Hermit de Gomela

Colombia, travel

I can be terribly hermetic. I prefer to be alone, talking to my imaginary friends, munching on bread, petting cats, and reading books in bed. I’m not the type of person who needs to be surrounded by people. I usually feel overwhelmed and drained in social situations and have to prepare myself for human interaction. However, if I do have to interact with humans, my social pendulum swings to the other extreme – I go from hermit to manic socialite. Chatty Kathy, as Michael has dubbed my alter ego, emerges.

I can see fear start to develop in Michael’s eyes when Chatty Kathy awakens from her slumber. Because I don’t just hover in the middle of the pendulum of social interaction. I’m either a shut-in who goes to bed at 9pm on a Saturday or a hot mess who downs wine like water, chats up patrons at the bar, tries to flirt embarrassingly with the waiter, and makes besties in line to the loo. I get loud and bold and hyper.

The environment has everything to do with it. It’s the yeast to my dough. If the right combination is present, Chatty Kathy will rise. And most likely overflow and then be terribly hungover for the entirety of the next day. Because at 32 years old, I cannot shoot firewater after a fourth bottle of wine after a mojito.

What’s firewater you ask? Just what it sounds like. Something that burns going down and singes off your modesty. “Fire water” is the national spirit of Colombia: Aguardiente. It tastes overwhelmingly like black licorice because it’s made from anise. It’s disgusting. But a disgustingly effective ignition for Chatty Kathy.

When we were in Bogota in April, we went to a restaurant called Andres Carne de Res. With four levels that take approximately 1,300 reservations and have the capacity to entertain 4,000 diners, this place is massive. And a massively good time. The first level is the basement, appropriately called Inferno. Then comes Purgatory, followed by “Tierra” (Earth, where we dined), and ending with Heaven.

At Andres Carnes de Res, I started off with a mojito followed by a fourth bottle of red wine, which was accompanied by strawberries. How romantic! I learned how to toast my new friends by enthusiastically screaming “Salud, marica!” I decided I would toast everyone with this exclamation from now on. It sounded so friendly and easy to pronounce. I wasn’t attuned to the nuance of Colombian slang and so was dismayed to discover that when said to a friend, this proclamation meant “Cheers, buddy!” But to a stranger, it was an enthusiastic slur of “Cheers, fag!” So I had to quickly unlearn this one because God knows, it will be the only phrase I retain and use inappropriately.

A more appropriate word that I learned was “gomela”. Used to refer to a female who likes the finer things in life, it perfectly described booshie me and I was pleased to find a word I could use. Gomela Kasey!

Not only did I learn Colombian slang, but I tasted a fruit I had never tasted before in my life – ychuva. It’s a grape-sized, bright yellow citrus-like berry that tastes like an orange or clementine and smells like a mango. Strange and delicious.

Chatty Kathy was in her element now. My laughs got louder and my chattiness extended beyond our group of friends. I spotted our waiter and saw “German” written down the back of his apron. I thought, how multicultural! This must be the kind of place where the waiters declare which country they are from, much like on a cruise ship. Next time he approached our table I asked him what part of Germany he was from. In return, I got a confused look and a kind smile. Michael looked at me like I had grown two heads and asked me how drunk I was.

“Why? I’m not drunk. I just wanted to know where in Germany he was from unless he’s wearing someone else’s apron and he’s not from Germany?”

“Kasey, that’s his name. His name is German, pronounced Herman.”

“Oh.”

By this time, the music had been turned up and was thumping from the loudspeakers. Diners on all levels started to get up from their tables to dance. We were treated to samba from Brazil, traditional Colombian music called cumbia, and champeta, Colombian reggaton. Chatty Kathy danced to it all. With no rhythm to speak of, I swiveled my hips and shook my arms and enjoyed the hedonistic happiness of it all. When a song came on that everyone started to sing along to, I asked what it was. It was by a band called Systema Solar and the song was “El Boton del Pantalon”. The buttons of the pants? I asked for clarification. It’s a song about hard times when you can’t even afford a belt so you better tighten your buttons. Gomela, it was not. But I was happy to be there, undulating to the pulsing music, Chatty Kathy in all of her glory.

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