"South America on $320" story # 25

Santa Marta, Colombia           July 25, 2002

Monica´s personality was what charmed me to her the most.
     She hated a dull moment. In her house, loud spanish ballads almost always banged out, or her and I danced to salsa music; sometimes, the tv was on. When she and I weren´t kissing in bed, she was entertaining herself with the many house-guests we got. When the guests disappeared, she left in search of adventure; either to hang out with friends or visit my old hotel or - after her and I were through - to try and get dates and then get all fancied up. She had the personality of a little kid on caffeine pills.
     Walking with her in public was a maddening impossible-ness. From boredom out of having not yet arrived, she transformed into a two-legged pulp of curiosity. In wonder-awed voice, she peeked to see what was behind the light in a hidden window, and she poked at strange things. And, she knew EVERYone. She stopped every ten feet to have a complete conversation or prod at some young girl´s poor hair to show me what she used to look like.
     Like a little kid, she was irresponsible. For work, she was one of few crafted-necklace-and-bracelet salesmen licensed to roam the beach in front of this area´s finest international resorts - at which, she made good money. But, I only think she worked two-and-a-half days of two weeks I stayed with her. Her telephone line had to be reconnected while I lived there, but this came after our electricity had several times been cut.
     In contrast, Monica, during a five-day period alone, went out to "rumba" (party) five days. She drank a lot of rum. She´d recently started taking cocaine. She was always playful, when she wasn´t hung-over. All she wanted was to play with every guy and kid and baby and friend and pet and anything she could.
     Our personalities were opposites. She was always over-thrilled and nagging me to go to some "rumba" or get-together that you would have to be bored out of your mind to enjoy, when I just wanted to stay home and write. But, you had to love my morenita.
     In addition to her fetching appearance and intriguing personality, Monica also commanded a maestro´s wizardry in the kitchen. It was a tight kitchen, and although we rarely chipped in more than a dollar apiece, Monica - with a little help from her "gringito" house-mate! - made meals lasting all day and tasting of the richest summer.
     In Monica´s house, we ate:
     rice, always dazzled by Monica with the precise fresh garlic to make me chow handfuls of it straight from the pan, and true eggs - not those hormone-mutated American ones - cooked with tomatoes and onions and garlic
     rice and black beans, sometimes accompanied by chicken
     fried bananas
     boiled green bananas, which we mashed into a potato-like mush with either tomatoes and onions or butter and shredded cheese
     to drink, we blended fresh fruits - bananas, papayas, etc. - with milk; juices Colombian-style
     At a round, corner living room table, I must´ve said the word "saboroso" (delicious) over twelve times. Monica would only put her fork down, smile at me, and declare: "Comida de los Pobres." (Food of the Poor.)
     And, as for Monica´s and my love-life? What happened there? Well, I´ll tell you.
     My chastity belt (Geez o´, am I a weird guy or what?) remained firmly locked in the end, despite the heart-and-soul-felt efforts of Monica to find the right key. With Monica, I was like a high school sophomore girl in the prying hands of an eighteen-year-old boyfriend. One night, she dragged me out with her and treated me to a whole bunch of rum. She later admitted: "Yo estaba tratandote emborrachar." (I was trying to get you drunk.) So, after about a week, I ended things between Monica and I.
     OK, before you start calling me a fruitcake, hear me out. I can explain; I have logic:
     OK. Let me first say that I believe meaning and happiness can come to a person only by acknowledging the fellow humanness of other people. Without at least some concern for the health and happiness of others, we can never achieve a real happiness and our lives would be reduced to nothing more than temporary thrills of consumption. If other people don´t have souls and feel, what would be the purpose of anything we do or accomplish?
     Having said that, I think that in sex outside of love, you are objectifying and using or consuming the other person to get off. It may be a mutually-agreed-upon usage, but you´re still using another person; a living soul. And, if you´re willing to disrespect someone by using them, I think it would then become impossible to look at them and 100% wholeheartedly respect or care for or love them. Even if you´re never planning to love that person, wouldn´t doing this each time make it easier in the future to use another beautiful soul? And wouldn´t each time also make it more difficult to love and respect someone again in the future, even to love yourself? I think so.
     I believe in love, that´s what I believe. Sex is a wondrous desire, but I don´t think a need. All the rest of you can just go shag your brains out for all I care, but not this celibate. No, no ...
     Returning now to Colombia, it was evident - whether Monica and I were fooling around or not - that things were good. No, great. My life consisted of Mi Ranchito, Nano, a humble house in the suburbs, and my morenita house-mate. I could go on making $5 a day like this for a lengthy time.
     But, alas, things fall apart. I was informed one day at Mi Ranchito that Nano wasn´t going to pay me because it was a slow night. Despite my recent promotion to everyday first-floor bar-man (0% pay raise; and less tips), I no longer felt good working there. Sadly, after all the good times we´d had - and this still makes my eyes teary to say it - I decided to never come back.
     Sniff, sniff. I was especially gonna miss saying "Mi Ranchito." Mi Ranchito. But, perhaps even more, I was gonna miss saying "Nano." NanoNanoNanoNano ...
     As tempting as it was, I couldn´t just sit around saying "Nano." The "S.America on $320" funds were more than 90% drained.
     I renewed the job hunt. Looking for work in Santa Marta was a miserable occupation. Torrential heat loomed in the sky, sweeping down to take all Samarios as its energy-absorbed captives. Once, I returned from a far-off beach resort, and my throat had almost closed off due to thirst. As I hoarded the dwindling remnants of my money supply, I often arrived in Monica´s house starving.
     An engineer friend of Monica´s heard of me and remarked, "Ese chico tiene el espirito latino." (That boy has the latin spirit.) "Él no quiere estar bien." (He doesn´t want to be well-off.) I was proud to feel more like a Colombian than a member of any country I´d ever been to before. But, it was a tough life.
     My best chance at work came from a guy who vended to international ships docking in the Santa Marta port. I handed over to him the last of my money for port-worker´s insurance, but when I went to start working the next day, he couldn´t be found. I didn´t suspect him of cheating me, I just couldn´t find him.
     Monica began loaning me a couple thousand pesos a day or treating me to lunch, in the hopes that she and I had that I could find work and "press on!" with my "S.America on $320" trip and continue living with her. But, even when times were looking bleak, there was always something I could say to make me feel better:

- Modern Oddyseus the Pure
ly Nuts

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