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Corruption in the Calle: Bribing the Cops

While living in a corrupt city like Cartagena, I make a daily decision whether I am going to perpetuate, ignore, or call out normalized bribery and fraud. I consider myself a good foreign resident. I pay my real estate, vehicle, and income taxes. I pick up my dogs’ poop and garbage in my neighborhood park and most of the time, I stop my car for pedestrians. However, somedays I am tested more than others, and all my civic duty and good-neighbor etiquette just go out the window.
Recently, I was stopped by the traffic police or DATT (Departamento Administrativo de Tránsito y Transportes). I was in violation of the pico y placa law which states that cars with specific license plate numbers can only travel through the city on certain days and times. It is designed to help with traffic. As I drove to work, I completely forgot it was my car’s turn to stay home, so I was rightfully stopped. Here is when I had to make a decision: should I bribe the possibly corrupt officer, or should I …
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Cartagena's Gracia

Thanksgiving: Día de Acción de Gracias 

Cartagena is a chaotic city. It feels like the Wild West set in a cement jungle along the Caribbean Sea. The shoot- outs over education, infrastructure, environmental protection, water and waste management, safety, and fraud are normally won by both the outlaws and the sheriff. They are one and the same. Despite the opportunistic injustice, inequality, and greed, I still feel Cartagena’s grace and I am thankful.

Here is a piece I wrote in 2012 that still rings true today: Giving Gracias

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are the top ten things I am thankful for while living in Cartagena…

10. Skin Cancer- Even though my skin is turning into leather and white spots are forming on my skin, I still love the happiness and energy the sun gives me.

9. My Students- Despite their erratic work ethic, they always have a smile on their faces and never complain if I forget something or have to cancel class.

8. The Ex-Pats- There is a good group of Peace Cor…

Barnacles on the Whale

Heat mixes with sewer gases as I finish fighting over the fare with a taxi driver. I find it surprising that I still live in Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena has all the trimmings of a great tourist spot; all wrapped up in a pretty travel website, filled with vibrant Latin-Afro-Caribbean culture. Drumbeats and rapid-fire Spanish penetrate the air. Seafood is caught right off a fortress wall the Spanish built 300 years ago. Fishermen in wooden canoes with tattered sheets for sails are straight out of a scene from Hemingway´s Old Man and the Sea. Sipping cocktails at sunset from a former Spanish guard’s perch inspires even the most seasoned traveler.The glare of the sun on the ocean can only conceal the crime, poverty, and corruption for so long. The city’s barnacles start to cut and scrape at any long-term visitor’s feet. In 2010, I arrived to Cartagena as a Peace Corps volunteer and never left. After working in all sort of schools and marrying a Colombian, I am still stricken by the co-e…

Dining 101: Spanish for Dinner

Learning Spanish in Cartagena is difficult.  Its Caribbean nuisances puzzle even fluent speakers. My advice: have Spanish for dinner and every other meal. Here is a reflection on how I finally learned:

Dining 101
In 1994, I went to Quito, Ecuador as an exchange student to study Spanish and Anthropology. I lived at the Fernandez family home in Barrio Miraflores, an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Gladys and Johnny, heads of the household, made sure I had everything I needed. They assigned their maid, Maria, to clean my room, cook my meals, and wash my clothes, which did by hand. Gladys oversaw my menu and social life. Johnny, a tire salesman, and patient Spanish professor answered my poorly constructed questions while reading the newspaper. I ate all my meals with the family even though I thought about skipping out a few times. Maria was not the best cook. I didn’t know how politely mention that I despised soggy Corn Flakes with hot milk and uncuttable grey meat with a vein down the mi…

Dash Cam Cartagena #6

Public transportation in Cartagena is now run by the Pit Bull Kartel.


Dash Cam Cartagena #5

There is always a circus in town in Cartagena. Street performers are at many stop lights to get a few coins and entertain the masses stuck in traffic.

Dash Cam Cartagena #4

Strike! Littering with intent.

Sometimes people just feel the need to stand in the bus lane, chug a soda, and then slam it on the ground.

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