I may not smile frequently, but when I do there’s an exhibition of gnashers that, were they slightly longer, more protruding and indeed visible, would not be dissimilar to those sported by Eleanor Roosevelt. Fortunately, I too underwent a ubiquitous period of orthodontic treatment in my teens and was spared the abuse of possessing a jawline containing what are routinely referred to as “English Teeth”. So imagine my surprise when I was coerced into receiving dental treatments here in Bogota and was, just a few minutes after entering, crowded over by an orthodontist, a surgical dentist and an oral rehabilitation specialist.
The word “chronic” was used on far too many occasions by all parties.
There is a click in my jaw, the gums need work, there are some cavities but what provoked a description as “chronic” was related to none of the aforementioned conditions. No, apparently I had and have been grinding and chomping my teeth chronically in my sleep. So much so that I am now going to have to wear a bite guard each and every night for the rest of my life. I can only imagine this romance killing device as better resembling the mouth guard that I had to use in my school days as a rugby player.
So be it.
A conversation struck up between myself and the rehabilitation specialist as he took casts of my bite, and in-between discussions surrounding the elegance and the beauty of Kate Beckinsale’s smile (I suppose some people make references to English footballers, others to writers, those in the dental industry presumably to an English actress famed for her perfect teeth and smile), I was able to edge in a question to find out how long he suspected that I had been grinding my teeth so ferociously. Presumably this would be something he could put a number on.
The answer, when it came, shocked me.
Seven to eight years. Given that I arrived to live in Colombia February 2007 it doesn’t take a double first in Maths to work out when this all began.
I would assume that the grinding has increased in recent years with more stress involved in running my hotel in Mompos, the Casa Amarilla, from afar. I suppose that the added pressure of being a permanent freelancer (aside from 12 days read this: A return to freelance!) and wondering from whence would arrive the next pay-cheque and offer of both gainful and significant work. And of course, presumably the period pre, during and post the arrival of my son have ramped up stress levels too. Only, this stress is not manifested externally it seems. It is only on display for dental experts alone.
Dare I suggest that such physical distress has been brought about by the pace of life, starting a family and running a business in Colombia?
It’s indisputable that life is hard here in Colombia. Earnings are scarcely enough to cover living expenses and the tricky nature of doing business (paperwork, formal and informal) take their toll on your patience and are often so time consuming that you want for nothing more than to throw your hands up in despair and damn the whole process.
But, I’ll wager that my pangs of anguish have come after the midway period of my tenure in Colombia. Why? Principally, I think because my knowledge and understanding of Colombia has increased to such levels that I can no longer ignore certain socio political issues in the country. I recently co-edited and contributed two stories to a non fiction anthology entitled: “Was Gabo an Irishman? Tales from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Colombia” and in which I submitted a piece about the relevance and routineness of conversations about the actions of the paramilitaries in the country. Paramilitaries, Bacrims, Rastrojos, Urabenos, and Clan Usaga…call them what you will in their most recent bastard evolution. At a book reading the other night, I admitted that this was the first time that I had ever written anything of this nature, drawing light on a very real and still very common occurrence.
So, I think that not only having studied political science here in Colombia, having covered a great deal of the contemporary problems as a foreign correspondent, having completed the first draft of my novel: “The Mompos Project,” having worked on “Was Gabo an Irishman,” I can safely say that there have been two distinct periods to my time in Colombia. There’s the first half during which I was far more in tune with travel and cultural reporting and willing to push politics to one side preferring other topics and now, this new period where, as a resident, a tax paying citizen and someone who cares profoundly for his adopted homeland, I can no longer stand by idly as a damaged elite and a morally bankrupt society continue as if nothing is afoot.
As I pick up my draft of “The Mompos Project” this coming week and start the painful editing process, it’s with these thoughts in mind that I will make any changes. Although, given the severity of some of the issues addressed, I may have to be seated at my desk with my newly delivered mouth guard in place for fear of provoking some serious tooth attrition. Better to have Eleanor Roosevelt’s teeth than those belonging to a long-term user of amphetamines, don’t you think?