I haven’t done as much writing as I would have liked to during my time in Bogotá. I only have a week and a half left, and it looks like most of the writing I will be doing is lesson planning. Ryan and I will also be doing some writing for the application to work at El Camino Academy next year and an application or two to a sending mission. Please pray that God will continue to guide us in this decision.
My friend Rachel is here in Bogotá, and I appreciate her presence so much. She’s been someone I can talk to in any language that I want about anything I have on my mind, and we’ve enjoyed exploring Bogotá together during the time that we’re not at our workplaces or researching future workplaces. Since she’s taken the time to write a description of her time in Bogotá and since her description sums up some of my own experiences here, I’ll post it here:
In case, no one has any clue what country I’m in (like my brother who claimed he did not know, although he did guess correctly)… I’m in Colombia. I don’t know where to start to describe Colombia so I’ll try to begin chronologically.
To enter and get my sixty day visa I had to convince the immigration official that it really was not suspicious that I was traveling alone. Colombia began for me by arriving late at night, having to scrap the sleep in the airport plan since it closed at night, and being very grateful to be able to find a good place to stay with the help of a friend I traveled with from Panama. But morning dawned quite bright, so they say, but here it dawned literally with really brilliant tropical sunshine. I walked out onto the streets of Cartagena, Colombia to find a colorful, vibrant, historic walled city filled with life. I climbed the ramparts and looked out to the aqua sea, wandered in circles in the narrow colonial streets searching for comfortable shaded plazas, which gave temporary relief to the searing sunshine, and tried cheese filled arepas and cheap fresh tropical smoothies of the best kinds.
I then ran into some frustration while searching for a bus to Bogota as even bus ticket prices are actually bargainable here. I got one great low price with what I thought were some clever tactics and with secretly gathered price advice from a nearby shopkeeper, only to find that I’d actually gotten the ticket seller down to the price reserved for those with bus company connections and well… his superiors didn’t let that pass. However another company gave me a good price and the front seat for the 18 hour ride that turned into 25 hours, which I’ve learned to expect. The two bus driver fellahs decided to become tour guides for the odd tourist girl on the bus and bought me lunch, pointed out the towns and landmarks along the way, offered me a cell phone to call with, and stopped and picked a taxi to send me off in that they deemed to have a trustworthy driver upon arrival in Bogota, which was nice Along the way we passed over high mountain passes, stopped in major towns, and drove through vast spaces of arid rural land.
I arrived at the comfortable apartment of the director of a bilingual Christian school and was taken in for the next few days and relaxed in a safe, loving place. I spent the next couple of days meeting people and then more people at the bilingual school and became a sort of curiosity among the staff, who are mostly recently graduated teachers, for my wild travel story of seeing Latin America. I was invited to attend the teacher get together after school and met many welcoming, kind people and we even had a campfire with smores to top it all off. After that introduction to Bogota, I moved into the home of a couple who are long-term teachers at the school. A Colombian family, a couple and a cute little toddler, live in the house as well. I cook up all sorts of semi-Colombian concoctions for my meals. I’ll probably have to try to describe food later because it is quite rich in variety and in new things to try.
Fundacion Internacional Maranata: Hogar de Paz (the place I’ve been working during the day):
Every afternoon for five hours I work at an afterschool program for the “hidden poor,” children that are above government support because they are not on the street but who still are in need of extra nutrition, support, and supervision after school. This is just one part of the foundation, which also organizes Christian concerts, speakers, and other events in Bogota and in all of Colombia. I help Cindy, who organizes all of the Hogar de Paz details. Fifteen children- mostly 7 and 8 yr olds, a couple of 5 and 6 yr olds, and a 10 yr old burst through the doors every day. We feed them lunch, ranging from hot dogs Bogota style with pineapple jam, spaghetti that doesn’t taste like any I’ve ever had before, soup, rice and beans, lentils, plantains, and juice made from lulo, mora, lime, or mango. We sing songs, play games, help with homework, attempt some English lessons, and try to prevent serious injuries. We had two lost teeth in one day, however from natural causes. The kids are unruly, energetic, and quite the challenge but they are normal, untraumatized children unlike those in Honduras and it is such a relief and a joy to see. Unlike the Honduran children, these kids have the incredible wealth of parents who care to leave them with hugs and pick them up with kisses every day.
