The Tiger and the Taxistas

Just after 6am one Friday I was in a cab on my way to catch a bus (to catch another bus to catch a ferry to catch a moto) to visit my volunteers on Barú. The driver and I idly listened to a radio host interviewing soccer god Radamel Falcao’s surgeon who was understandably timid in forming answers to the demanding, dramatic inquiries: “Doctor, exactly how serious is the injury? Regarding the recovery period, when exactly can he play again? And Doctor, exactly what odds do you give Falcao for playing in the World Cup in June?” The taxi driver shook his head and gave me a glance in the rearview.

“Barro lo que pasó con El Tigre, ¿no?” Bummer what happened to The Tiger, to our pride and joy, our hope, our ball-kicking lifeline who effortlessly sailed two penalty kicks past the keeper to qualify us for the Mundial when we were choking against Chile, who always comes through with a goal when we need it most, whose face is plastered on every advertisement across the country from pineapple-flavored lollipops to Samsung.

A few days before, Falcao tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the wrong end of a slide-tackle, and the whole country has been positively mourning the possibility that he will be absent from Brazil’s stadiums in June. “Ay, si,” I answered, “que mala suerte…”

Two days later the sun was baking the synthetic soccer canchas behind the Metropolitano Stadium, Falcao’s true home. A few times a month we practice or scrimmage on the exclusive turf courts. I hadn’t been back in Barranquilla for a full week but I was exactly where I wanted to be: hitting preseason hard with my team. A basic tackling drill was up and the demonstrator slammed into his buddy’s knees to a collective groan. “Puro Falcao,” someone quipped and I scrunched my eyes shut in a post-traumatic flashback. Nope, not tackling with boys this round, and I was going to make sure my feet were square and my legs were steady. That ACL thing a few years ago? It sucked.

Five minutes later I was up to play tackle dummy for my good friend Gina – my back line partner in crime, my bash brother, my GM. She was out for friendly vengeance because I had just dumped her to the ground, and I threw out a preventative stiff arm as she accelerated, flexed her knees and CRACK.

I broke my arm.

Technically, Gina broke my arm. And stop commiserating and start laughing because it’s funny. Nothing about this incident isn’t funny. I broke my arm a week shy of my 26th birthday. Not 6, not 10 or even 15 – 26. That in itself is hilarious. Then the fact that one of my best Colombian friends broke it with her head? And at the clinic they threw on a 1970s-looking plaster cast? And the nurse was trying to talk to me in English? That the entire sequence of events was hyperbolized and over-documented on social media? And every single person I encountered that day made a Falcao joke? And, oh yea, I broke my arm in Colombia.

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On the way to the clinic. Funny.

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Waiting for my xray. Funny.

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Me: Do I have to sit here? Can I walk please? Nurse: Um… Gina: Just ignore the gringa. 

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Nothing like water and plaster to keep bones in place, amIright?

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A week later, celebrating my 26th birthday (and Garabato.) In a cast.

Even as the ol’ I’m-injured-and-can’t-work-out frustration has set in, it’s still pretty funny and really, what can I complain about? Left hand, one month, nothing serious whatsoever. I even learned a handful of fun new words like yeso (cast), placa (x-ray), fisura (fracture) and cabestrillo (sling.)

The worst part about being a gringa enyesada reflects on one of my biggest aversions. I absolute abhor being a damsel in distress. (The only time it’s ok is when I’m pretending à la “Avi, you are the STRONGEST person I know and I think you should carry this for me.” If he reads this he will deny that it still works. It does.) Anyway, every time I get on a bus in Barranquilla, there’s a scramble for someone to offer me a seat and my initial reaction is “Ugh really? You think I can’t stand because I’m a WOMAN you MACHIST JERKS?” Then I remember that no, it’s because my arm is in a cast and a sling and yes, I should take that seat because Colombian buses are nothing to mess with whilst one-armed. Sorry for the dirty looks, genuinely kind and concerned Barranquilleros.

A few days after the breakage I was in a taxi again, and the driver kindly asked, “What happened to your arm?” (He did so in the innocently sweet Colombian Spanish way, saying “Qué me le pasó a la señorita?” which with the “me” means he’s sort of involving himself in my life, “What happened to my young lady’s arm?”) I told him I broke it jugando. Futbol? No, rugby. Rugby? What’s that? It’s kind of like American football, but better. Wow, isn’t that brutal? Not really, I love it.

“Well, we have to do what we love, right? Even when it harms us.”

As we say here on the coast, estás claro, señor.

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If you have the kind of friends who might accidentally break your arm, be sure they are also the kind of friends who will laugh with you at the clinic for 4 hours.

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