Cosas pequeñas pero importantes


In my last post, I left out a big development in my life last week: I started listening to audiobooks on my Kindle during my commutes. The first day I did this, I was on cloud nine. The idea that a 45-minute or hour-long bus ride need not be spent waiting for its end, but could instead be spent “reading”? Increíble.

I don’t understand how I never listened to audiobooks (or podcasts) while commuting, or how everyone doesn’t do that. I listened to several audiobooks during long car rides with my family when I was a kid, and I remember mostly enjoying them (though one audiobook somehow managed to make me dislike Slaughterhouse-Five until I read it in book form). Maybe my commute has never been long enough, or maybe reading a physical book was always easy enough. (On subways, unless it was super crowded, that was never a problem for me.) But on any commute that’s longer than 20 or 30 minutes and during which holding and reading a physical book isn’t practical or easy? How can you not listen to the audio equivalent of a book, newspaper, or magazine?

Because of Bogotá’s insane roads and drivers, my commutes here are nearly impossible to read through. And because my commute to and from my morning class involves half an hour of walking each way, I was previously losing up to an hour a day without really occupying my mind, even outside the time I spent on Transmilenio or buses. For a while I listened to the radio, which I think helped my Spanish a bunch. But the quality of my $5 portable radio has deteriorated–or else I’ve just had enough–and in December I began to find that too painful to bear (literally, because of all the static).

Now, wonder upon wonders, I really enjoy my commutes. On a day when I wake up feeling good, I can maintain that feeling every moment till I go to sleep. If I have good classes and interesting books to listen to, I’ve got nothing bad all day. Over my first few months in Bogotá, the only times I was reliably not happy were the hours I spent commuting. Now I’ve got my headphones on before I leave my building and a story in my ears until I get where I need to be.

Over the last two weeks I’ve listened to War, about a third of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and a few hour-long podcasts of the day’s top New York Times stories. After mostly enjoying War but finishing it in a few days, I realized I would get more bang for my buck by buying the longest books I could find. So, after finding a number of books I wanted to listen to next, I settled on the 28-hour-long American Prometheus. Not only does a book of this length provide for more (in number) enjoyable commutes; it also gives me a perfect way to read a book that I probably wouldn’t ever read all of in print. Indeed, American Prometheus is sitting on my bookshelf in my parents’ apartment. I had wanted to read it for at least a year. Doing so would have meant, of course, sitting down and not reading other things and not doing other things for quite a while. Now I can “read” it without feeling any opportunity cost–and I’ll finish it, guaranteed.


The 24 hours from Tuesday afternoon to yesterday afternoon were among the strangest in my life.

After feeling slight, vague symptoms of sickness (generalized headache and upset stomach) for a couple hours Monday night, I felt 100 percent Tuesday morning, and through about 2 o’clock that day. But as I began one class at 3, I could feel myself getting sick again, this time more so, for I already felt chills indicative of an onsetting fever.

By the time I left that class and got in a taxi to rush to another, I was far from well. I remember heading into the second class a bit afraid of being undeniably and visibly sick–not afraid I wouldn’t be able to complete the class, but that I would be so low-energy that I would be ineffective. Thanks to the pressure of having to lead class, I managed to feel better for the next hour and a half. When it wrapped up, though, I figured I should do the same, literally. As I headed out into the evening, I pulled my sleeves down, put my rain jacket on, stuffed my hands into my pockets, and pulled my hood over my head–all small efforts to combat the chills that were coming back. Then the perfect storm hit.

While walking the 20 minutes to Transmilenio, I slipped into a zone. It’s hard to describe now, since I think I was trying to repress the symptoms I felt. I could feel myself getting worse. But, as I’ve learned to do on long walks and runs, I encouraged my body toward a rhythm–step, step, step, step–and my mind away from focusing on the body. I got to Transmilenio. I just wanted to get home.

