Tagged: poverty

“I didn’t think you would…”

I am apparently taking the Party Bus to work. When it arrives after an unusually long time, I can hear the bustling vallenato sound from far away. As I get on and try to get to one of the free seats in the back, I have to get past the singer, who’s also playing the accordeon in the middle of the car. The bus is on fire! At first, I am bugged by all the noise, and try to hide in my chair in the back. But a few seconds later, I start to like what I hear and my feet start tapping. I fumble for coins and pass them to the singer when he comes around to collect. He looks at me curious and says: “I didn’t think you would give us anything.” Perplexed, I ask him, why not. He responds with a gesture, signaling my face, and I am not sure whether he is aiming at my skin colour, or whether he is trying to tell me I look so serious. Then he starts to sing “Bella flor del campo”, smiling at me as I turn red. At that moment, the bus arrives at the next stop, we fist bump and say goodbye, and he and his two companions get off the bus.

“You’re not living in Switzerland!”

I’m on my way home with Transmilenio, and fortunately for me, I got a seat. I’m staring out of the window into the dark Bogotan night and think about nothing in specific. At the next stop, many people get in and the bus becomes crowded. As we continue the ride, I hear the voice of a man announcing his goods: the new police code (of conduct), and some drawing books for children. He patiently explains in detail some of the news, that police may now control your ID, that they may enter your car or your house for searches, and some other rules that to me actually sound a little encroaching. Then there is a short moment of silence, until he continues to speak. His voice is patient, but also more assertive and very tired, as he exclaims to someone I can’t exactly make out in the crowd who apparently told him to stop selling stuff on the bus: “You’re not living in Switzerland, sir. This is not Sweden, either. 54% of the people living in this country make their living doing what I do. You have to be a little more realistic, and face the kind of country we’re living in.” The other man stays silent to this, and he continues to explain the new police code. At the next stop he gets of. No-one bought anything.

“You for the taxes, we for food!”

December 30th, my husband and I are driving down Calle 100, until we have to stop at a traffic light. We’re following the rest of the family in the other car, we’re going to Villavicencio for the holidays. As we stop, a man approaches our car to clean the back windows, and my husbands asks me for some coins to give to him. It is a cloudy day, and the cleaning will not last for long, because we’re heading for a dirt road to see some more of Colombia’s spectacular landscape and avoid the heavy traffic on the fast road connecting both cities. The man finishes, and my husband hands him some 300 COP – about 10 cents. The man is very energetic, smiling all over his face as we hand him the money. He thanks us for the contribution and starts a small conversation about working during the holidays. “You for the taxes, we for the food” he says and we wish each other happy holidays and a happy new year as the traffic lights change from red to green. As we drive down the street, I think about what he just said: We, meaning people like my husband and I, who in his view gain sufficiently to pay taxes, and him and people like him, who can barely make a living from the few cents the “tax-paying” people pay him for his services. I liked him and his friendliness, and felt connected as we wished each other happy holidays, but as I continue to think about our brief encounter, the separation startles me. We in the car, he cleaning the windows outside; we supposedly paying the taxes, he not earning sufficiently to even think about it; he working, we on our way to our holiday getaway; and so on. Possibly the only thing we have in common is that after a few minutes, we will both have forgotten about this encounter at the traffic light. Because others will follow, for both of us.