iCarumba! (pronounced: [ˈai kaˈɾamba]), from the Spanish interjections ay (denoting surprise or pain) and caramba (a minced oath, a euphemism for carajo), is an exclamation used in Spanish to denote surprise when one’s iPhone is stollen.
(This is a story about doing lines in Colombia. I could not the temptation to bring attention to this evening by using a classic and negative stereotype of organized crime in Colombia. But this is not about illegal drugs. But rather about a crazy night where we survived standing in lines for what seemed to be at least an hour. And in the end, what we believed to be disorganization by event promoters and an organized system of parting many of us of our cell phones.)
Ten of us lined up to pile into our van to take us to the futball stadium to a concert featuring six musical superstars of the area. The van took us outside of the protected walls of the historic district where we’d enjoyed the past few days, out through another world of Colombia. These were neighborhoods with shanties, lacking urban infrastructure where some of Colombia’s poorest live.
We discussed income disparities with Colombians the other night, referencing the World Bank Gini Index. If you line up all the world’s countries according to income disparities, on the left those with the greatest difference between rich and poor, with the worst being on the left with a score 0 and the best on the right with a score of 100, Colombia would be third from the left, ranked 11th worst in the world in income disparities int he world with a score of 53.. On the far right are Sweden, ranked 154 with a score of 25. The U.S. score is 41 and falls close to the middle at 60th.
So, we were in the affluent part of town and now we are passing through and into the slums. We drove through lines and reached our destination, Estadio Jaime Moron Leon. It’s capacity is registered at about 16,000. By the looks of the many twisting lines leading up to it, well after the first bands began performing, it appeared we were going to enter a stadium filled to a place three times its capacity. We wondered talked amongst ourselves about what the capacity of the place might be, and if perhaps it was University of Michigan’s bowl, where you walk don to your seats. Little did we know what was to happen next.
The twisted serpentines, like octopus legs around the body of the stadium, started out fine. Small steps forward were made. Progress. Even among those who stood in line with their backs to the entrances because they twisted in reverse, at least things progressed. And we were adequately distracted by our friends, conversation, by beer vendors, by our local host Cris engaging with friends and family. We even had a sports celebrity among us, a Colombian New York Mets player. Nice haircut. The music inside played on.
We got within range where we could see the serpent zig-zag passage they had people going though to reach the security pat down. We got closer, but the integrity of our line broke down. We kept pressed against the portable metal rail we had been hugging throughout, but now more people ignored the line and entered the siphon point, creating a wedge. Movement from those of us along the rail stopped. Then compressed. Then shoving. I made the comment, well at least we are against these collapsable barriers and not contained in a space where you might get crushed to death, like at The Who concert in Cincinnati in 1979
People amongst us started yelling at the guards. No response. Thankfully, the guards were not uniformed, armed with buttons or guns. Very few in number, donned in t-shirts, they just smiled. The crowd got more angry and waves of pushing began to surge. At one point, our railing dropped. People shoved forward. Out group of 10 tried to stay together, not loose one another. Some of the crowd scaled the hill to the ramp leading up to the stadium entry, leapfrogging the security and ticket takers. We awaited as a group in limbo. Andy and Cris were still on the other side of the railing in line. We waited for them to reach where we stood and then squeezed back through into the railed area to go through for proper entry.
One ticket tear-off. and then another. Now inside the stadium, we just needed to go down to the field level. The music blared. The fans roared. The next band, Juan Luis Guerra began his performance. But the line reformed and bunched. Another checkpoint. This one for a wristband.
Here the line pressed like nothing before. A group of three women and a man rolled through like bowling balls, crushing me. I smiled and said to the lead woman, “You’re rough.” (in place of what I wanted to say, “you’re rude.”) but I decided to get between their clasped hands just to slow them a bit. I spun a slow motion 360 turn. When the guy at the tail got in front of me, I couldn’t help but push him and say, “Here, let me help.” I know he didn’t understand me. But I needed to communicate some of my frustration.
Now a severe V-turn around one last barrier. I could see some of our group as we entered, pressed through the turn. But we had all identified the row where our seats were so it seemed like the home stretch. The guards had you raise you hand to place the wristband on. Other guards directed your body, hands on waist, to the correct position.
Finally, our group found itself in our space. Ten plastic chairs set in a square C shape, at the very end of our row. By instinct, I reached to my pocket for my phone. Gone.
I looked to Christian across from me, his face dropped. His phone, gone. Mary was making a commotion nearby. Her phone, gone. Andy, I learned later, his phone, gone. Four of 10 of us had our phones stollen.
We had been open to the craziest journey to get to our seats. We accepted that once at our seats we had to be on the offensive to defend our turf because immediately adjacent to and not divided from us the drink vendors fought their way to place their orders for fulfillment to serve to the thirsty crowd. (At one point, I just had to pick up the chair that was being rammed into the backs of my legs as I sold and state as clearly as possible, “We paid for this space.” It didn’t cease the constant screaming of the vendors to the bartenders however. We appreciated the new sounds of talented musicians performing on the giant stage. But at one point perhaps just four songs into our being there, we all looked at each other and agreed, the thrill was gone.
And so were we.
And, why so few photos in this story? iCarumba!