Disclaimer - Before I start this verbal ramble. I would like to first say that I found the country of Columbia one of the more beautiful and vibrant in the world. I am not sure if it was Medellin or Cali that had a climate that hardly changed during the year. Each place we visited on the planet has something really unique, good and amazing about it. This piece is about one incident in the country, it is not representative of how I feel about the overall experience. With that disclaimer in place…
One of the best examples I have that taught me about the difference in cultures and language barriers was in Bogotá, Columbia. We had a lad, Patrick from Dublin who like many of the workers, somehow found himself traveling around the world with the rest of us moving swag for shows. What I remember about Bogotá, was somehow a military officer riding a beautiful white horse took a shining to us and his troops basically protected us “gringos”
Local labor was always tricky inside most countries as usually we didn’t’ speak the language, and trust me, with each country on the planet, they each have a unique way of doing something. It doesn’t mean it is right or wrong, it just means, “This is how it is done until you show us a better way.”
We were actually excited to play Bogotá, as we heard the arena was 25,000 seats. Upon getting there, we realized that between the power black and brown outs, what was a new arena, had anything of value taken from it. Imagine you go to an arena and see a show, now imagine all the fixtures, furniture, and anything else that is bolted down is removed and someone takes out all the elevators (I am not sure if the building even had them)
Our local labor had one ringleader, a really smart guy who had a gift of organizing people and he spoke enough English to our bad Spanish that with finger gesture taking, we could figure out what we wanted. He figured out a way to get us a whole lot of laborers, who actually were decent workers. One of the workers was a short guy named Gustavo who wanted to put the syrup on snow cones. He could stand next to a table and his portly belly would flop on top of the tabletop and he would stand there to do his one thing he knew to do, over and over, and over. Just don’t ask him to change how he did it.
Patrick was a most interesting lad, as were all the Irish gents. I have to say the Irish were the funniest group of folks on the planet. The adventure with Patrick actually started in Dublin where we missed the ferryboat. I can still hear Patrick saying, “no worries lad, of course I know where it is.” I can still see the boat about 20 feet from the pier, floating away, and four of us standing there waving to the folks because we got lost so many times after making the bank deposit.
Patrick was a van Morrison fan. I don’t know if he listened to anything else. He also was just a good soul with a typical Irish wit. I can’t say cynical, I can’t say satirical, I can’t say he was a comedian either – he seemed to take a bit of each and simply have a way of saying things about everyday life that was simply as blanc du blanc yet hilarious.
This particular day, I think we had a “government holiday” show. What this actually meant was that there was not enough money in the government to pay the workers, so they declared a holiday. It seemed these holidays were each Monday, and for whatever reason, we had to give “free” shows. The building was really about a 9,000-seat arena, but there were no seats, just long concrete slabs. You could get 25,000 people in the place if you put people in place like sardines and somehow told everyone not to move, and didn't allow anyone to go to the bathroom for 4 hours.
I must have been looking for Patrick, might must have been watching the snow cone stand. All i found was Gustavo there to guarding the place with soda syrup dispensing guns at the ready at his side, as if he was in a gunfight against coke or Pepsi, waiting for someone to draw first. And you have to imagine a large portly belly flopped on top of the counter.
"Hola, come esta, Gustavo. Donde esta, Patrick?”
It didn’t matter than none of us really spoke the language, Gustavo would simply start firing off words in Spanish at a rapid pace. One had the feeling of being machined gunned by words that probably meant something, yet, I there was no understanding.
After that onslaught of unrecognizable words I heard, “De bano, de bano.” (The toilet, the toilet)
At that moment, Patrick came back from his visit to the bano and Gustavo saw him and probably was saying “hey Patrick, mark is here to see you…” but in that machine gun of words spoken, as if with no need to actually inhale oxygen to sustain life. He spoke for what seemed like minutes.
As cool as a cucumber, Patrick looked at Gustavo and in English said, “Gustavo. Lad. I didn’t take a book into the toilet that said, “learn Spanish in 5 minutes while you take a crap” I don’t have a freaking clue what you are saying.”
Gustavo then continued to keep speaking Spanish, only faster. (Americans tend to repeat, but speak louder and think it will make a difference)
The people here wonder what I think about when I am sitting at a table and they are all talking about whatever social thing is happening. They are proud of and speak in Swiss Deutsche. All I understand is rudimentary High German, which everyone sort of understands (even they locals say they don’t fully understand all the rules of the German language) but they only speak it if they know you are clueless. I must look beyond clueless, because they just ramble on and I have no idea what they are talking about. It is like listening to Gustavo in Columbia. The problem is, that this activity of sitting there understanding nothing takes up a great deal of time for me. So last night I was noodling three different growing test system design – our traditional super soils, aqua and aero ponic systems I want to build in Colorado, and I sat there calculating what is the distance and range of the SAM missiles that were fired at the Malaysian aircraft (I guess it is the amount of plane flying overhead?) And doing the math in my head without any scientific calculator for help.
I know this sounds odd, but that is what I do. In an effort to not be impolite, I don’t sketch anything down, which is my normal way of working. I just smile with a glazed look in my eyes when I realize my mind is shutting down after about 25 minutes of trying to truly understand Swiss Deutsche.
They say god does things to teach you. I am really not sure what god is teaching me. What I am learning about is how different it is at the top of the business food chain, and how people tend to be treated at the bottom. You are just a number.
Funny. The powers that be in the boardroom all sit around, talk about ideas and plans and say “we are going to do something new and change!” They have no clue how goofy the systems can be underneath them, nor, how in the effort to increase productivity and efficiency, people become more of a number and less of a human being.
I think that does it for today’s rant. Thanks for listening. I feel a bit better from the frustration of trying to figure out ways to allow each of us to see each other, as well as ourselves – and change for the better.