They are quite entertaining at times. One eight year old with the most typical Colombian face and big brown eyes, the one who tries hard to behave but falls under the influence of some other more ornery types, stared up at me yesterday and finally asked, “Teacher how do you grow so much?” Needless to say, I’m quite tall here. Last week we had a birthday celebration for one newly turned six year old. Colombians actually sing the birthday song in English with the best accents and then add on a little Spanish tag. One little girl could not finish her English homework of a “word search within letters” at home because her “abuelita” (grandmother) did not speak English (she genuinely thought English was necessary to finish the homework).
Four little boys are soccer terrors who play with abandon despite repeated warnings not to break the windows or injure the little girls (again). They have taken to beginning their soccer matches in the undignified courtyard surrounded by pink walls and white gates with a stirring rendition of the national anthem. With mischievous smiles revealing gaping holes where their front teeth are missing, they place their filthy hands across their hearts and begin to sing with gusto all in a line. The jumbled tune is inevitably broken with characteristic childish distraction when the keeper of the ball can no longer let it just sit there waiting to be kicked. But for ten seconds those four are quite the show and a picture of the solemn importance of soccer in Colombia.
They leave every day sporadically in ones and twos, stopping to give the traditional goodbye of a little kiss on the cheek, if they are not too distracted, to “la profe”- Cindy and “la teacher”- Rachel.
Bogota in general:
Bogota is big, big, big. Nine million people cram into the very organized network of streets in the capital city of Colombia. At 2,650 meters above sea level, Bogota sits on a high plateau where a comfortable clime of eternal spring reigns supreme and is broken only by occasional downpours and the chilly nights. The sun is brilliantly bright with the combination of the altitude and proximity to the equator. The city is organized along a green mountain range that rises to the south and provides both a landmark in the vastness of concrete and brick and a glimpse of the beauty of the hills surrounding the city. Bogota is a safe haven from the countryside and the waves of guerrilla violence. The city has grown to fill the view from the horizon even from the high mountains. Within this very modern city, the streets are filled with men and women wearing more suits than I have seen since Washington D.C. Mass transit, in the form of the transmilenio, is my way to get to work and to explore, crowded as it may be at times; my foot actually got caught under the operating door yesterday we were packed in so tightly- ouch! The transmilenio is like an above ground subway using non-automated buses in their own special lanes. But Bogota can not be explored in a month! Sometimes a horse drawn cart can be seen clopping down a main thoroughfare hawking used appliances, but somehow even this almost fits in as Bogota is varied and lively. The heart of the life of the city can be found in the huge central plazas filled with vendors selling juice, fruit, shirts, cell phone calls, ice cream, stockings, pirated DVDs, and a random assortment of distractions that almost make me dizzy. There are government office areas to explore, with a very colorful changing of the flag ceremony at the president’s house, historic neighborhoods with narrow streets, museums of gold, history, and art, and streets lined with vendors organized according to category, be it the leather jacket neighborhood or the blender barrio. How else would you find what you need in a city this big? There are truly huge malls, an enormous park I’ve yet to explore, and seemingly endless streets to wander.
Bogota has some interesting ways of managing traffic and streets. Pico y Placa is a system by which all cars are given certain days they can not be on the road each week based on their license number. Last Thursday was the one day of the year where no one is allowed to drive a car, so mass transit was crowded. Some of the main roads are even half converted into massive bike lanes on Sundays.
Colombia is an overwhelmingly rich country in numerous ways and Bogota is the center of it all.
My neighbor and outings:
Rebecca is my neighbor. She’s a fifteen minute walk away, living at the home of a wonderful Colombian family who are incredibly welcoming and generous. Having such an excellent friend for a neighbor means we get to go for walks around the neighborhood, explore on the weekends, and have cooking parties to attempt Colombian cuisine. We’ve wandered to a large central fruit and meat market, eaten the traditional plate of food filled with a variety of typical dishes (prepared in a restaurant run by a very friendly family), watched the guanabana juice man I was about to buy juice from be hauled off by the police- a little disconcerting, wandered the museum of paintings of obese people, and talked for hours. Awww, how sweet it is to have such a neighbor!
