Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cocaine Pain

Tiny Pirate Lifestyle Cabarete Claudia Avila BatchelorBefore he had arrived in Colombia for a working press trip, the ‘Editor” (and I use that term loosely), of the previous magazine I wrote for was demanding that I score him some cocaine ahead of his arrival. His whatsapp messages were as relentless as his needs. I explained that I didn’t know anyone, would not be willing to look for a dealer and moreover, I am not a consumer. It was my first press trip with him and as much as I was concerned, I was also willing to suffer fools to an extent, to keep a job I loved. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend their time travelling to nice places and writing about them? Good job I’d been a tour manager before as I put that hat back on and manipulated the situation.

A Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle CabareteI had arrived a few days earlier to spend time with my family, so gathered up a bagful of herby leaves from an auntie’s allotment, and left them to dry out in the sun for a few hours. When he arrived, I told him that those were coca leaves and made him some ‘coca tea,’ by pouring boiling water and honey on them, which he proceeded to drink all afternoon. The placebo effect worked. Had he done his research, he would have known that coca leaves are illegal in Colombia, and you can’t get them at the altitude in Bogota- you would need to look for them much, much higher up the Andes.

And therein lies my problem. When we visit somewhere new we mostly do so out of desire, curiosity, adventure, or the need to learn about other people and cultures. And even if it’s a work trip, I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this will make even the smallest of efforts to find something out about your destination before you reach it. It’s called having respect for others and your surroundings.

The fool deluded himself in thinking he was high, but his buzz was a result of the copious amounts of alcohol he drank (at altitude!), before we were hosted by the amazing Andres, Carne de Res which is a super busy, super fun Bogotano restaurant. Again, had he researched, he would have known that even if you drink real coca tea, it doesn’t get you wired, all it does is fight off any altitude malaise. We arrived at the restaurant and he was too drunk and jetlagged to eat. He continued to order G&Ts whilst I sat there, mortified and trying to make polite conversation with the kind staff who were looking after us, as he loudly exclaimed how ‘awful’ the food looked each time something was presented. To say that I had my b*ttcheeks clenched most of the night through embarrassment is an understatement. I ate as much as I could to make up for his rudeness, as he barely acknowledged my little Colombian anecdotes and historic moments with which I was trying to educate him. He was too busy on grinder.

A Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle CabareteA Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle Cabarete

Before the main course had arrived, we were joined by a guest. A very well dressed and polite man, who happened to be that night’s grinder date. I courteously welcomed him, made sure he had a drink (he was almost as drunk as the Editor but I have manners!), and within the first few minutes of our conversation he pulled out a beautiful silk handkerchief out of his top pocket, and very stylishly produced around 6-8 wraps of cocaine, in full public view. Classy. I made him put his toys away, and spent a miserable hour or two (not exactly sure, time was just torture for me then), babysitting two giant, bratty toddlers who kept tag-teaming eachother in and out of the bathroom. I wondered what I would do if they got caught. In Colombia, if you are carrying anything over one gram you are toast. They especially make an example out of foreigners to discourage narco-tourism.

A Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle CabareteA Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle Cabarete

The night ended up with us all going back to our hotel, where the Editor insisted I join them for a nightcap in his room “because it’s my first night in Colombia with you.” I was seething and would have preferred to stab my eyeballs with chilli-infused needles, but it’s my work, right? And it’s not like I haven’t been in this type of situation before. So I followed them up, still playing the game, until the grinder date made a very bad move and insulted a dear friend of mine who he happened to know, but was not close to. I let him have it with fully loaded, Colombian barrels, and slammed the door on my way out of their cokecave. I genuinely thought I would be fired for my outburst.

I sent an apologetic whatsapp to the Editor first thing next day. He replied immediately, “you have nothing to apologise for, you are fabulous.” Followed up by saying he could not make the interview that morning because he was ‘unwell’. So would anyone be if they had consumed the best part of two bottles of gin, wine and several wraps of cocaine. Thankfully, this meant I could interview legendary and award-winning actor Andres Parra alone and uninterrupted. The man whose electrifying performance as Pablo Escobar in ‘El Patron del Mal” (The Boss of Evil), was the inspiration for the huge series of ‘Narcos’.

Now- I have absolutely no issues with anyone taking any type of drug. I would be a hypocrite, considering I have tried almost all of them, and lady cocaine and I have a painful history. That’s why I try and stay away from her. The issue for me is that making ANY type of drug illegal creates a space for the underworld to rule over. A space where recreational users are processed as criminals, addicts are not treated for their illness, poor producer nations are left in the midst of civil wars created by a coalition of their weak national and greedy international governments, and no funding is allocated to treat the social issues that arise from the use of narcotics. But this whole issue is way too large for me to get into here, with limited words.

A Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle CabareteSo why this topic this week? Well, those who know me have known that it was my dream for many years to create a promotional tool to show Colombia off as the beautiful nation is it. To steer it away from the drugs-and-violence clichéd and myopic view of the world. Yet the very person who I imparted one of the most treasured things of my life to, was openly proud of the fact he “knew nothing about Colombia.” Yet when we visited and I tried to show him the other, magnificent side, or tell him about our bloody conflicts, he was just not interested. I took him to Comuna 13 under false pretences, thinking he would care about the shocking civil rights abuses that had occurred, and how the residents had tried to overcome their grief through various art and community projects. If you are interested to know more, there is a short news link in English below but tons of great reports on youtube. (Operation Orion, Medellin).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgSiyGj-5R4

This lack of interest makes me sad not just because of his ignorance, but my equal lack of foresight. I was an idiot not to have seen this coming. I had a huge lapse in assessing someone’s character, and the repercussions have been bigger than I could have anticipated. This was more than a simple magazine project- this was something that was going to eventually help launch a foundation for a number of needy causes in my homeland. But life is here to teach us lessons if nothing else, huh? It can’t be a Saturday night every night, and I think I have had way more Saturdays than I should have been entitled to. My intention was to create something powerful that I could use as a springboard to create ways to help my beautiful country. Because as much as it is heavenly to visit, like all nations we still suffer with social issues that I was hoping to start to support more.

His disrespectful behaviour also got me thinking about the footprints we leave when we visit other cities, other nations, other people’s homes, even. When did we forget our manners? As global nomads (because that what a lot of us are), do we make conscious decisions to learn as much as we can, and support as much as we are able to, local cultures or new people we make contact with? I can’t sit here throwing literary stones at someone else if my own conduct needs to be held to account. I’ve thought about my move to Cabarete and how much more I could have done for the people in my new home. I’ve thought about all my recent travels, and those that I’m about to undertake, and wish I could have been more thoughtful, and hope that I will be more so in the future.

Recently there has been a major energy, (or call it what you like), trying to tell me I should be doing more to help make tangible and positive changes. I see powerful and admirable friends really putting themselves out there to fight for things they passionately believe in, and I feel as if I’m failing others somehow. I have a voice, so why am I not using it in a more constructive way?

A Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle CabareteA Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle CabareteA Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle CabareteA Tiny Pirate in the Caribbean blog Claudia Avila-Batchelor Lifestyle Cabarete

There is a saying that “things are sent to try us” and this week has certainly done that to me. But from the knocks that we get, we need to get back up, lick our wounds and use the experience in an optimistic way. Which I am. So watch this space…as my Tiny Pirate 6th sense is hopping up and down like a rogue editor on the devil’s dandruff. Something huge is about to happen and you will be the first to know!

Toodle pip and kick back harder if you’re being pushed around!

Claud X

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