And then the scary part. Within a few minutes of beginning to wait on the platform, I needed to sit. By this point, my chills had developed into full-blown body pain all over: strong headache, stomachache, even aches through my torso, arms, and legs. I could tell I had a serious fever. I felt nauseous. I crouched down, unready at that point to put my butt on the dirty platform. When my foot hurt from crouching, I switched to the other foot. When that one hurt, I stood up. When I stood up, a wave of dizziness hit me, and I thought I might throw up. I crouched again. Switched feet again. Stood up again. This time the dizziness was even worse. For the first time in my life, I felt I might be on the verge of passing out. I knew I had to sit for real. Forgetting all the pollution and dirt, I sat right down on the platform. My body calmed down. I felt better. I waited and waited and waited for my bus to come, both desperate for and dreading its arrival. I needed to get home, and into bed. And I knew that as soon as I got on a moving vehicle, things might get a lot worse. And I’d be enclosed.

A police officer, one of Bogotá’s young auxiliary cops (basically high school graduates with billy clubs and green uniforms), came over to ask if I was alright. It’s not every day, apparently, that people sit down on Transmilenio platforms. I said yes, I was ok, just feeling sick. He asked if I needed anything, like an ambulance. I said no, not an ambulance, I just need to get home. I was afraid there might be a policy like that sick passengers couldn’t board the buses. There probably isn’t such a policy. If there is, it’s not enforced. Thirty seconds later my bus arrived. I flashed the cop a thumbs-up (mostly for letting me go) and got on the bus.

As I dreaded might be the case, there were no seats. Luckily–and this is not guaranteed on Transmilenio at any point in the day–there was floor space, enough for me to sit down. Again I sat on dirty floors that bogotanos don’t sit on–and gringos definitely don’t sit on. But there I sat. I couldn’t do anything else. I held my bag between my legs and my head above my bag and waited to arrive at my stop, prayed I wouldn’t get any worse, stayed as still as I could to avoid aggravating any part of my body. People crowded around me, and forced me onto less and less floor space. I didn’t care about them anymore. I cared about my body.

I live on Calle 53. To get home by Transmilenio, I have to take an express bus to Calle 63, then transfer to a local and go one stop, to Calle 57, then walk several blocks east. The walk from the Calle 57 station is about seven minutes. From Calle 63, the walk is fifteen to twenty minutes.

I got to Calle 63, and I managed to stand up and get off the bus. Almost immediately, again, the dizziness hit. I took maybe five or six steps toward the part of the platform where I’d get the local, then realized I couldn’t wait around in the station, and turned and headed as quickly as I could for the exit. I was sure I was seconds away from throwing up, and afraid that maybe even worse would happen to me. I needed to get out of the station. I couldn’t throw up in there. I walked as fast as I could, and I hit the turnstile like a gate to freedom. But I still couldn’t throw up right there, right at the outside of the station. So I kept walking, to the corner, then across the street. I could throw up in the street, or on the sidewalk, I thought.

I made it to a ledge attached to a building across the street. I sat down immediately. I breathed and breathed, ready to throw up, just making sure I didn’t pass out. I thought about calling Isa to come get me, but I decided against it. Not only would it be a hassle for her; she also probably wouldn’t arrive for at least twenty minutes. I could get home in that time, if I just got myself undizzy. I called Isa to tell her I was feeling so sick, and that I would be home as soon as I could get myself there, but I didn’t know when that would be.

Luckily I managed to reduce my dizziness within a couple of minutes, feel alright when I stood up, and begin walking. Again I put myself into the zone of step, step, step, step. I did that until I got home. On the street, I felt ok. If I needed to, I could throw up, or sit down. I had no more ego to lose that night. But when I got to the apartment building, and got into the elevator, I became afraid again. I made it to the seventh floor, and got off. I got our front door open, and entered. Barely without pause, I called out to Isa, who was in the kitchen cooking dinner, that I needed to lie down. I made it to the bedroom, dropped my backpack and jacket, and fell into bed.

The scare of my day over, I still needed to get better. Clearly, something was very wrong with me. I was sure I wasn’t just tired; I was sure that simply going to sleep wouldn’t make me better. I needed to drink water, eat some food, take medicine. With Isa’s help, I did those things. I got my computer and emailed my students to cancel class in the morning.

