Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Holding out for a (HTC) Hero

It’s been a good week for thieving, if you’re a scumbag in Bogotá. Actually, it started a couple of months ago when Fernando was involuntarily parted from his Nikon DSLR. Actually, it started about five centuries ago when the Spanish got here and stole everything they could get their hands on, instituting a culture of pillage with impunity that persists to this day. Fernando was, by his own account, the subject of a staged fight, which involved him being knocked to the ground as a diversion for someone else making off with his camera. And lenses. And flash. And bag. He didn’t come home a happy ex-photographer. There was one miserable tweet from him asking for info regarding a misplaced camera, and that was the end of the story.

Last week I got on a bus in a bit of a hurry after having been interviewed on an internet radio station about the music event that I had just organised in work. I walked to the back of the bus to discover that all the empty seats were covered in saliva. There had been some sort of mobile conference of sufferers of chronic saliva gland gushing, and as a result there were about 7 seats that were swimming in spit. Nice. As a result, I opted to stand by the back door. It wasn’t going to be a long trip, just down the 26th Street to Salitre and back to work. The young bloke sitting next to where I was standing tapped me on the arm to point to where there was a free seat further back up the bus, but in finest British fashion, I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by walking past them for a second time in a different direction, so I smiled back and stood my ground by the back door. It was going to be short trip after all.

Various other passengers got on and moved to the back of the bus, towards the tempting array of empty seats (despite the obviously mad foreign bloke standing next to a row of visibly empty seats), only to be met by the sight of puddles of gloopy, bubbly spit. Seriously, I spent 7 years at a boys only school, and in all that time I never saw quite so much spit in one place. It was like someone had been slowing refilling an empty fire extinguisher with their saliva in order to realise their burning ambition to let it off on the back of a Bogotá bus.
The bloke who had been sitting next to me suddenly stood up and got off. After a minute or two, I thought to check what was listed on the calendar for the rest of the day, and pat pat pat, not a single pocket revealed the presence of my phone. To be fair, it might have been jolted out of my pocket as I ran for the bus, but something about the swift exit of my neighbour made me mentally point the finger at him. I asked a girl in front of me who had a phone in her hand to call my number, in the vain hope that the pickpocket was still on the bus and it would ring and give him up, but she clearly had forgotten to top up as the call would connect. I glumly got off the bus at work, and grabbed a phone from one of the vendors who sell “minutes” on every street corner. The call was answered, and frustratingly I got to listen to two minutes of atmosphere from wherever the new possessor of my little HTC was. Then they hung up, and swiftly switched the phone off. No more calls were answered, and no answer was given to the various text messages Pati and Fernando sent to the number offering a reward for the return of the phone. On reflection, the thing that irked me the most about losing the thing was that we spent a couple of months recording all our spends with the idea of working out an accurate family budget and making a stab at being grown-ups with a sensible plan for money management (hey, it had to happen eventually). I logged every fricking transaction, every 30p bus trip, every £3 pizza, for two whole months, and now the entire data is lost. Bastard. But I should blame myself - apparently even in north Belfast they don't carry phones in outside jacket pockets.

After that it seemed to become open season for scumbags. Our friend Fito went to the cash machine at the weekend, and within five minutes his phone was pinging with notifications of two subsequent transactions that he didn’t make. Now he is in a fight with his bank for something like £500 of withdrawals after his card details were cloned during his visit to the ATM.

Then tonight Pati’s cousin Omar was mugged by two blokes on the pedestrian bridge over the main road three blocks from our house. That cost him a mobile and an iPod. The trouble with these encounters is that you just don’t know where they might end up… if you are foolhardy enough to carry a bank card on you and get held up by particularly enterprising muggers, they take you with them to the cash machine in order for you to empty your bank account for their benefit. And if you’re really unlucky, you might get held overnight while they wait for another day in order to return and maximise the profit margin.

This, though, is an achingly middle class blog post. It is the middle class thing to do in Bogotá, fret about crime. Talk about every case of mugging, theft, burglary and car-jacking, dissect the impact, amplify the horror, reinforce the culture of fear. Don’t for a moment mention the over-arching culture of corruption, of nepotism, of cronyism, a culture that is just the ways things happen here. Don’t get too worked up about the billions that disappear from the public coffers into thepockets of swindling contractors, cousins or brothers-in-law of the officialswho dish out the contracts while new houses go unbuilt, hospitals go unstocked, roads go unrepaired and schools go unstaffed. That’s just the way things are. You might be tempted to think Colombia needs a hero. But it’s already got one – for some bastard made off with mine. My HTC Hero. It wasn't exactly state of the art. - we'd been together nearly three years, and it was starting to behave more Model T than T-Mobile. So I’ll divert my anger into a rant about the state of the res publica here, and in the meantime, I reckon I’ll have to start writing a positive blog post about all the amazing Colombian music I’ve been listening to recently. For the time being, my apologies for yet another unsustainably tenuous (Welsh) music reference in the blog title. Here’s the video for those of you who didn’t suffer it in the 80’s.

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