofar as any ‘independent’ country can in today’s globalised world.

Scotland: Under the magnifying lens right now...
There's much focus on Scotland right now. Yes or no chaps? (Image from bbc.co.uk.)
Of course whether making a break for autonomy from the UK will be a good thing or not for my Celtic cousins depends on who you speak to. In truth, nobody really knows how such a move would go.

In contrast to many other countries that are currently striving for self-determination and those that did so previously, the Scottish position isn’t exactly a case of running from an oppressive, unrepresentative regime.

In fact it could be argued that Scotland on the whole has benefitted as much as any of the countries in the Union since its inception.

Looking at it with green-tinted eyes, it would be ironic that after countless deaths due to failed uprisings in the name of Irish freedom – followed by protracted violence and death when said freedom wasn’t achieved for some – Scotland gets full independence after a single, democratic act.
OK, different time, different context.

For one, in the Irish story you had a majority on the island that were treated and maintained as, at best, second class citizens due to their religion, culture and customs. This was the case throughout the period of English dominance there. In general, the Scots have enjoyed a much fairer deal since their union.

On the flip side, considering all that happened in the last century and the problems still existing regarding Ireland’s ‘national question’, perhaps it should have been the Irish ‘revolutionaries’ who trusted in the ‘all good things’ motto.

In pure economic terms, some say Ireland would have been better staying in the UK. However, asserting one’s autonomy is more than just economics. At the time of partial Irish secession, there was a general feeling of ‘freedom from a repressive regime’ – we’ll leave the Catholic Church’s unchecked, iron-fisted rule out of this for now.* Also, thankfully, that ‘freedom from’ lead to a ‘freedom to’ allow individuals live their lives, speak their mind, state their own political party, etc. (for a greater discussion on this read Thomas L. Friedman’s Order vs. Disorder from The New York Times).

Moreover, after a shaky start, the new Irish state formed alliances, on its own terms, with old friends in Europe. The current financial problems apart, it can be said that the Irish spirit and confidence is stronger today than it was 100 years ago; that’s despite (or maybe because of) our natural begrudgery and cynicism.

As for Scotland’s current run for ‘freedom’, it’s not, to restate, a case of trying to remove the shackles of a repressive regime. It’s a group of largely like-minded people attempting to reassert the full independence of an ancient kingdom.

The Scottish Saltire (or flag if you will!).
Is that an 'X' for yes or for no?
It’s what you might call benign nationalism, sought after in a democratic way. Should the people give it the green light, it’s highly unlikely ‘new’ Scotland will embark on an expansionist scheme, trying to ‘Tartanise’ the region. Well, there will be a few difficult issues to be needled out – maritime borders and currency to name just two – but they’ll be settled around the negotiating table, not the battlefield.

The point is you only need to look at the Middle East to see the uglier, far more dangerous side to this: aggressive, undemocratic nationalism. Yes, they are a host of intertwined, complex reasons why this is so, with outside influences having as much culpability as those inside.

Much of it emanates from a succession of autocratic leaders followed by weak, quasi-democratic administrations. Legitimacy and order has been sorely lacking. Needless to say the problems there won’t be solved after one or two elections. We’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Back in Scotland, if a yes vote is delivered it would serve to underscore that this once united, ‘great’ – for it did many great deeds on this planet – Britain is now a fragmented, very ordinary shadow of itself. It would also be, at the very least, a blow to British, nay English, prestige.

In such an event, the door would be open for our Anglo-Saxon and Welsh neighbours to join what you might see as a restructured union, the ‘Alliance of Celts and English’, the ACE group of nations. A potentially powerful hand indeed.

So what'll it be Scotland?
*If there are problems with the hyperlink to that light-hearted, but telling, take on the Catholic Church's assumption of power after the Irish Free State came into existence, check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5Z1dqJzxNo.

For a more general piece on the whole area of nationalism and the accompanying problems with it, read Tribal warfare.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Learning from Adam

Very often the best, perhaps only, way to solve a problem is to go back to its roots, its origin. Arguably, one of the most challenging issues for man has been his never-ending battle with the opposite sex. You might call it a constant clash due, mostly, to misunderstandings, one in which there is seemingly no solution.

Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden: Where all the problems started...
Oh Adam, if only you hadn't engaged? (Image from wikiart.org.)

However, in line with the opening sentence, perhaps ‘the fix’ has been under our noises all this time, it’s just many of us have been too engrossed in ‘the battle of the sexes’ to notice it. Credit in showing me the light goes to the unlikely source of a Canadian born-again Christian friend.

Now I’ve never been a big fan of reading largely fiction-based works, but it seems 'the good book' part one, the Bible’s Old Testament, provides the answer to man’s great problem. It has been said many times before that there are lessons to be learnt from history but too often we ignore them. We could do well, however – as pointed out by my born-again Christian friend – to learn from the fatal mistake of our forefather Adam, the biblical first man.

His error? Listening to and then acting on the advice of a woman i.e. Eve. If he had at the very most just nodded and agreed but not actually followed through on eating the forbidden fruit, things could have been so much different for us all. So one version of the story goes anyway.

The ‘not actively engaging or listening’ strategy is one that our Canadian friend started to implement during the latter weeks of his time with his wife here in Bogotá. And he felt it paid dividends; in one ear, out the other. The fact that he is now back in his home country while his ‘other half’ has quite literally been left holding the baby was nothing to do with his new approach. There are other factors for that, honestly.

Before I’m accused of being a misogynist, I must state that very often the best ideas come from women (or so they tell me). What’s being proposed is something like one of the scenes from the 90s British sketch show, The Fast Show:* Outwardly pay no heed to what a woman is saying, but act on it if it happens to make sense. She can at least take private satisfaction in seeing her way being implemented. Everybody wins, right?

Family Guy's Peter Griffin lets the wife know how things roll...
Learning from Peter Griffin... (Image from dumpaday.com.)
If you’re not in agreement, best advice would be to just let it go. As a wise man once opined, “There are two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither works.”

Indeed many a man who has been in a long-term, ‘happy’ marriage or relationship has said, privately if not publicly, that the key to its ‘success’ was ear muffs; or at least some equivalent, real or imaginary.

So in a modern word full of newfangled ways to communicate, perhaps we could all, both men and women, benefit from a bit of disengagement every now and again. From the man’s perspective, learning from Adam, we ought to do it a bit more systematically in our dealings with women.

Something to ponder over as we fast approach Colombia’s day of love and friendship.

*As well as the Fast Show hyperlink above, this following link from a similar sketch show, Harry Enfield, should also prove 'educational': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS37SNYjg8w.

For more on this general theme, one place to start is Colombia and Ireland - a tale of two old Catholic countries.