DEDICATION: “This story and performance are dedicated to the “Give Her Wings” campaign, an ongoing fundraiser to help save the Alas de Colibrí Foundation, a non-profit organization combating human trafficking in Ecuador. Since 2012, The Alas de Colibrí Foundation (ACF), or Hummingbird Wings Foundation has been working to support vulnerable populations through various human rights focused projects with an emphasis on human trafficking and human mobility. Alas de Colibrí’s protection house, known as El Nido (or The Nest) provides comprehensive care to survivors of sexual exploitation in a safe, temporary, group home setting in which young women can feel open and empowered to become active participants in protecting their own human rights. This safe home is one of only two aftercare homes in the entire country specifically prepared to support the healing of female, adolescent, survivors of sex slavery.”
I was standing in the elevator for what felt like five minutes. Combined with the actual five minutes I spent waiting on the mufucka, I probably should have just walked in retrospect. But, considering the two double jack and cokes I was fisting I didn’t feel like ascending the four flights of stairs to my room. To keep it real, I didn’t have much to complain about. I was enjoying a much-needed vacation with one of my absolute best friends. We had just returned from this amazing steak dinner, complimented by this spectacular Mendozan red, while being serenaded by the smooth sounds of Gustavo Cerati in the background. As I exited the elevator and rounded the corner to my room, all I wondered was, how much of one drink could I get down before needing to grab my keys out of my pocket.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to quit chugging as the door was propped open. Unfortunately, on the other side of the door I found my best friend laying on the floor, clutching her abdomen in agonizing pain, bleeding, having arguably the worse period of her life. How did I know this? Well, because I was now standing in the doorway, cup still to my lips, with this dumbass look plastered across my face as she screamed to me from the ground, “Coby, I am in agonizing pain, bleeding, having arguably the worse period of my life. I immediately made my way to her side setting down the filled drink. Rather than try and exert some false control over the situation, I simply asked, “B, do you want me to pick you up off the floor and place you in the bed. To which she replied, “Please, please, please don’t fucking touch me.” So, I didn’t. I am not sure why exactly I asked my follow up question but without hesitation I word vomit, “do you want me to get you a warm towel for your forehead?” B responded with perfect comedic timing might I add, “yes but bring me two, one for my forehead and one for my uterus. Cause that is what I need right now.” I didn’t laugh, and I didn’t wonder if I should or not, I just scurried off to the bathroom to get two lukewarm towels. I’d love to say my second question was, “hey do you have any tampons, Midol, or alternative forms of pain relief you would like me to get?” However, based on an earlier conversation at dinner, you remember the one with the beautiful bottle of Mendozan red, she explained to me, since moving to a new place her menstrual cycle had been particularly rough and despite knowing it was to begin soon she didn’t have any tampons, Midol, or alternative forms of relief. As I made my way from the bathroom, towels in hand, we both agreed we probably shouldn’t wait until the morning. Simultaneously we suggested I go downstairs and ask the young woman working at the front desk if she had anything that would help.
As I ran out of the room, somehow managing to grab my keys and drink in one file swoop, I darted pass the continent’s slowest elevator and down the four flights of stairs. When I got to the front desk, I was greeted with a concerned look. The woman behind the counter remarked, it reflected the look on my face. After explaining the ongoing situation, she broke my heart and told me she was unable to help. However, she informed me there was a pharmacy located close by, maybe a little under a half mile away, and it was supposedly twenty-four hours. I wanted to run up and tell my friend I would be just a little longer, but in a rush, I headed straight for the door, and as it closed behind me I was left with the words from the gentleman sitting at the front desk, “buenas noches señor.”
It was at this moment I froze on the sidewalk, chilled by the frosty July night, and reminded myself I was not on the Southside of Chicago, but rather the Southside of Buenos Aires, Argentina and I didn’t speak much Spanish at all. Sure, I could say “Hola,” “Te Amo,” or my personal favorite “mi Español es muy mal," which for my non-Spanish speakers roughly translates to, “my Spanish real fucked up.” Though I’d been in South America for a little over a week, walking the urban streets of Santiago, traversing the snow-covered mountains of Lujan De Cuyo, bicycling through Mendozan vineyards, this was the first time I was actually going out alone, and at night. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been but the one thing everyone and I mean everyone tells you from the moment you touch down is to not go out alone, especially at night. In many ways it was just like the Southside of Chicago. I resigned to little worry after replaying the last few days of my trip. Despite the rash of warnings I had received since arriving, I had experienced nothing but warmth and kindness from the various peeps across SA. Everyone I had encountered was more than willing to give directions or spend just an extra second assisting you with translation. The people had been amazing. So, I head out with my almost dead phone, shitty Spanish, and mission to procure some tampons, Midol, or alternative forms of pain relief.
