Monday, 17 September 2018

Leaving behind the Bogotá standard

After almost seven years of having Bogotá as the base, the greatest 'achievement' — let's not get caught up in the semantics here — has been my assimilation to the working-class Bogotá barrio life.

While many locals with aspirations to improve their lot try to get away from it, I found myself actively seeking it out.

Don Rincón's tienda, Barrio Santandercito, Bogotá, Colombia.
Sure where else would you want to be than in the local tienda?!
Indeed, in the last couple of years, with the departure of some good foreign friends who would regularly 'force me' to change scene, I have become even more entrenched in this environment.

Mixing it with the masses
Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with this. I'm a rural, working-class man at heart, so it could be said that I was just 'finding my level' in terms of mixing it with Colombia's normal masses rather than a minority elite, or those wishing they were part of it at least.
"Ireland's working class isn't quite the same as Colombia's."
Yet, at the risk of sounding arrogant, most of Ireland's landed working class (it exists) aren't quite in the same sphere as the majority of Bogotá's working class. Having much easier, more affordable access to quality second-and-third-level education plays a big part in that.

Now while it wasn't by design, from a personal perspective this gap has closed in recent years, monetary speaking that is if nothing else. Alas, this has had more to do with my decreasing earning power rather than the locals getting richer (and, dare I add, better educated).

A passport to riches?
So if you're a peso-pinching, non-dancing Westerner who's not a big fan of dating, any appeal that this previously imagined 'rich' foreigner had with the local women quickly wanes. "Best to stick with our own kind if this 'gringo' isn't a passport to riches" appears to be the general thinking.
"I might yet regret this conservative approach."
Whether that's fully true or not, I've come to accept it anyway, and in a rather indifferent manner in the barrios I frequent. 'An old conservative head on relatively young shoulders' you might say, happy out in what are practically 'gentlemen only' drinking dens.

Paradoxically, I might come to regret this old-school attitude, this 'missing out on the action' when I am older. You know, as the saying goes, 'You can't put an old head on young shoulders.'

Nonetheless, the likes of Santandercito and La Perseverancia have remained the focal points. Good friends have been made, some of those friends for life I'd like to think.

My Bogotá experience would have been much different without them. Some people might believe it would have been different for the better, but that can't be said with any certainty (if I ever get this book sorted, there are plenty more tales to tell on this front!).

Barrio blues
Back in 2008, when I took my first solo steps in South America, one of my biggest worries was leaving behind Gaelic football in Ireland. I saw it as a fundamental part of my life. It didn't, however, take long for me not to miss it. I found other attractions along the way.

Ten years on, I'm now wondering how life will be without the barrios, and by extension the regular mini-escapes to Colombia's small country towns that I also enjoy exploring so much.

They will be missed if I do have to leave them behind indefinitely. Yet, there'll be other things to embrace, wherever the road may take me.

New 'barrios' await to be broken, so to put it. Though to borrow from the film Casablanca, "We'll always have Bogotá." For better or for worse.
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Friday, 7 September 2018

Flying the flag for political incorrectness

Many people still don't seem to get it. Or they wish it wasn't so in any case.

Basically, a significant reason US President Donald Trump proved to be — and still proves — popular across Middle America, away from the east and west coast echo chambers that is, is that he speaks a straightforward language.

Donald Trump: Tells it as he sees it ...
Trump: Middle America's president. (Photo from Twitter.)
He tells/tweets it as he sees it — for better or for worse. Unlike 'mainstream' politicians, not everything, nay nothing in terms of tweets anyway, is precisely planned, framed in 'must not offend' diplomatic speak.

In the 'politically correct' West, where the leftist discourse has taken a strong hold in the universities, shaping in such a way many of our current and future key opinion leaders, somebody deviating from the accepted script is bound to find favour with those 'not in the club'.

This is not to say that all Trump supporters are dumb hillbilly racists, the standard charge levelled at them.

Indeed many 'Trumpists' I know find his controversial, excessive tweeting irritating. Neither do they agree with all his utterances — in fairness it can be hard to keep up with them in any case.

Yet, it's the feeling that despite his many flaws, he is about as honest as they come. He doesn't hide behind political advisers. What you see is what you get.

In this day of carefully groomed, mannequin-esque politicians, this resonates. (That the US economy is performing well under Trump's watch is another important plus point.) It's a question of "Who do you really trust: Somebody who comes across as 'holier than thou' or a guy seemingly showing us his warts and all?"
"Now name calling does hurt us."
Trump's presidency and other similar eschewing of the standard political system elsewhere have been the inevitable backlash against the over-the-top political correctness we've had to stomach for the last couple of decades.

Where did our childhood act of defiance to 'hurtful' words go? You know, the old schoolyard rhyme, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.'

We realised back then that acts of real violence could be lethal, but name-calling? Whatever. We could rise above it.

Now, however, many of our law framers and influencers have become 'too cool for school'. "You can have your free speech but you can't say this and you sure as hell (OMG, did I just say 'hell'?) can't use that word."

We're in the process of creating an impotent, sterile bunch of human beings. Like the announcer at the bumping cars (do they still exist or have they become too 'unsafe', imparting evil habits in our young?) in a funfair used to say 'one way round only', now it's 'one discourse only', even if it goes against biology, to name but one area of contention. (How many genders do we have now? It's difficult to stay, um, abreast of the accepted pronouns these days.)

The British intellectual, amongst many other things, Stephen Fry has a refreshing approach to all this craziness. At a debate on political correctness earlier this year he said that if somebody wants to call him a 'fagot' — he is gay — then so be it. It's not the end of the world. There are far greater things we should be crusading against.

It's not the case where we want things to become overly verbally abusive — radicals or fundamentalists on all sides are adept at that already — but we don't want people having to consult a lawyer every time they want to speak lest they offend some unsuspecting bystander.

Fry's 'common sense' view is nothing more than we'd expect from a man of his standing. Yet, worryingly, he doesn't seem to be in the majority in the 'intellectual' world.

In Colombia, one of the refreshing things about life here is how it's normal to call somebody by their outward appearance. So you have people being affectionately called 'fatty', 'blacky', 'thinny' and so on.

Imagine how that would go down these days in most 'First World' countries. The courts would be on the go 24-7.

With all that in mind, we're now just over two years away from the next US presidential election. The big question is, if he survives all the scandals and potential impeachment, can Trump get re-elected?

A lot, of course, will depend on who he's up against. The danger for the Democrats is that in their desperate bid to win back the White House they'll opt for an 'everything for everybody' candidate. A product of our 'one size fits all' globalised world. "Tell us what we want to hear, regardless of the reality." Ah yea, that makes it all better.

The Democrats would be doing us all a favour, everywhere, if they look more towards the centre-ground.

Alas, the radical left will do their bit to make sure that doesn't happen. Trump will happily toot to that.