An office of a different color

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Working from the beach is still work.

Summer:

Barranquilla – Bogotá, Villa de Leyva weekend getaway with Natalie, surgically attach myself to Jess in order to run a 3-week orientation in Bogotá, burn my lungs with altitude and pollution trying to stay in shape, visit my favorite bartender, visit my favorite Usaquén artists, spend four mornings at a freezing cold school in the deep south of Bogotá’s hills with the sweetest 11th graders of all time, send 6 volunteers off to the Coffee Region, visit the Most Wonderful People On Earth at my former school in Tabio, get insulted and complimented by tenth graders, run a midservice conference in Fusagasugá (repeat, Fu-sa-ga-su-GÁ), return to coast briefly to do laundry and get chastised by my rugby family for being gone so long and for losing my accent, run another midservice conference in Cartagena, exercise my Polite Angry Spanish for an hour on the phone with a hostel owner, toast micheladas to The Best Summer Ever on Playa Blanca, mototaxi/tuk tuk/ferry/bus/taxi from Barú to Cartagena, surgically detach myself from Jess, return to Barranquilla. Realize we haven’t had a day off since June.

And that’s just the first half.

 

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Here’s to The Best Summer Ever.

 

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Sh** Colombians Say, Part 9: Se pega el accento

*Warning: contains explicit language….in Spanish, so only The Bilingual need to cover their ears (eyes?)

Whilst in Bogotá last month I heard a disgruntled cachaco say “malparido” in the street and my heart absolutely ached for the coast, as my first thought was, “Uush, tan grosero!” and secondly I realized he pronounced every single sound: “mal-par-ee-do.” Osea, I was away from Barranquilla too long. Closer to the ocean, the MP word isn’t okay per se, but it’s certainly not going to turn heads the way it does in the Andes – as long as you drop the “l” and the “d” to make it proper, obviously.

The Colombian coast and its particular Spanish is not meant for everyone, certainly not the fainthearted, but it’s darn catchy and there is no better accent with which to curse someone out, whether joking or serious. While I certainly understand why the intensity and frequency of vulgarities doesn’t hold universal, to me it simply sums up the costeño attitude: laidback enough to know that it’s all in good humor and we’re going to share a bottle of guaro whether or not I honestly think you’re a jueputa. Of course there’s polite society here as well – just because my nickname in certain social circles is Gringa ¿?%*#!@$ doesn’t mean I don’t know when to turn on the filter. This is how we assimilate, kids.

Bulla describes the general state of being in Barranquilla: loud. Bulla is noise; ruckus; uncontrolled chaotic volume. Anyone who has had the privilege of Skyping me from my apartment has experienced the constant roar of buses, honking, hawking, shouting, barking, yes-that’s-a-horse-cart all undermined by champeta or vallenato filling the awkward lulls. Costeños and all their daily activities have one volume and it is not quiet. “Bulla” might be the cheers at Estadio Metropolitano when our beloved Selección is playing, the side effects of a traffic jam or maybe it’s the soundtrack to a good night on the town. No matter the form, bulla is ever-present on the coast.

Corroncho – this is a fun word to say so it was very important that I understood the meaning and usage as soon as possible. Essentially it means something ordinary in the negative sense – low class, trashy, poor-mannered.  Corroncho is when everyone is cooking something at my house and someone sticks their finger in the pot (so, my father on Thanksgiving and always), it’s putting dirty shoes on the bed, even using vulgar language in front of someone with higher moral standing. I’ve heard people from elsewhere in Colombia refer to all costeños as “los corronchos” which is totally not ok – just because it’s not an outwardly classy, polite society doesn’t mean there’s not a distinct and complex set of social norms and accepted behaviors to be observed.  Sometimes, in addition to being a Gringa MP, I am a Gringa Corroncha.

Mamar gallo – it’s not specific to the coast, but it might as well be for its crass literal translation and frequency of use. To mamar gallo is to joke, mess around, waste time. It’s not taking things seriously because let’s face it, it’s 99 degrees outside and life’s short.

 

Side note: Towards the end of June I was spending every free moment of my life with my Colombian friends, resulting in amazing, fluid  Spanish skillz and a sometimes embarrassing costeño accent. A month in Bogotá running gringo-laden conferences later, within five minutes of catching up with a dear friend here it was, “Wow Bri, your Spanish is shit!” As if I needed another reason to stay.

The Best of Bogotá

After three months (!!!) in the heat and sabor of Barranquilla, it was recently time for a trip back to the capital city’s familiar overcast chaos.

Bogotá seemed bigger and almost more threatening upon my return. I forgot how massively the city stretches under the mountains, how 50 blocks is an average distance to travel, how the pollution sticks in your throat and nostrils while the altitude sucks at your your lungs and skin. I forgot how nice it was to look at mountains and to be a little anonymous for a while.