After half an hour in bed, I managed to feel just barely well enough to walk to the living room. Unfortunately, one of Isa’s best friends in the world, a Frenchman who now lives in Santa Marta, was staying with us that night. The two of them had cooked a delicious dinner and set the table with three wine glasses. I could eat a little–I had to–but I couldn’t enjoy the meal. Wrapped in a jacket and a blanket, I still shivered through it. I managed to finish my plate of food, but of course I couldn’t be lively or have any of the wine. Multiple times I apologized for my state. When I was done eating I shuffled back to the bedroom, where I collapsed in bed again.

Ten hours later, I woke up, feeling better, but still sick. An hour or two after that, I was truly better: By 9:30, I had a minor headache, and no other symptoms. By 10 I was out of the house, back to normal business.

In the space of 18 hours, I had gone from no symptoms, through one of my worst health scares, to totally healthy again. “Estoy casi todo bien,” I wrote Isa. “No sé que me pasó.”

Isa might have found the answer today. Here’s a health alert she saw on Caracol, a leading Colombian news channel:

El secretario de Salud de Bogotá, Héctor Zambrano, lanzó hoy en la ciudad una alerta epidemiológica por la detección del virus ‘adenovirus’ que cobró la vida de un bebé y mantiene hospitalizadas a tres personas más.

El funcionario explicó que este virus se produce con fiebre muy alta y que si pasa más de dos días es obligación buscar atención médica.

El secretario de Salud explicó que al parecer el ‘adenovirus’ se ha dispersado por los cambios bruscos de temperatura y puede afectar a cualquier ciudadano.

Señaló que todos los hospitales de la ciudad y los centros de salud están en la obligación de atender a las personas que presenten el virus el cual origina también problemas graves de respiración.

Finalmente, el secretario de Salud de Bogotá recomendó a todos los habitantes de la ciudad mantener el lavado de manos y una estricta higiene en el cuerpo y en las habitaciones de las residencias.

[Decent translation here.]

As I was yesterday, I’m fine again today. I’ve got some minor swelling on the roof of my mouth. But I think I’m ok.


Also on Tuesday, I hit 100 percent capacity in my Gmail account. I had had the account for six years, one month, and three days. As soon as Google told me my account was full, I paid $5 for a year’s access to 20 more gigabytes of storage. Only then did Google tell me that the purchase of extra space might take up to 24 hours to be processed–during which time I wouldn’t be able to send or receive any emails. In fact, I received emails continuously. But for about 23 hours I was unable to send any.

Of course, I’ve been away from the internet for much longer than 23 hours. But I can’t think of any previous instance when I’ve had access to the internet and yet no easy way to communicate through it. It was quite weird being able to read my emails but not able to respond.


From an article a friend just sent me: “[T]he number of murders [in Colombia] in the last year dropped by more than half and the number of kidnappings declined by more than 90% from the prior year.”



Reading the Oppenheimer book is especially enjoyable for me for an odd reason. I had known little about Oppenheimer before starting the book, but a year ago I saw this video. I was immediately haunted by it, especially by Oppenheimer’s face, and the way he looked past and below the camera while famously quoting the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Faced with, as the final assignment in my painting class, the task of creating a large painting from a photograph, I chose a still of Oppenheimer’s face in that recording. My final product didn’t look anything like Oppenheimer, but I was (and am) still proud of it. More importantly, I had to look at J. Robert Oppenheimer’s face for hours. My interest in him couldn’t wane after that.

4 thoughts on “Cosas pequeñas pero importantes

  1. Relieved you made it safely through all that.

    Just wanted to agree that I couldn’t believe it took me so long to discover podcasts as an excellent, often “more productive” audio alternative to music, particularly while drawing. And speaking of art, your painting is really neat–it’s beautifully, fittingly haunting. My first encounter with that Oppenheimer quote was actually late one night while comicsing and listening to Linkin Park’s nuclear-themed album, which I also found to be frightening and lovely, too. The sample is in track two, but the preceding build-up contributes a lot of eeriness:

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