And every once in a while you just hate the place.
Yesterday I squirmed out of a colectivo three or five blocks before my destination. We have two kinds of public transportation: the government coordinated Transmilenio–large buses with height and space and, for Colombia, order. Many Colombians hate them, and I know why.
The other form of public transportation are these various buses. They don’t have designated stops, their routes are very wandery, not a single map is ever provided because most people here can’t use one anyway, and the best way to characterize the way these buses move is an unending, spasmodic lurch in a generally forward direction. Many Colombians love them, and you know what? I know why.
I got out of the one I was in when the third stupid fat lady rammed herself in illegally through the back door along with her monumental bags of groceries. I was meeting a Russian woman who is intelligent, orderly and determined. I told her it made me so mad. She told me we were in the third world and there was nothing else to expect.
She’s been here 20 years, and after a while I said: Well, but they are improving gradually, little by little. She didn’t even look at me, just shook her head. There’s no changing them and there’s nothing a foreigner can do. I just got an email yesterday from another Colombian I know, all about how they can improve themselves if they just stop throwing garbage around where they live, respect laws of traffic, do the obvious easy things millions of civilized people in other parts of the world daily more or less manage to do.
You come from a place where those sort of things are more routine and you think it is easy for people to realize and practice. But it is not going to change, and I know why.
The reason is that every Colombian has a soul full of chaos. They don’t have clear ideas or clear thinking or clear aims. Very few of them achieve that–many of those are no longer in the country–and their culture does not provide it. What they have is chaos and undisciplined impulses, and it is those impulses which mostly govern their behavior and society in an unending, spasmodic lurch in a direction relative to that the rest of the world is following but with no real destination. I was told that by an intelligent Colombian who was trying to emigrate. I was agreed with by a fully frustrated Englishman who finally decided to quit because he realized what he was doing was trying to change the anarchy in their hearts.
Colombians decide it is time to get ahead and learn English; they do it all the time. So they sign up for English classes with a qualified foreigner and pay a lot. Then the chaos of their life begins to take over and they are helpless before it. Do they make it on time to class? Gradually less. Do they do their homework? Not a biggish chance. Do they eventually skip and skip, and beg forgiveness without even noticing how egregiously unapplied they are relentlessly driven to be by the chaos? They do. And on top of that they want a discount.
You start a Greek class with some chaps who are intelligent. Do they buy the books? No, they try to get by with some kind of knock-off (and if they can do that in the English class they’ll do it too; with anything really; they don’t even have the vanity of liking to have the thing look professional, well-printed, etc.). Do they apply themselves? As long as there are absolutely no distractions, interruptions or holidays. And then they complain to you because really their life is full of activities. They do get up at 4AM, they do get home at 10PM, and they spend a good 4-5 hours flung chaotically back and forth and sideways on their beloved colectivos, and continue in this unendingly lurching spasmodically toward . . . not finishing, not accomplishing, not anything, relaxing amidst dust and garbage under a tree with a beer and the dogs.
You watch it, and it would seem pathetic. It is as if they are passively in the grip of something relentless and spasmodically lurching them on toward that day when it vanishes, it mercifully falls through in a series of absurdly prolonged holidays which are the only constant meticulously observed phenomenon in all of their life. I know the direction! It is the twilight of the dogs there in the dust under a rubber tree in the tropical night loud with insects and measured by a growing stack of empty beer bottles provided by calculating and industrious Germans.
No he almorzado, they’ll say. Because you aren’t organized, you’ll think. How hard can it be for an intelligent person to work a meal into their schedule? Sorry I’m late, they’ll say. Because you refuse to allow time for contingencies, because the transportation system here is chaos since it is run by people like you, and because traffic can’t flow unless it has some organizing principle, the which too many of you continually refuse to acknowledge, you’ll think. I’m really tired, I didn’t sleep last night. Because you don’t have anything remotely resembling a culture of consideration and as a result everybody here is uninhibited in their tremendously noisy, night-long parrandas which even the cops, because the corruption does not permit you to give them the power necessary, can’t stop it, you’ll think.
If you have chaos in your heart and nothing else, you are prey to impulses. If you want to see what life looks like almost exclusively given over to the direction of spasmodically lurching impulses, come to Colombia. It has its moments in this land of plenty, this winterless nursery garden of God for the thumb-sucking. Which is why many of them, when they get beyond thumb-sucking emigrate to more desolate regions of the world.
I used to get irritated with people in Minnesota for living their lives without due consideration. Here!?!
One of the interesting things about that conversation with the Englishman was that I realized my job is connected with the chaos in their hearts, and the gradual steady change of that towards order. You know how it makes you think? It makes you think long-term. And I’m not talking decades.