Don’t let outside information fool you – the Best of Bogotá does not include Montserrate, the Museo del Oro or even ajiaco (this time!). What truly makes for an excellent Bogotá trip:

Wearing long sleeves. Friday through Monday held deceitfully pleasant weather in Bogotá but I was still able to enjoy the sensation of fabric comfortably covering my legs AND arms at the same time without drowning in sweat. I wore jeans because they are temperature appropriate, not because everyone else was doing it. At night I even had the luxury of snuggling up in a HOODED SWEATSHIRT. With a kitten. Pure snuggly bliss.

Cancerberos Rugby. The girls on this team are some of the funniest and most genuine people I’ve ever met. I have a lot to thank them for, including introducing me to my current rugby family that is responsible for at least 80% of my general happiness in Barranquilla. Thus, spending a few hours catching up this weekend was much needed and left me remembering how wonderful my friends are around the world.

Usaquén Market. I certainly didn’t need to make any Usaquén purchases but I went anyway and was overjoyed to catch up with some of my favorite vendors there. After a few months of occasional Sunday visits last year many of the artists grew to know my friends and I as the English teachers living in Bogotá and always had a few minutes for friendly chatting. And making change as we regularly supported their livelihoods. This time, all were asking me about my life on the coast, my mom and the amigas back in the states. And making change.

My Spanish is…better? Three separate Colombian acquaintances told me that my Spanish is faster, more clear and generally improved since I last saw them in December or January. As I spend most of my days struggling with the speech here on the coast, this was a nice thing to hear. A new Cancerberos girl even went as far as to ask, “Wait, where are you from?!? I thought you were a foreigner but you talk with a costeño accent…” SUCK IT, MEAN COAST FRIENDS.

The Changing of the Directors. My Coke-slugging, president-sassing Field Director got called to Africa but rather than abandon me with a stranger, I get to work with an equally incredible member of the 2012 volunteer family. Equal parts happy and sad, as the best things in life tend to be.

A Visit to Tabio. My former host family is as lovely as always. The cobblestones are prettier when I am not trying to run on them. I gleefully accosted an embarrassed “tenth” grader. I ate dessert. I was not very disappointed that the 2013 volunteer was heading to school on Monday morning instead of me.

Colombia being Colombia. This is not at all specific to Bogotá, but on my way back from Tabio the bus found itself in a really tight spot between a parked car on one side and oncoming traffic with some construction in the mix. The driver slowly and flawlessly squeaked by the car (with literally two inches to spare) then got a grin and a thumbs up from an old man in a ruana watching from the sidewalk. I may have been the only one who truly appreciated it, or at least the only one who laughed out loud.

Maybe the best part about a weekend in Bogotá?
Coming home to Barranquilla. Being reminded that I’ve created a new phase of life and niche for myself here and in spite of differences, difficulties and distance, I like it.  Funny how that happens.

Starstruck

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Gang’s all here – WT Colombia 2013 Volunteers and President Juan Manuel Santos

I saludar-ed the president.

Yea, the president of the Republic of Colombia.

Juan Manuel Santos himself granted me a genuine, arm-grasping, cheek-kissing Colombian greeting. In person! I touched a Latin American president, you guys! Can you even begin to understand how exciting that is?

Perks of my new job thus far: A 3-person room instead of 6 at our orientation center. Teaching people who actually listen. 19 days of home cooked meals. Kissing presidents.

Ok, so a lot of Colombians don’t approve of their prez and they couldn’t care less – wrong crowd for my head-swelling. Whatever. I met the president. IT WAS REALLY COOL. It was also heavily based on publicity – Santos’ ratings are low so hearty educational face time can’t hurt, nor can an ambitious pledge to support 200 volunteer English teachers next year.

(Anyone want to teach English in Colombia next year? Seriously. Inquire within.)

Basically, our partner organization has some connections and got us a tour of the palace (normal) and about a 40-minute private encounter with the president (special.) Our smiling foreign faces showed up in the news (old hat for some of us) and the volunteers had a real glimpse of just how important and unique the WT program is in Colombia.

Needless to say, I really like my job.

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You can’t tell from this pic, but our faces touched.
(Photo credit Gina Parody Facebook page)

http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/27633-santos-promises-to-strengthen-bilingualism-in-colombia.html

Deja vu? Or something like that, only way different.

December 31, 2012. A year ago, I was saying goodbye to some of my oldest friends in Washington, DC just a few days before I would leave for a year in Colombia. I was slightly apprehensive but mostly just antsy and ready for my next “adventure.”

(Are they still adventures if they’re totally recurring and last up to 365 days? Is banging my head against a whiteboard because no one wants to learn the present perfect tense an adventure? Is working 40-hr weeks plus 2-3 hours a day of lesson planning and grading? I know, like, paragliding and climbing mountains counts, but it’s not like I was doing that ALL the time.)

