Colombia, me encanta. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with the transition from constant travel to actually living in a country. No surprise, I love it. I have been in Colombia almost 2 months. My first two weeks of training were in a conference hotel outside of Bogotá. We were totally isolated, had all our (bad) meals in buffet style cafeteria and day long trainings. Needless to say it was great place to get to know the other volunteers but in the end we all had a wicked case of cabin fever. We did have one super fun night out, if you’re ever in the Bogotá area go to Chia and party at Carlos Andres del Rey – it’s like a magical fun house for adults with Christmas light decorations, themed rooms and endless dance floors. Everyone told how wonderful the Colombian people were and that place proved it. We got adopted into groups of friends and at once point an entire extended family. So sweet and such good dancers! Even with the fun nights we were all ready to leave “camp” by the end and head out our cities. Medellin – we’re coming for you!
I spent about 3 weeks in a hostel – The Wandering Paisa. They had these amazing hammocks and lots of activities throughout the week. Space was cramped but I really did enjoy it. That too was a good bonding experience for the volunteer group in Medellin. The bartender also created what is now my favorite drink – a Paisa Sour. Lime juice, orange juice and Aquadiente. It should be gross but it’s amazing. The program paid for the hostel but not our bar tabs… wasn’t pretty but it could have been worse.
Turns out House Hunters International is a huge tease. Apartment hunting abroad is not super fun. It was stressful but in the end I found an apartment I absolutely love for a price I can afford. I have my own room and two Colombiana roommates. They are cousins. Super nice girls and we only speak in Spanish! My Spanish has really improved. I realize how far I am from my goal to become fluent but how much better I have gotten on this trip. I do need to put a bit more effort in – study, practice, talk even more and really focus on my listening skills but I have been told I speak very well for a gringa. ;)
Last weekend was my birthday and I had an absolute blast. On Friday night Victoria (another volunteer) and I went to a Manu Chao concert. Manu Chao was amazing in concert – tons of energy, great staging and the crowd was super into it. The opener was amazing too, a band called Coffee Makers – youtube them, they’re amazing.
Getting into the concert was harder than you might expect. Here is the thing, Colombians love lines. They patiently wait in incredibly long, slow and unnecessary lines. As someone who may possibly be described as less than patient, I do not love lines. I hate them. So, we get to the concert about an hour or so early and the line is out of control. OUT. OF. CONTROL. I don’t know, two thousand plus people just standing in line? Ok, so get in line and then realize after 10 minutes it hasn’t budged an inch. No movement. Tranquila, no hay ningún problema. Relax, it’s fine. Nope, not fine. Awful. Luck will have it that Medellin is 2,100,000 people but actually a really small feeling city. We run into a friend, he offers to move us up the line with his friends. Cool, jumping the line – rude but I’m doing it. So we pass about 250 people. Great, but still there is no hope, we are going to miss this concert. Suddenly a kid looking about 13 years old tells us if we pay him 20,000COP about $8.50USD he will get all 5 of us to the front of the line. Do we trust him? No, but what the hell.. let’s do it. It worked! Within 10 minutes we were inside and had a great spot to watch the concert. I’ll take it.
Saturday was the real highlight. Colombia has Chivas – small, open air, pick-up/buses. They are still used in the smaller country pueblos but in the big cities they have been turned into party buses. Music blaring, disco lights, dance floor and a few benches to sit on a while going at full speed through the city. Hilarious. You are encouraged to drink as much as you want and drink we did. So many beers and so, so much – too much of the Colombia’s sugarcane liquor, Augadiente. That stuff will mess you up. So we danced, we drank, we fell over, we took blurry photos, we fell over some more. It was great. In the end there were 29 of us. The bus was packed so about half the people were standing. Our driver was crazy hence all the falling over but everyone had a great time, myself included. The bus took us to a few tourist destinations around the city. Mostly to miradors – areas with gorgeous views on the city with the lights on. To be a Colombiana you need to do three things: drink Aguadiente, party on a Chiva and use the word “pues” at least twice in every sentence. I have two fo the three down, just gotta work on the puesing and then I will be a local!
While I’m here I am working at SENA. SENA is the second biggest governmental organization in Colombia. It is free, technical/vocational training for all Colombians. I teach English to students studying Call Center (we are all still unclear on what exactly that means) and Logistics. My students have a basic level of English but we have a lot of fun. I always had lots of respect for teachers but wow – lesson planning sucks. I like the actual teaching part but the planning and especially since we have very little guidance about what to actually teach is hard! Classroom management is a bit of a challenge because my students talk all of class. That and look at their cell phones. The other challenge I have is that sarcasm really doesn’t translate, even if I say it correctly in Spanish they just don’t get it! I have become a bit a sweeter but sarcastic Sarah is still alive and well.
My students are incredibly sweet and loving though both with each other and with me. We had done days of the week/months of the year so we talked about birthdays. My actual birthday was on a Tuesday and they had forgotten. Halfway through my class one of them remembered and in a panic started singing Happy Birthday. The rest of the class joined in and then dug into their backpacks for any treats they had. Something I found difficult to adjust to – when someone gives you something, anything, you have to take it. I try to say no and they get so offended. So on my birthday I accepted 4 candy bars and my personal favorite – a yogurt. One student tried to give me 2 US dollars but I refused to accept that – gotta draw the line!
So far my best class moment – we were doing favorites. One of my students said his favorite food was dog. In Spanish there isn’t a different word for hot dog and dog. A perro is a perro. But a pet is a mascota. So I said, mascota? The student OHHHHHHHHHHHHH teacher! No! No! No! We all had a good laugh and now I doubt they will ever forgot the difference between dog and hotdog. That is the other thing they just call me teacher or teach. During any independent work it’s always Teach! Teacher! Teacher! Teacherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I have gotten really good at the 1 minute finger in the air or stare down response. Play to your strengths.
My time in Colombia is already going by too fast! There is lots to see and do while I am here. Plus I’m way behind on this blog so hopefully you will be hearing from me soon!