When I finally arrived at la pharmacia I learned it was in fact not a 24-hour pharmacia. As I approached the glass, I could see the doors locked and chained up. At the counter the pharmacist was sitting behind the counter working on taking his ass home, I assumed. Right as I knocked on the window and caught his attention I realized I wasn’t prepared to even ask for what I needed. No, this wasn’t one of those I was nervous, shy or immature. Hell, I’d love to say its 2018 but its 2018. What I wasn’t prepared for was shouting through a glass and pantomiming on the sidewalk. But I gave it a shot. Excuse me, can you hear me, can you understand me. As he shooed me away, which I can’t blame him for, from his vantage point I probably looked off my rocker, I did my best to act out my current situation. “Hello, my friend, mi amiga, is back in our hostel and she is lying on the floor clutching her abdomen in agonizing pain, bleeding, having arguably the worse period of her life.” Attempt two: Hey, excuse me, my friend is back in our hostel and she is bleeding having arguably the worse period of her GD life. Don’t ask me how I know.” After a few more failed attempts I figured it was probably best if I didn’t keep screaming this at the top of my lungs in what looked like a drug fueled depression. Rather than continue making a scene on the sidewalk, I walked off into the darkness committed to retrieving these items.
Checking my soon to be dead phone, I hadn’t been out to long. I decided to try and retrace some steps from earlier in the day when B and I were out and about. The city looks a lot different at night. the colonial feel is omnipresent but when a greater metropolitan area of almost 14 million goes to sleep the absence is felt. It was only a couple more blocks out of the way when I walked into a small bodega. The man behind the counter didn’t speak a lick of English, I learned when I approached and explained "mi Español es muy mal" and he replied amusingly, “mis ingles es muy mal.” I decided to spare him the whole pantomime routine and searched around the small shop looking for anything that even resembled tampons or pain medication. At that moment the man gestured to a younger man standing on the street. His English wasn’t perfect, but it would do. So, I began, “my best friend is back in our hostile, she is laying on the ground clutching her abdomen, bleeding, the look of concern on his face was at a fever pitch, when I relayed she is having arguably the worse period of her…” and before I could say life his face had contorted, and the concern had given way to disgust. He began rapidly speaking in Spanish to the other individuals outside the bodega laughing and joking, making a bigger scene with every passing inflection. Confused as to how I ended up in the telenova version of my elementary school, and certain I wasn’t going to achieve anything being mocked on the sidewalk, I continued into the dark, phone dead, internal mapping further and further off course. At this point the worry for my friend and growing sense of doubt had begun to get the best of me. And right as I was preparing to wander aimlessly back in the potential direction of my hostel a whistle from behind caught my attention. As I turned I was greeted by a woman dressed in this small yet bright colored ensemble that somehow captured and reflected and every small source of light in a two-mile radius. Her English was easy to follow as she gestured towards me asking for a lighter. Of course, I had a lighter. As I handed her the lighter and passed on a perceived solicitation for a good evening she asked me with worry in her eyes if I was ok. What the hell, I had come to the end of my rope so I, in as vulnerable a voice I could muster, explained, “My night has been difficult, but it is nothing compared to my best friend who is back in our hostile alone, laying on the ground clutching her abdomen, bleeding, having arguably the worse period of her life. And I have been trying for the last forty minutes to find some tampons, Midol, or alternative form of pain relief.” To my surprise the woman took out her phone and gave me directions to a small mart that she said would have exactly what I was looking for. She also managed to give me directions back to my hostel. Thanking her profusely, I headed off back into the Argentinian winter.
