Friday, June 26, 2009

It's the Weekeeeeeend, Baby! (Part 3)

This is the last installment of the Bogotá/Caracas trilogy. I'm now back home in Florida, and between getting settled, resting up, seeing friends and family, and fighting with Blogger over video uploads, I've slacked up on the blog. Sorry, y'all.

Here's video of Saturday night's Brazilian do, with Big G handling the ladies.

As I typically wake up every weekday morning at 6am for school, I woke up late on Sunday: 6:30. Bad idea. As typical of Latin America, even in a capital city of almost five million people, everything within walking distance of the Hotel Harmony was shuttered with metal roll-down barriers. Even McDonald's was closed; some pancakes would have hit the spot right then and possibly weighed the stomach and eyelids down enough for a quick pre-lunch nap. No dice. I ate a couple of stale ham and cheese pastries at a dusty li'l luncheonette on the corner and straggled back to the room under the increasing heat with day-old clothes, the desire but not the ability to sleep, and a vacuous hole in my social schedule, since no one in the whole damn city was sure to be up before noon.

Around ten, I caught the bus to Latin America's largest mall, Sambil, thinking that it'd be open, since shopping is Venezuela's most popular sport after baseball. Wrong. I headed back toward the hotel via Sabana Grande, another bargain basement retail district with bootleg DVDs and knock-off handbags. Some of the stores were just opening, and because of my tremendous shopping fubar in Bogota a few days before, I was in dire need of a couple more shirts and some jeans. All the stores featured t-shirts in Foreign English—"Look Me," "Red Knorth Crazy," "Nigth's Gangsta"—phrases that I couldn't even remotely pass off as intentionally ungrammatical or witty. For all my love of the varied permutations of vernacular English, I'm a purist when it comes to indecipherable gibberish and my wardrobe. Finally, the mall opened, I had lunch (Wendy's) and spoke to George on the phone, who was involucrado for most of the day, inspiring me to investigate the prospects for my own afternoon of being involucrado. Involucrado's how you want to spend an lazy afternoon in Caracas, trust me.

Later, I hooked up with G and Alaa and Alaa's brothers for little hookah (me, no) and some political convo: they look at Chavez pragmatically, saying that he's done many good things in addition to being a major fuck-up (and Alaa is a merchant and businessman, of a class directly opposed to the Venezuelan president) and are resigned to taking the bad with the good. They lamented the increase in street crime and ridiculous cost-of-living increases (renting a room in the capital now costs damn near US$700 a month!) and I lamented the near impossibility of living comfortably in Caracas as a foreign teacher who'd only make about $1400 a month at the most prestigious school. We compared the country to Colombia, their neighbor and my former home, and we acknowledged Colombia's superior system of education and (truly) stronger governmental institutions, while giving Venezuela the edge in social interaction and open-ness—with the odd exception of Cuba, no other country in Latin America comes as close to Brazil as Venezuela does in terms of genuine warmth and friendliness on all levels, regardless of skin-tone or nationality; I never, ever remember receiving shade of any kind after four trips to the country. After a late night street hot dog (which in Venezuela means keeling over with ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, onions, potato chips, and pineapple sauce), I crashed from the fatigue of two relatively sleepless nights.

Monday meant scrambling for last-minute souvenirs and t-shirts emblazoned with symbols of the city (Indiani, baby), and I had lunch with the fellas before Alaa's brother, Jamal, offered to take me on his scooter to catch the airport shuttle bus. On the way, we were stopped by CCSPD for riding without helmets. I went "gringo," pretending that I didn't understand Spanish and speaking only English (luckily, Jamal had lived in Chicago for a while, so the bit worked). He did get a $200 ticket (sorry, dude), then they let us head on off to the shuttle stop, helmet-free, suitcase, and all. Ghetto fabuloso.

Here's some raggedy raw footage of the getaway, including some typical tropical driving techniques and my own Spanish commentary (still don't know how to add music to my movies yet; the theme song would have been "Guaio a Caracas" by Paul and Mark...can anyone help with this?). More photos forthcoming.

Escape from Caracas from Fly Brother on Vimeo.

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kwerekwere said...

why do i feel that you purposely set things up for me to be a wet blanket or something?

i don't purposely go looking for it. i dunno. i'm sure things have changed in the 12 years -- god, has it been 12 years? -- since i've been to caracas, but i've had race-related ish happen to me. funnily enough, it was amazingly similar to that scene at the nightclub that you put up a while back. after a bit of being told that the black quota had already been met for the evening, i stood there, waited for my friends to rock up, and when i did, said, in *english* that these people don't want my money tonight and we should thus go somewhere else.

the second i started speaking in english, i could see the melanin washing out of my skin segun the bouncers, but i was just not having it. oh well. and my friends played right along with it, as they know that if i am speaking english in public, someone has done something to pisse me off. i really don't like the language. never have. and i try to speak it as little as possible.

you know, i had completely forgotten about that episode until the whole "mi negra" incident came up, and it came flooding back. now it just sits in my head. ugh.

i had equally fun treatment trying to pay for things with my uk-issued credit card as well. my name and my accent totally didn't match, and i had to carry my passport with me just to charge things. bah. annoying. but that i'm sort of used to -- being in a non-anglophone country with a stack of credit cards in an english name, but a surprisingly good command of the local language? yeah, you get a pass for asking me for some id -- though it's more than likely that if i weren't black, you wouldn't be asking me for it.

of course, now that i'm older, balding and fatter, i don't see myself having any problems because, really? not too many fat black men around. since being a fat *man* in a developing country generally means you've got a little bit of money *somewhere*, you get the benefit of the doubt.


going gringo.. heh. i did that in senegal the weekend before i moved to south africa. my flatmate, one of his gabonese friends from uni, his brothers and i went down the coast to hang with his grandparents. there was a murder at the resort 10km away from the town. and the police showed up at his father's bar checking for identification -- which almost none of us had. they were about to take us all away when my friend's dad rocked up and was like "this two are my sons, this is my gabonese son, and this is my american son."

the gabonese guy's father taught english in GQ, so we were wondering just how bad this jail would be... in spanish.

my flatmate's dad had correctly guessed that i would pretend that i would not be able to speak neither french nor wolof at the sight of police. oh, i hammed it up. but it worked. spending a weekend in a senegalese jail for not having papers? not cool. the police *really* wanted to take us away, but my gabonese friend [who was the only one of us with papers] also had a hand in convincing the cops that we were "foreign tourists".

we ended up just getting a warning, and we weren't able to go up to saly to party that night.

come to think of it, i think you've seen pictures from that weekend. lol.

Mae said...

I can so relate to the post and the comment...I have been traveling to Brazil for a few years now and am there currently. Folks look at me all types of ways and even let me know that I am "out of place" until I open my mouth and they discover that I am American (I'm a dark skinned black woman, btw). Passing for Brazilian has its perks and its perils...

I did the "gringa" thing today. I was in a taxi and we were trying to get somewhere near the parade route. The police were turning people around, but the taxi driver told them that I was an Americana who was meeting friends at a specific spot....I flashed the officer a sweet smile, and he let us was an interesting experience...I'm not sure how I feel about getting the special treatment quite yet...