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September 27, 1991 - Image 4

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-09-27
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Some sot ofHomecomrng...

Wg~eekend Essay:

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7707

Campus Legends,

A summer trip to Bogota, Colombia
can teach more than ever expected
Words and pictures by Donna Woodwell:

Part 2: The

Weird

Ait urMi

The stereo blared Latin
rhythms as I sat in my room,
surrounded by clothes, trying to
pack. The stress of finals did not
compare to my growing
anticipation of whatever the
summer would hold. I was finally
going to Latin America.
In a year, I would be
graduating with a degree in
communications and Latin
American studies, but I still
hadn't seen the object of my
studies. So, when I found the

opportunity to visit a friend of
mine in Bogota, Colombia, I
leaped at the chance.
Like every other American,
when I thought of Colombia the
first things that came to mind
were coffee and cocaine. Or scenes
from Romancing the Stone and
commercials where Juan Valdez
is happily carrying coffee beans.
And, of course, I'd learned all
the economical and political
theories on Latin America as part
of my "liberal arts education." I

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could tell you from memory that
Colombia has 34 million
inhabitants, or that its gross
national product in 1988 was
about $37 billion.
But that wasn't enough. Not
only did I want to work on my
Spanish, I wanted to know for
myself if all the things I'd read in
my textbooks were true. If there
was a real Colombia, I was
determined to find it.
So, armed with my backpack,
a guitar, a notebook and a
camera, I set off for Colombia.
My friend, who had been eagerly
awaiting my arrival at Bogota's
El Dorado airport, welcomed me
with friendly screams and a
gigantic hug. We threw my
luggage into the car, and drove to
her apartment, which would be
home for the next few weeks.
Over the first week of my
visit, she took me on the grand
tour of Bogota. This bustling,
modern metropolis of four million
inhabitants, is the cultural and
economic heart of Colombia. I
had a wonderful time exploring
the city's many museums,
marketplaces and caf6s, and
talking for hours with new
friends and old.
It was also an exciting time to
be in Colombia. While I was
there, the country made
international headlines when
Pablo Escobar, the kingpin of the
Medellin drug cartel, surrendered
to the authorities. It was no
coincidence that Escobar's
surrender came just three hours
after changes in the Colombian
constitution made it illegal to
extradite him to the United States
to face drug charges.
However, the Constituyente,
the assembly revising the
document, has been debating
issues far more important than an
extradition treaty. The assembly
also voted on the legality of
divorce, abortion, and many
other major social issues. I was
excited that I was witnessing the
unfolding of Colombian history.
But was this the Colombia
that I came to Latin America
looking for?
Sitting in my Spanish class, I
could never stay focused on the
discussion. My attention
wandered to the view outside the
windows. Through one window
gleamed several new high rise
condominiums, built for the
wealthy entrepreneurs who are
able to take advantage of the

Above: The Indian village
which lies at the bottom of
the Tomine reservoir was one
of the casualties of
Colombian development.
Left: A small country parish
near Lake Guatavita is a
center for many rural
community activities. The
Catholic Church has been
involved in both sides of the
struggle for human liberation
- for and against. Below: A
street in Villa de Leyva looks
almost the same as it did four
centuries ago.

by Antonio Roque
Miranda is into self-
mutilation. Every morning she r
uses a surgical knife to cut a two-i
inch-long, razor-thin slit int
herself, usually in the face. She c
thinks it matches her zebra-l
striped hair and blood red lips. She1
used to sip on shot-glasses half l
full of her own blood but that c
was back when she was younger e
and more pretentious. Drinking 1
her own blood was pretentious; iti
was something that a poser
would do, and Miranda tells me
that she is definitely not a poser.<
Miranda lives in a house on
Washtenaw with six other peopleJ
but they are not a co-op because 1
co-ops are "alternative." Mitchell,
who also lives in the house that is
not a co-op, tells me that there is a1
stigma to alternativeness. When ]
the alternative becomes the
mainstream, he says, it is no
longer alternative.
Case in point: the house once
owned a snake named Eve who
was well-loved by all and disliked,
only for eating anything
resembling rats in size or smell.
But then the inevitable happened.
Pet snakes became trendy. So Eve
made the final sacrifice one
Sunday dinner in the form of
Omelette Surprise and it was
over. Eve had been a pet of those
who fear trendiness more than
they fear death.
There have always been
houses like this around campus, I
have heard. On the very first day
that the University was
established, six fresh-faced young
men decided to set up home
somewhere off-campus and be
different. What odd clothes did
they wear? What strange colors
did they dye their hair, their
clothes? This was before world
beat and tie-dye and MTV made
flashing colors a sign of
uniqueness; before gloomily
monochrome angry young
teenagers made angst a sign of
individuality. Years later people
would violently associate
themselves with nature, with
science, with sexuality, politics,
religions, arts, all to extremes:
there once was a house filled with
plants, every square inch inside
and out covered in green; there
once was a house filled with
primitive computer vacuum-
tubes, all to support a white pixel
ball bouncing forever around a
six-inch television screen; there
once was a house where every
member was treated like a god

while simultaneously being
required to worship everyone else
in the house, with the effect that
everyone was both devotee and
deity. There have always been
houses like this around campus.
But the very first weird-seekers,
living well over a century ago,
chose to express themselves by
dressing in jeans and listening to
Black folk music in their spare
time.
The point being that
weirdness is relative. Paul,
another resident of the anti-co-op,
was named Fyodor at birth but
he changed his name to Paul
because Fyodor sounded trendy.
In his first year of college Paul
met someone who had changed
her name to something weirder, so
Paul decided to change his name
to something simpler. Paul tells
me that unless one resists
following the crowd at all costs
one's individuality is lost. And as
resisting the crowd is relative,
Paul is now prepared to show me

the ultimate crowd-resister
among the lot of them. He points
out a man who has been sitting
inconspicuously in the corner of
the room. This man's name is
John Smith. He has a ROTC
haircut and wears neat yet
unassuming clothes, most of
them with the University name
or logo on them. John Smith has a
can of beer in his hand and a wide
grin on his face and he is the
ultimate rebellious rebel, being
the complete opposite of those
who are opposite. And here is the
horror of it all: despite being
absolutely unassuming, despite
being outstanding in no way at
all from the millions of other
mundanes populating the
campus, John Smith lives a
happy life.
This more than anything else
is irksome to those who beg to
differ, and this is what cuts into
their egos as nothing else does.
Except for Miranda. She has a
surgical knife.

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66

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liberalization of the Colombian
economy. Through the adjoining
window I could see the barrios, or
shanty towns, that cling
desperately to the mountainside.
For the people who live in them,
already limited by a quasi-feudal
system of land ownership,
"trickle-down" economic theories
do not help to put food on the
table.
Everyday, when we drove to
and from school, a four-year-old
girl would be selling candy on a
street corner, or seven-year-old
boys would rush to the car when

we stopped at a stoplight to sell
newspapers, cigarettes, or
flowers. According to the
UNICEF statistics, 30 million
such children are homeless in
Latin America's cities. Many of
them have gone to the streets
because the debt crisis and falling
world commodity prices have
made it impossible for their
families to make ends meet.
Others have been so mistreated
that they take to the streets as
their only means of escape.
I knew all of this before I left
the United States, so what I saw

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September 27, 1991

WEEKEND"

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Page 9

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