When I arrived at the store, I was greeted by a kind older gentleman who too did not speak English. I began searching the store hopeful once again. Luckily as I scanned the hundreds of items shelved behind the counter I locked eyes on a box of coveted tampones. I did my best to point out the box on the shelf however the gentleman struggled to understand me over my terrible accent, exhausted breathing, and inebriated volume. At that moment he looked over my shoulder towards the outside of his store and began screaming, “la polica, policia.” And for the second time that evening I froze. Reminder I am from the south side of Chicago. When he began calling out for the police I was convinced I was absolutely fucked. Put yourself in my shoes. In that moment I was certain this police officer had been getting calls all night about some six-foot linebacker of a black man running around downtown panicked about a woman back at his hostel laying on his floor in agonizing pain, bleeding, having arguably the worse day of her life. As he approached, the words in my throat went blank as I searched for my disarming, mi Español es muy mal. I stood there completely silent, when he broke the tension and asked, "how is your night going sir?” Just wanting to get back to my friend as soon as possible I responded, “officer, Mr. officer, you see my night is rough, but it doesn’t even compare to my best friend who is now alone back at our hostel laying on the floor clutching her abdomen, bleeding, having arguably the worse period of her life. And I just need to find some tampons, Midol, or alternative forms of pain relief. The officer explained to the cashier what I was looking for and the gracious man gathered the items and rang me up. As the officer bid me a good night and walked off, I reached confidently in my pocket for my Debit Card and presented it. With a look of disappointment reminiscent to the young woman at front desk in that it cut across language barriers he signaled they were no longer accepting debit for the evening. Brokenhearted, I stood there with my card in my hand and dumbass look back on my face. As I slowly inched it back to my pocket, I lacked the words to ask for a favor or a test of faith.
I exited the market and poured onto the sidewalk discouraged and even more upset that I had left my friend alone, with no warning and now no ability to communicate back. Thanks to the woman from earlier I began heading back towards my hostel unable to sulk as I couldn't help but think of my friend who is probably adding worry to her symptoms. Putting some pep in my step, I arrived back at the front door of my hostel. Walking in, I was welcomed with a warm and slightly tipsy “buenas noches señor.” The woman at the front counter greeted me enthusiastically wondering if I had retrieved the items I left on my adventure for. Empty-handed, I sullenly responded, “no,” and quickly began recounting the up and down evening I had complete with a closed pharmacist, multiple sidewalk encounters and finally the poor luck of actually finding the items and holding them in my hands just long enough to disappointingly set them down and before I could finish she began reaching into her pocket and pulled out just enough pesos for me to purchase the items. Overwhelmed with gratitude, she was practically shoving the bills into my hand telling me to hurry up. I ran back out the door past the faint sounds of “buenas noches señor,” down the street, around the block, past the now closed pharmacy and opulent government buildings and ran back into the store paid for the items and darted back out the door to my hostel. When I get back, I beat the security officer to the punch, belting out, “buenas noches señor.” I don't stop my feet as I thank the young woman at the desk leaving trailed echoes of “gracias, gracias, gracias,” as I rounded the corner past the slowest elevator in South America and up the four flights of stairs to my hostel where I exhaustingly enter the room to find my friend in the exact same place I left her, on the floor clutching her abdomen in agonizing pain, bleeding, having arguably the worse period of her life.
I immediately made my way to her side, setting down the bag, and quieting the sound of my heavy breathing long enough to ask, "b would you like me to put you in the bed." To which she replied, "please, please, please, just lay here with me." So, I did. Then she asked me to tell her a story. Rather than recount the chaos of the evening I asked her if she remembered back in college when we were seniors and I came over to her apartment after my girlfriend and I broke up for a few minutes, and I laid on her floor crying and how she laid there with me. I asked her if she remembered a year earlier when I came over to her apartment and we laid on her floor and wondered out loud how we were going to fair with her moving to South America for a year. I asked if she remembered me telling her how much she meant to me as a friend; how proud I was of her for having the strength and courage to move to the other end of the continent to do meaningful work at a girls home. I told her that those weeks with her were amongst the best of my life. And for the first time that night, she gave me a smile. I looked at her and said, “te amo mi amiga.” She looked back at me, extending her hand and said, “te amo mi amigo.” Then she said something in Spanish I couldn’t quite understand but luckily, she translated. She said, “help me up off the ground now, I need to change my panties.”