Cindy, the girl I help at the foundation, invited Rebecca and I to spend a Sunday afternoon with her family last week. So we climbed up over the mountain and out of the city to the Bogota Sunday afternoon eat and drive circuit in La Calera. Bogotans drive a bit crazy so it was a good ride through traffic and up the mountain to the beat of the Beatles hour. (We actually drove back on a winding two lane road turned into a big one lane road and as traffic wove in and out I learned a little what Nascar might be like…) We stuffed ourselves while sitting on rustic wooden stumps outside in the fresh air from a finger food plate of fried yucca, arepa, beef, chicken, baby potatoes, and a type of chorizo. Then we moved on for desert and more conversation with Cindy’s parents, little sister, older brother, and a cousin. I was refreshed and humbled by their generosity and invitation! I also spent last Friday with the family munching on popcorn and watching my first movie in a very long time.
The pregnant girls home (where I work in the mornings):
Last week I started work at a home where 37 girls between the ages of 11 and 18, who are either pregnant or have little babies, are given a home, occupational training, school, and specific training related to their difficult backgrounds to train them to be good mothers. They are housed in a hospital/prison like tall narrow cement building, complete with white walls, in one of the worst areas of Bogota. A side note is that I actually drank my first cup of coffee ever in this building. I figured that in the middle of the capital city of Colombia, which is a global coffee capital itself, might be the appropriate place to give in and swallow the stuff.
I arrived for my first morning and was let in by staff I had not met yet. Even after explaining that I didn’t have a program to present to all the girls, they were gathered for me to teach an English lesson to on the spot. My attempts at working on “Good morning” and “How are you?” melted into teaching them a kids game with number counting and hand slapping that I was endlessly annoyed by in the orphanage in Honduras. (That random game I hated in Honduras is actually unheard of here and has become a lifesaver as I became the bearer of an exciting new game at the children’s foundation and I’ve even converted it into an English numbers teaching game.) However “class” here devolved further into popcorn questions fired at me in slurred Spanish about the U.S ranging from: “What part of Colombia is the United States?” to “Why do you know how to speak English?” to more sophisticated questions about what the four seasons are like.
Next I was sent to the crib room where the mothers leave their babies scattered across the floor while they eat lunch. With one or two other people I attempted to prevent any serious injuries from occurring in the tiny room filled with twenty-five rolling, crawling, and toddling babies. And we were successful…at least life is always interesting here! Yesterday I was left with twenty babies by myself for forty minutes and again was successful by my generous measure.
Play dough day and Monserrate:
Yesterday was a play dough day. After all the madness I relaxed and even built a small play dough land with Alejo, the neatest fourth grade son of the family Rebecca lives with. I began walking home quite relaxed and then turned the final corner to my normally quiet street to find a woman crying into her cell phone hysterically and then I heard the pulsating beat of La Macarena pouring out of the house across the street from mine. The song then proceeded to melt into a medley of tutti fruitti, rock around the clock, surfer music, you ain’t nothin but a hound dog, and the tequila song before reverting to Latin pop and salsa. Ahh, Saturday night in Colombia.
I attended mass this morning in an unorthodox service in the cathedral at the top of Monserrate, the mountain I look up to every morning on my way to work. The cathedral is reached by either a pulley train or a MacGyver style cable car and the view from the top is excellent. Rebecca, Jaime (another student teacher), Sara (a German girl we connected with in a very random way), and I wandered downtown today. There are always new things to see. In later explorations on my own I even discovered an active student protest in front of the bull ring and saw a very intimidating water cannon truck at the ready and watched a very talented street performing Colombian Michael Jackson.
I’ve got a week left in Bogota and then I’m moving on to Ecuador and traveling for a while. I’ll just conclude that it’s never really quite dull here and I’m enjoying myself after adjusting to being in a big city!
Thank you, Rachel!