The world that we observe depends on how we see it. If I am a skateboarder, I will see a large set of stairs as a challenge. If I am an author, the words I read and write signify much more than just a means of sharing an idea. Being a magician, I look at a deck of cards and see more than just a game; I see art waiting to happen. Bogotá is covered with graffiti, yet because visual art is not the lens I usually look through, I hadn’t fully recognized the significance of it until last weekend. I went on a walking graffiti tour and learned that Bogotá is actually a major destination for street art. In the city, graffiti is not against the law. There are a lot of tags that litter the city and serve no purpose other than name recognition. But, there are also a lot of really talented artists that paint provoking work laden with social and political statements all over Bogotá. After going on the tour, I now admire the street art put up by some of Latin America’s most respected artists during the many hours I spend each week going to the far corners of this enormous city. If I did not go on that tour, I would never have appreciated it as I do now. Perspective- it’s all about the lens you look through. Our world is so complex, with so much visual and auditory input, that it is an adaptable advantage to filter out the majority of it. However, with that comes a great risk- we can unconsciously miss some of the most simple, yet beautiful joys that life has to offer.
Last Tuesday was a very special day. We performed two shows in Ciudad Bolivar with our magic students, Gustavo Lorgia, and another famous Colombian magician, Juan Alvarez. It was a chaotic day, but definitely a huge success. Gustavo nor Juan had ever been to Ciudad Bolivar before and it was an honor to accompany them through that experience as their eyes bugged out of their sockets trying to comprehend that the severe poverty they witnessed was within the confines their very own city. The first show we did was for a large school where there were more than 300 children in the audience. Two weeks before this, Carlos and I hosted auditions for our magic students to decide who would get the privilege to perform in that show. Edwin and Tatiana, stood out with flying colors and delivered incredibly well in the big show. The second show was in the neighborhood of Foundation Bella Flor, and the rest of our students got to perform there with Gustavo and Juan. It was exciting for everyone to have famous magicians performing in this part of the city- for free. We are so excited about how far these children have come, both personally and in terms of magic after studying with us for just eight months. A special day indeed.
When I got home on Tuesday evening (completely exhausted), Marco, my host dad, told me he had something important to show me. That morning, about a half hour after I had left the house, a large bang startled him while he was in the kitchen. He didn’t think much of it as the apartment next door is undergoing a remodel. Later that afternoon, he noticed the curtain over the large windows in the living room had been detached from the rail. At first he thought my friends and I had too many beers on the balcony the night before and that we were the culprits. But, after further inspection, his assumptions were far from correct. A bullet, that’s right a heavy duty bronze-plated stray bullet had entered our 5th floor apartment. It went through the aluminum window frame and lodged itself in the curtain knocking it off the rail. WHAT!!!????!! The bullet entered at an even angle which means it had to of come from one of two buildings that are at an equal or higher height to our apartment. These buildings are so far away, that even a 0.1 degree difference in the angle of the gun would have put that bullet right through the window, into our living room, and possibly into any one of us if we were there. This left us both frightened and sad. Frightened, for obvious reasons, we spend a lot of time out on the balcony which is right next to that window. Sad, because carelessly blasting bullets in highly populated areas of a city shows a complete lack of respect and care for human life. The worst part is there is nothing we can do about it. If we called the police, they would come, take a look, and say they were sorry, but offer no further help as no one got hurt. Things like this make me remember that yes, I am in Colombia.
Between this and hearing about the devastating events of the Boston Marathon, I was a little on edge on Wednesday. I was walking out the doors of my building to go teach my class, and I heard a loud explosion from what seemed to be rather close. Completely startled, I looked in the direction of the noise, to see two figures dressed in all black (including masks) half a block away in the intersection menacingly staring down traffic and passersby. I guess this is not all that uncommon in Colombia either. I later learned that they were university students protesting something or other and they were setting off papa bombas (homemade bombs) that are more about noise than destruction. Throughout my class and for the next 4 hours or so, we had to listen to a continuous eruption of these papa bombas (about 10 every minute). Imagine trying to learn with a constant flow of explosions going off. I don’t know how they do it- Colombians are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. Today marks 9 months since I landed in Colombia, and I still frequently face interesting surprises such as this. Talk about perspective- it definitely keeps me on my toes. Honestly, I feel like there is a strangely scary energy flowing in the world right now. Between all the drama in Boston, Texas, North Korea, and Venezuela, I just sense something that makes me feel nervous and vulnerable about the future of our world.
On a lighter note, things are continuing to evolve in a very exciting and rapid way with the Magic Project. Last Friday was our first day performing in a new hospital, Fundación Santa Fé. It is the most medically respected hospital in the city, if not the country. I met the president of the hospital at a party through the U.S. Embassy about a month ago and she called me eager to get something going with Magicians Without Borders. For the remainder of my time here, I will be going there on a weekly basis to perform for patients residing in the oncology and pediatric wards. Although I prefer to work with less privileged populations, I am excited to spend time in such an advanced hospital. For the past few months, I have been dreaming of putting together an afternoon workshop where we can teach interested doctors and nurses some very simple and basic magic tricks that they can do with their patients. I pitched the idea to this hospital and they are very interested- sure would be a great way to significantly extend the positive effect that magic can bring in hospital settings.
