Sunday, April 20, 2008

Observations of Bogotá (Part II)

Like America, Colombia is very diverse in terms of race. And like America, the racial makeup of the locals often depends on what city or region you are in. Here in Bogotá, the vast majority of people have white skin, either because they are descendants of white Europeans or because they are mestizos (a mixture of Amerindian and white European descendants). There are fewer blacks than in many other areas of Colombia, such as the Caribbean coast. Most of the descendants of African slaves still reside on the coast and haven’t migrated as far inland as Bogotá.

Because Bogotá is so homogeneous and has a very small foreign population (I rarely ever notice a foreign-looking person), race is not a huge issue. It is probably easier being white than black in Bogotá simply because you don’t stick out so much. Then again, I am white and I stick out because I have blond hair and blue eyes. This is a big hit with Colombians, who seem to be very attracted to a person of the opposite sex who has light-colored eyes and blond hair. Most Colombians have black hair and brown eyes.

I was at a party last night at a friend’s house, and I was talking to a young Canadian man who had recently married a young Colombian woman. At one point we talked about safety in Bogotá, and how we both felt safer here than in many of the cities in North America. However, safety is probably the first thing many gringos think about when Colombia is mentioned. I just went to the website Poorbuthappy Colombia, and searched “safety in Colombia,” and 2,960 forum posts popped up. So obviously there is a lot I can write about safety, but I am going to be brief and get to the bottom line.

Colombia as a whole is a very safe country. It was not like this 15 years ago. Since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, he has sent the guerillas packing. Now the major cities and roads are very safe. Certain areas in the countryside and amazon jungle are where the guerillas reside and hold hostages that they have kidnapped. Almost all Colombians live in the western half of the country. Kidnappings are extremely rare in Colombian cities, just as they are extremely rare in American cities. I don’t know anyone who has been kidnapped in Bogota in the past few years. I definitely feel safer in Bogotá than Chicago. I have walked around Ciudad Bolívar, the largest and poorest region of Bogotá, at night without any reason for concern or fear. I was once in a very poor neighborhood in Chicago, called Cottage Grove, at night. I went to a gas station because it was the only lit area around. A guy pulled up in an old Cadillac and told me he’d give me a ride anywhere I wanted if I bought him gas. I felt very uncomfortable and left immediately, never to return to that neighborhood. I haven’t experienced anything like this in Bogotá. There are so many military and paramilitary troops, armed with machine guns, patrolling the streets that it is really difficult to commit a violent crime and get away with it. Yet Colombia is still perceived as a dangerous country because it was dangerous in the past. Though it has changed for the better, it still can't shake its old reputation because Colombia doesn't have many tourists (and those that visit usually stay on the beaches in Cartagena and Santa Marta and don't get a feel for the real Colombia), and the mass media continues to report on the rare kidnappings and guerilla violence tied to the cocaine trade. I invite foreigners to come to Colombia and see for themselves. The weather is beautiful and so are the women ... which brings me to my next topic.

You don’t need to pick up an issue of SoHo or turn on Muy Buenos Días to notice how good-looking many Colombian women are. Just go for a walk outside or take a ride on TransMilenio. Many foreign men I have met are here now because they met their Colombian girlfriend or wife abroad. When asked why I came to Colombia, many people assume it was because I had a girlfriend here. This was not the case, though I do have a Colombian girlfriend now.

Whenever I visit a different country, and then talk to a friend about it, they will invariably ask at some point: “How are the women?” I will try to answer this question based on my own experience and without saying anything that will get me into too much trouble.

If truth be told, the best looking women are in the cities of Medellín or Cali. I’ve heard the easiest women are in Pereira. In Bogotá, people in general are more reserved than other places. It probably has to do with the climate. In general, the warmer the weather, the warmer and more outgoing the people are. I have noticed some unique things about the women in Bogotá, or Rolas. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the way they speak in a sing-song way. When they talk, their tone and pitch rise, especially when asking questions. It is comical and weird at the same time. It seems like an act, but it isn’t. I don’t notice it as much anymore because I’ve gotten used to it, though I still make fun of my girlfriend when she talks like that. The other thing I soon noticed was how informally they dress. My first night out to a club I saw women wearing normal jeans and shoes. Makeup and high heels are not common in Bogotá. However, in Medellín, it is the norm. I tend to prefer the natural look. In places like Medellín and Cali, there is more silicon than a Hugh Hefner party. In Bogotá, they tend to make use of what God gave them, which isn’t usually a bad thing. Over time, I’ve witnessed many other things. If you can dance salsa, you’ll attract more women. Money and status don’t seem to be as big a deal as in other places, and Bogotá women tend to be less traditional and more open-minded than women from Medellín, the second largest city. One thing I don’t like is how people are always kissing in the street. Ok, a kiss goodbye is fine. But here, they make-out for ten minutes, and it doesn’t matter where it is, who is around, or what time it is. Get a room, already. On the bright side, women are much friendlier here than in the U.S., and the good-looking women don’t carry all that attitude that is common in America.

The average worker in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital mind you, makes $8-$10 per day. Most of these jobs are retail or manual labor. Earning money on the internet is totally foreign here. Even buying things on the internet is not very common. Though the general cost of living is much cheaper than in America or Europe, it is much easier to safe money and have material possessions in the United States. A full-time English teacher makes about $400-500 per month. Even working professionals only make a $1,000 or so per month. All my money goes to rent, food, and bus transportation. I don’t have any money for anything else unless I dip into my U.S. savings. With the low salaries, it is no wonder all the buses are always packed. It is also no wonder why poor people want to go to America. In Bogotá, you have to inherit a business from your parents or know someone high up in order to earn a lot of money. There are exceptions, but very few. Otherwise, you’re in the rat race. Unemployment is very high. Jobs are hard to find. Maybe this is why many Colombians have babies and start families at such a young age. It gives them a sense of achievement and happiness that they can’t find at their jobs. Maybe this is also why so many of them are Christian. With all the corruption from the government and business executives, who can they turn to but God? Granted, there are many other reasons, many of which have to do with the culture and environment here. Still, I am a lot more thankful for the opportunities and lifestyle in America since moving to Bogotá. I am also a lot hungrier.


DianaCats said...

My brother, who is american, says he was very happy in South America because here the women say hello and goodbye and kiss the other person cheek, he says that it isn't common in USA. Another plus for Colombia! :D

Jason said...

Thanks for sharing such great insight into Colombia. It summed up a lot of my thoughts about my time spent there and is getting me more excited for my return to Colombia in a few weeks!

Max McCoy said... make it sound like Colombia is a paradise to pick up chicks. I agree that colombian, indeed most south american women, are warm and friendly, but reading your blog i get the impression that ANY guy can get a girl in Colombia.

Say it ain't so...

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