Now, I’m sitting in a friend’s borrowed apartment in the capital city of 8 million people where I can go…certainly not everywhere, but a lot of places, confidently and securely. Half the things surrounding me seem to be remnants of life in Colombia: a stack of unused index cards, a receipt from my new cedula application, a few stray pesos, my Restrepo leather jacket and an alpaca blanket from Ecuador draped over my shoulders.

Upon coming to Colombia, really just upon applying to WorldTeach last August, I had no idea or expectation where it would take me. I wanted to get back to Latin America – I craved the chaos, the challenge and the vibrance. I wanted to give a hand at teaching, because I’ve always loved school, so maybe I would love being on the other side. Hey, it’s not like I had a clearer life plan in mind. I knew I would make friends and travel…but I couldn’t have hoped for better friends or more incredible travel experiences. I came for cultural immersion, and managed to create a home for myself without sacrificing the experience or my own background. I kinda learned to teach, and I learned that while it’s fun, it’s not my career. I had to work really, really hard at it, and felt like the efforts were sucking my energy and never yielded a satisfying enough result. I loved my year, and I’m so glad I did it. I gained so many skills and experiences and I really loved my students. Just, no more teaching. For now.

Like I mentioned a few months back, after a short time here, I wanted to stay in Colombia. I was comfortable without being bored, I knew enough but had plenty left to learn and to see, I had met people but didn’t know them as well as I wanted to. I wasn’t done here, and there was no reason for me to be done – no job or schooling to go back to, no relationship or mortgage.

Then, the seasonless skies opened up and the absolute perfect job for my background, passions, skills and current life situation appeared. And now, it’s mine. In two days, 43 new WorldTeach volunteer teachers are touching down at El Dorado’s sparkly new international terminal, where I’ll be meeting them as a member of the Field Staff. Logistics, counseling, liaising, problem-solving and support are my new best friends and I could not be more content with the challenge of the year ahead.

Sadly, Bogotá is not part of my new employment package. I had envisioned myself living here another year in the perfect Chapinero apartment with Natalie and colorful floor mats and Raquirá ceramics and potluck dinners. Instead, I’m relocating to the loud, vivid, oppressively hot Caribbean coast to oversee our volunteers based in Barranquilla and Isla Baru. What’s another change of address at this point, anyway?

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Wishing the world the best in 2013.

Sh** Colombians Say, Part 7

I miss you already, accent-less rolos.

Mona

Many people with basic Spanish knowledge will tell you that “mono” means monkey. They’re right…everywhere else. In Colombia, mono or mona is used to describe a person with light skin, hair and eyes. The line at which “mono” is drawn is subtle and confusing. I’ve asked about two nearly-identically colored people – light brown hair, really, with maybe hazel or gold eyes – and one is mono, the other is not. It’s not a negative term in the least, just a describing word for people who stand out of the crowd a bit in the sea of brown hair and brown eyes.

When one forgets the quirkiness of Colombian Spanish, one might tell my host mom in Ecuador that her parents were also monos, causing some innocent confusion. Ibis was not expecting Kate to reply that her parents were monkeys, too.

Vaina

Vaina is a wonderfully useful term meaning…thing. It’s usually more of an abstract thing than a concrete one, but works in almost all situations. The word is hard to explain because it just naturally fits into conversation and language whenever you need a word and can’t narrow it down. It can be an object, but more likely a situation, a problem, a matter, a dilemma, a pickle…

“I don’t have time for those vainas.” “I don’t know what to do with this vaina.” “Oh dear, what a terrible vaina.” “Can you help me with this vaina?” “I’m not getting involved with those vainas.” “So the vaina is this…”

Parce, marica, huevon

The 12-25+ crowd, in any country, loves their informal monikers. We have “dude” and “bro,” the British and Australians have “mate” and Canadians probably have something that I don’t even know about. The Colombian versions are slightly more inappropriate and informal but ever more prominent in conversation. “Marica” and “huevon” are more vulgar in nature, translating, in fact, to things that I would never say in polite company. However, if your Colombian pal says “Hey, marica, where are you?” he’s just playing cool. “Huevon” is more like an insulting endearment, “Uy no, huevon” being along the lines of “No way, dumbass.”

After a few hours with my rugby team or other Colombians my age, I have to actively stop myself from using these terms. You might not know that I am, indeed, college educated and somewhat worldly by listening to some of my conversations with friends, but I’m not about to slip and say it to a coworker or student. It’s funny how language acquisition works – it’s one thing to have the words, and another to internally absorb the appropriate (or inappropriate) context. Thus, even when everyone I’m talking to is dropping “parces” every breath, I really try not to start.