Monday, March 23, 2009

A vicious reminder

Today started pretty much like any other day. I got up, turned on the coffee maker, and made a quick and delicious breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and granola. After packing a light lunch and swallowing the dredges at the bottom of my coffee mug (they really do pack an extra punch). I walked to the metro station and headed downtown.

I suppose that is where my day would diverge from a normal work day, though in truth I have never had a single "normal" work day in my life (Woohoo for working from home!). I arrived in downtown Medellin, met a couple of friends, and hopped a nearby bus headed for an ecological reserve about 45 minutes outside of town. As we began climbing the steep and winding road out of town that was when it really struck me. What it was that struck me I'm not exactly sure, but strike me it did.

Maybe I should go back to when I first arrived here, after leaving the island. Landing in Bogota was like re-entering the world. There was advertising, new cars, proper restaurants, things that I hadn't really seen much of for the last two months. More than that, it was the choices that grabbed me. I could choose what kind of meat I wanted on a sandwich (it wasn't just ham), I could choose where I was going to buy my groceries, or which bus service I wanted to take. And that choice, those near endless options, those are what sucked me in. I was eating, drinking, and breathing capitalism, and it felt good.

Did I notice the poverty in those first few weeks? Yeah I did. Did I feel any sort of connection to it? I don't know. I know it felt awful to see homeless people on the streets. I know I gave spare change here and there to the blind beggers lining the path up Montserrate, but that's about it. Somewhere between lying on the beach, worrying about my own money situation, and simply (and perhaps unconsciously) being able to remove myself from that poverty I think I stopped thinking about it. After all it is pretty hard to notice poverty when you are able to move to a nice neighborhood, go shopping in upscale supermarkets, and spend time with middle-class friends.

And that's what hit me this morning. The poverty. It felt like it was the first time I was feeling it, at least since Mexico. Say what you will about the island, but everyone has food, everyone has shoes. Today I saw again the viciousness of life in a country where people get left behind. There was a lot of images flooding my vision, but what I will remember most, what is burned into my mind, was the man using his teeth scrapping mango flesh off a rind pulled from a garbage bag, while sitting barefoot in the middle of the street, shivering violently while the rain soaked him to the bone.

No comments: