Hey ya’ll, it’s summer!

I’ve kind of been denying the existence of summer because…I miss it. Convertible cruising, swimming in any available body of water, outdoor concerts, food and drink festivals, redneck adventures in Windham, sandals, dresses, beach picnics with the ShArbitmans, barbecues, WARMTH, baseball and so many outdoor activities just aren’t as easy to find in constantly-October/April Cundinmarca, Colombia.

Bogotá decided that these first two weeks of August are summer, and damned if the city isn’t going to celebrate summer right. August’s weather is markedly different in only one way – more wind. More wind can only mean one thing, right? More kites. Kites are best enjoyed alongside sports, typical food and concerts. Bring on the Festivales de Verano.

The Summer Festival is centered in Simón Bolívar park, a huge expanse in the middle of the city. In addition to kites for sale and flying all over the place, there are motorboats in the park’s pond-lake, sports games and exhibitions like BMX, wheelchair basketball, “swooping” (some kind of sky-diving act), roller hockey and group exercise activities. Oh and did I mention the rugby? There was rugby. Hours of sevens rugby that left me torn between ogling the players and yelling obscenities because really how are you gonna let that guy get by you like that? And I’m sorry when was the last time hugging someone around the shoulders brought him to the ground?

I love summer.

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What’s new?

  • Tabio turned 409 years old last weekend. There was a random, DJed reggaeton fest in the park on Saturday night (not so crowd-approp considering Tabs’ population is largely children and the elderly) and some other moderately interesting events throughout the weekend. Highlights included free cake for 2500 people and Oscar Lozano, the mayor, rolling up to the party in Tabio’s 409th birthday gift: a new garbage truck. Aaaand small-town Colombia remains fascinating.

    409 years young.

  • Are you serious, North Carolina? Can 61% of that state even read the Bible? (Sorry, Whitney.) Get over yourselves. I effing despise Twilight but I’m not trying to ban it. Ok, clearly I would rally if there were a vote, but Twilight is about a million times worse for the wellbeing of the American people than gay marriage. My point being this – if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one. BAM.
  • My friend Melissa is going to Nepal for two months. Crazy kids leaving the country these days. She’s the coolest. She’s writing about it here.
  • I have my first visitor officially locked in. Kasey Ciolfi and I once spent ten months coexisting in the same 10×12-foot space and somehow lived to talk about it (what we remember at least.) We haven’t been that geographically close for more than a few days since and I can’t wait for her trip in August.
  • Sometimes comfort food can do wonders. We found bagels in Bogotá. BAGELS.
  • The cat-to-human ratio in the Angel-Hernandez-Carey household just hit an all-time high and I’m really not pleased. The newest addition is an unnamed, deaf white cat with a ginormous head who Edith rescued and/or stole from a sad life elsewhere. We will not be friends until he gets fixed and stops MEOWWWWing at 5am and peeing on student posters waiting to be graded*. Even then I won’t stop wishing that the cats would turn into dogs. That’s right, Gunner Postemsky, I miss you!

*If you’re reading this, it wasn’t yours

“Teacher, have you read Harry Potter?”
Uh, yea duh. “Of course I’ve read Harry Potter!”
“Look, Sirius Black!” – Just when I think I can‘t love this kid any more. Please note that he said “read” and not “seen”. In Spanish, but whatever, I take what I can get.

What it lacks in extra-curricular activities, Tabio makes up for with mountains.

A Busqueda for Normalcy

For various reasons, my friends and I have pledged to have a normal weekend. Whatever that is. What’s normal for a handful of 20-something American volunteer English teachers on their two precious days and nights outside the classroom? What’s normal in any sense of the word here?

Teaching English abroad for ten months isn’t vacation. It’s a regular life, taking place in another country. Normalcy in Colombia, in Bogotá, in Tabio – that is, in Colombia, Bogotá and Tabio from my point of view – is in a million ways different and the same as normalcy from my point of view in the U.S. Life is still a constant bombardment of newness and differences but there’s a certain peace of mind in accepting a normal state of being.

Normalcy here is three types of carbs for every meal. It’s carrying hot sauce in my purse and snacking on fruit, bakery goods and ice cream. It’s drinking coffee all day just to fight off the “winter” chill, and bringing an umbrella everywhere. Bogotá rain doesn’t play nice. Learning to read clouds and dress for fifteen-degree differences.

It’s feeling like I’m a total boss at speaking Spanish one minute then getting shot down immediately as someone is wrinkling their nose and staring at me blank-faced. It’s the mental high from stretching my brain every day that I crave and hoard. Normal are personal questions from friends or strangers: “Did you vote for Obama? Do you believe in God? Do you have a boyfriend?”

Normalcy is cut-and-pasting lesson plans into the next day or week because a class was canceled or shortened, 40% homework completion, 50% student comprehension at best and always deep breaths after everything goes wrong. It’s a crying girl in at least one class a day – hopefully just one  – and 16-year old boys acting like any-year old boys in a way that makes me miss my roommates terribly. It’s sweet, clueless seventh graders, unmanageable eighth graders, obstinate ninth graders, mischievous tenth graders and indifferent eleventh graders, all maybe learning something? Maybe not?

