I recently rediscovered my love for red wine and, after a few too many over-priced glasses, I was standing in a bathroom queue when the girl in front of me turned to me and said: “Excuse me, are you that girl from Banana Skin Flip Flops?”
“Erm, yes,” I stuttered, mentally wondering how many glasses I had consumed but more concerned that I had met the girl before and was being extremely rude.
“Don’t worry. I just recognised you from the facebook page,” she laughed. “I’m a follower and I was a fan before you went on the radio too.”
Now the girl was lovely and I mention her now because I am thinking about anonymity and, well, my obsession with it, which I know is weird for a blogger so please hear me out. One of the things I love most about Bogotá is how blank I get to be here and how big our city is and the fact I can disappear into a dark corner whenever I like and ensure not a soul knows where I am (by dark corner I mean a café. Lets not get carried away here)
This sometimes upsets my Colombian friends because they are all deeply suspicious of anonymity. I know this because one of my best friends “checks in” with his loved ones everywhere he goes (even the supermarket) and the first words out of my friends’ mouths when they call me (after “Hola Mamasita,”) generally seem to be “Where are you darling?” – even if my location is arguably irrelevant.
But I am not going to pretend to you that this blog affects my anonymity, oh no, instead I want to talk to you about far more sinister forces at play. Forces I can’t believe it has taken me nearly three years to notice. Fact is, I live in a village. A teeny, tiny village that only masquerades as a capital city of eight-million people to draw in people like me, who think they can float around with impunity when, really, they are not anonymous at all.
Remember I wasn’t much of a party girl for the first two years of my life here, mostly because I couldn’t afford it, I lived too far away and then I had a boyfriend who loathed drinking and only came with me to remote salsa clubs so he could look at his watch at 11pm and say: “That was fun honey. Can we go home now?”
But I knew the Zona T (the city’s party zone) existed and I would go to the odd club or lose a few Friday hours in the Irish Pub, utterly anonymous, known by no-one and certainly not anxious about, well, anything at all.
How quickly that has changed. I remember a friend warning me years ago to be wary of the city’s party circuit. There are a lot of factors at play, she said, including the fact drinks cost more than they do in London and there is barely a place in town without a cover charge. That means surviving the Zona T is not about what you have (in most cases, pretty much nothing) it is about who you know and, boy, are these people good. The place is a giant secret society but unlike most secret societies, it is a lot more fun when you are on the outside. Because once you are on the inside, there aren’t any secrets at all.
It all started six months ago when a friend was gently teasing me about having been stood up by an unreliable Colombian and in retaliation, I offered to chat to a nice and, more importantly, innocent-looking young man in a bar. The next week I went on a date with him and he remarked: “You know, everyone has been asking me about you.” Now that doesn’t seem weird now, does it? Until you really think about it. Everyone was asking about me. Who exactly is everyone?
That was the day I accidentally fell off my cliff of happy anonymity and fell into a world where everyone knows everyone, everyone knows everyone else’s business and frankly, everyone has at some point dated everyone else to the point where a girl pulled out her BlackBerry to me the other day and said: “Who do you want to date sweetie? I have them all right here.” Not only did she scroll through an address book containing every man I have ever seen party in the Zona T (including the one, horrifically, I went out with) but she was also able to give me a full breakdown on each one. It was terrifying.
Because the fact is, the percentage of people who can afford to go out in the Zona T, plus the percentage who can’t but are willing to play free drink roulette, mixed together with the people who actually want to go out in the Zona T, well, I am going to say that number is really, really small. It is so small, I shouldn’t call it a village, I should call it a hamlet and please remember, I am a six-foot, blonde, British girl with a terrible accent who is addicted to high-heeled shoes. There is nothing about me that is anonymous.
When my female Colombian friends heard how I got into this mess – talking to the wrong stranger in the wrong bar – they hit the roof. I am apparently never, ever, allowed to talk to strangers because new people should always come “recommended by a friend”. It is a sentiment I would have sniffed at six months ago, but let me tell you, nowadays I am so anxious I cannot so much as date a guy without dragging him past all my friends first.
I remember when the realisation hit. It was the realisation that everyone around me was playing a game and not only was I completely unaware of the rules, I had no idea the match had even started. That night I was in a bar, of course, expecting to see three different groups of unconnected people. When they met, they threw their arms around each other as if they were family. I stood open-mouthed while the only voice of sanity, who happened to be at my side at that moment, said: “Wake up Vicki. They all know each other because they all know each other. It is the only way they can survive.”
That’s it then. Not only do they all know each other, they also know who my new aquaintances will be before I even meet them and who I am going to date before the words “Okay, sounds fun,” have even left my lips. And, worse, this is a secret society armed with smartphones. Those smiley photographs in fancy bars, posted daily on twitter, are not the harmless, posey, pretensions you might think. No. They are part of the web. The web of the Zona T. And when it turns out you are not actually the spider, but a little blonde fly, it is definitely time to escape.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.