This coming Saturday, the 27th, Johanna and I will be celebrating 6 months together! That sure went fast. Our relationship has definitely been a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs. Also, her work has continued to be a chaotic mess. We were looking forward to spending a month in the same city as she was being sent to Bogs to do health evaluations of newly enlisted soldiers. She arrived Tuesday morning. On Wednesday afternoon when we were having lunch, she got a phone call from the powers that be saying that they had cancelled the program until June or July and that she had to report back to her base immediately. We are both very bummed out about this. I am leaving in 6 weeks and we were both really looking forward to having a month in the same city. All this makes me wonder how the Colombian Army could possibly defend the country if they can’t even effectively organize something as relatively simple as this. It is also not appropriate to play with the lives of others- she was not the only one affected, there were about 10 health care professionals that were affected in the same way. This was the tipping point and she has officially resigned from the position, although she has to stay another month as the contract requires her to do so.
Santiago Rojas is a very famous and well-respected Alternative Medicine doctor who practices here in Bogotá. He has a nightly show on Caracol Radio, which is the most listened to radio station in the country. It also happens to be that he is a magician on top of being a doctor, professor, author, researcher, radio show host, and father. With a connection through my host mom, Pati, I have been trying to arrange a day where I could go and shadow him as I eventually want to practice Alternative Medicine. After more than 2 months of emailing back and forth with my contact, she was finally able to arrange a day for me to shadow Santiago (he does not like being called Dr. Rojas). Last Thursday, I was invited to spend the morning with him at his practice until 1pm. I was blown away by his clinic- it boasted 6 floors, that had state-of-the-art facilities for magnetic therapy, light therapy, visual therapy, music therapy, to name just a few. I have never seen a practice as big as this dedicated almost completely to Alternative Medicine.
Santiago is one of those larger than life characters who loves and respects everyone as much as they do him. He is incredibly brilliant, and genuine. He greets each patient with a hug and a kiss on the cheek or forehead. I have never seen a doctor, let alone an M.D. practice the way he does. The majority of the time he spends with patients is doing a form of energy therapy that he has developed. It may sound strange to some, and it was definitely unique to observe, but he has had consistent success with healing patients with some of life’s most threatening illnesses. I truly believe that energy is critical to our health and well-being, yet it is not tangible by science and is therefore neglected by standard Western Medicine. Thus, seeing Santiago practice was a major inspiration and source of hope for me.
On Thursday mornings, he hosts a study group with his co-workers where he lectures on different topics. This Thursday he spoke on magic for about five minutes and then without warning, put me on the spot to do an impromptu show. I had no forewarning, had nothing planned, but luckily being a magician; I had come prepared with a few things. I performed about 30 minutes of magic while talking about my philosophy on it. People received this with great enthusiasm which was comforting as I had completely winged it (completely in Spanish). After the study group, Santiago asked me if I was planning on staying with him for the whole day. I told him that I thought I was only invited until 1pm, but that I would enjoy staying longer if I could. He said he was excited to have me around and that I was more than welcome to stay. He continued to invite me to accompany him to the radio station for his show that evening. Before we went to the radio, he hosted another group which I later learned was a social activist group he heads with other socially motivated professionals. During this time, we spoke for about an hour and half about the difference between desires and dreams- the kind of conversation topic I love. Of course, he had me do another on-the-spot magic show. Again, I was touched by how well everyone had received the magic and what I shared. Then we were off to the radio station. Upon leaving the station, the radio program host invited me to return this Thursday, she said she wanted to interview me about my life and work with Magicians Without Borders. Little did I know what I was getting into when I left my house that morning. Santiago has invited me to attend his university classes for the remainder of my time here. My first class is this Tuesday (tomorrow) evening. I am also returning to shadow with him this Thursday morning. I am so honored and excited by his openness to share his time, wisdom, and knowledge with me.
As usual, it has been a crazy few weeks. So much has happened. Last week, I got to spend one full day performing with the leading magician in Colombia, Gustavo Lorgia while I spent another full day learning with the leading doctor in Colombia, Santiago Rojas. Magic and medicine are what I have decided to dedicate my life to and it has been incredible to spend time with the leaders of each of these fields.
Life is full of surprises. I believe that such surprises are not purely coincidental. It is important to be open, unafraid, and willing to pursue possible opportunities. The experiences and perspectives I gain from such opportunities literally open my eyes just as the graffiti tour opened my eyes to the incredible street art of Bogs.
After sending a text to Santiago thanking him for a great day and expressing admiration for his unique and caring way of healing, he responded to me with:
“No, thank you! We are all drops of water in the ocean. If we are connected by our conscience, we will form an ocean that brews life.”