Normalcy is putting on my Big City Face and flagging the BOGOTÁ/PORTAL 80 bus every weekend, road sodas and toothbrush in hand, so I can shake off the Tabio blues and feel young, social and cosmopolitan instead of stationary and alien. It’s gossip, plans, triumphs and complaints over Crepes & Waffles, arepas, coffee or drinks; exploring and acclimatizing; it’s never looking as good as the Colombian girls but having blond hair on our side…thanks, KB and Tasha.

My Tabio normalcy is never using the internet after 8 p.m., writing things down to Google later, paying $.60 USD an hour for painfully slow connections, power outages when I haven’t saved everything I just copied to read when I get home, and Skyping friends and family with strangers over my shoulder. Normal is not having cell phone minutes, answering calls from strange numbers and cheap phones failing to send or receive communication.

It’s laughing at misunderstandings and stifling little or large outrages, trying to maintain cultural mores and morals, running in shorts because it’s warm enough and I don’t care if I look incredibly American while doing so, and trying to fit in and adapt without compromising my identity. Normalcy is getting through each day in a foreign country knowing that it’s exactly what I need to be doing right now and what I want to be doing for a long time.

As for this weekend? Let’s hope for more backpack rum and less Hotel Cosmos, chicas.

Soup for Breakfast

Bogotanos, regardless of their feelings on living in the city, love to get out of the city. They conveniently have fincas (or relatives that have fincas) available to soak up some fresh air and simple living. Finca can mean a few different things: property, farm, ranch, and country home, essentially any piece of land with vegetation a car or bus ride away from Bogota. I went to the ranch kind, and I left with really strong feelings about this finca tradition.

I made my first live Colombian friend by cheating. I met my friend Katie while we were studying abroad in Ecuador with IES and she met her friend Christian when they were working at the same summer camp in California last year. Christian is from Bogota, so she Facebook-introduced us, and now he’s my friend. Being a generous and overall great person, he invited me to his cousin’s finca in the plains for the long weekend to celebrate his grandfather’s eightieth birthday with his family.

Saturday morning I woke up on a bus seven hours from Bogota (not a kidnapping recount.) The first thing I thought was, “There’s a lot of sky here.” Then, “Where are the mountains?!” I was in the llano, the plains region of Colombia called Casanare. It was hot and flat. It reminded me of inland Florida, but less humid, with palm trees and overgrown forests in between sprawling grass fields. Christian’s cousin picked us up in the town Aguazul to take us to the finca, and we drove for another hour on highway then dirt roads. Once we were out of town, there was nothing but grass, barbed wire fences, cows and trees, eight hours and a world away from Bogota. Colombians aren’t kidding when they say their landscapes are diverse.

Flat.

The finca consisted of a modest house, patio and outdoor amenities surrounded by big shady trees and fenced-in fields farther out. There were dogs, chickens, ducks and horses dispersed around the yard, sheds and gardens, hammocks and chairs where Christian’s parents, sisters, brothers in law, nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles were mingling over cold 8 am beers. Some had come from the city the day before and others arrived throughout the day from different parts of Casanare.

Drinking chicha with Christian's dad

Saturday was spent sitting in the shade drinking beers and chicha, a fermented corn concoction. Then there was the food. That morning, some uncles killed a cow and hacked it up for every kind of consumption. The birthday celebration lunch was as typically Colombian as it gets. The table outside was spread with banana leaves then dumped with mounds of fresh beef roasted on sticks around a fire, boiled potatoes and yucca, freshly made blood sausage (morcilla) and a huge pot of spicy guacamole. Utensils and plates were considered a waste of time as everyone sits around and enjoys what they want from the center (apparently my foreignness was deemed too soft for this approach as someone handed me a plate piled with food.)

We continued to eat every part of that cow throughout the weekend. Breakfasts were soups made with cow’s head, cow’s feet and cow intestines alongside tamales and morcilla. Every meal consisted of the roasted meat and it never stopped being delicious.

On Sunday, we lounged around until the morning rain stopped (beers in hand by 9) and walked half an hour to another aunt’s finca, during which I almost melted in the heat. Luckily the finca overlooked a beautiful river where we frolicked for hours – my initial plan of only putting my feet in was almost immediately foiled. There was a wooden canoe so naturally we loaded in, rode it down the current and sunk it over and over. Everyone was saying things like, “You probably never do this in the U.S.!” but I kept thinking that the weekend was hardly different from any given Postemsky-Johnson-Carey gathering, or swimming in the Shetucket River and the pond at home.

Christian’s cousins were pretty psyched to talk to me. I much needed the break from Tabio and teaching but “profesora de ingles” is a title that can’t be shaken on the weekend. Everyone wanted to talk to me about why I was in Colombia, what I liked about Colombia, and differences between Spanish and English. Some of the little kids loved showing off their English skills and some of the older ones wanted to learn new words. Ten year-old Eliana had her world blown over and over by the thought of another country and language – “Your parents don’t speak any Spanish?? You speak English ALL THE TIME? You listen to music in English? When you go to a restaurant, you speak in English?? You speak English better than you speak Spanish?” They were very entertaining.

What I loved about the fincas, and what I love about life off the beaten trail anywhere, is the practicality. Everything has a function and it’s candid and simple. Visitors sleep in hammocks because they’re easy to store and move. The shower is cold because there’s no need for hot water with the climate. Things are worn from the elements yet tidy and durable.

I met some of the most wonderful, welcoming people this weekend and went somewhere that I never would have found on my own. It was 100% Colombian  and unforgettable.