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Showing posts from 2012

Giving Gracias

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are the top ten things I am thankful for while living in Cartagena…

10. Skin Cancer- Even though my skin is turning into leather and white spots are forming on my skin, I still love the happiness and energy the sun gives me. 

9. My Students- Despite their erratic work ethic, they always have a smile on their faces and never complain if I forget something or have to cancel class. 

8.The Ex-Pats- There is a good group of Peace Corps Volunteers, language teachers, and FBI´s most wanted that create a lively, intellectual and not- so- wholesome atmosphere. 

7. The Lunch Ladies – Every day, I eat lunch at the university and barely indicate what I want to eat. They know that I am laying off the rice and beef soup, prefer lentils to beans and to forget the fish on Fridays.  

6. Personal Body Guards-  Outside my house there are some great men that I know would help me in an emergency or robbery. They are the doormen of my building, self-employed parking lot atten…

All I Ever Wanted to Be Was A Peace Corps Volunteer: Dedicated to Margarita Sorock

Everyone, Colombian and American, always asks me if I like Cartagena and how long am I going to stay. It seems surprising to both sides that I like it here. When the heat mixes with sewer gases and I have just finished fighting with a taxi driver, I find it surprising too. But then, a few minutes later, when I see the Caribbean and its fishermen straight out of Hemingway´s Old Man and the Sea, floating along a wall the Spanish built 300 years ago, I remember why I am here. However, it is not because of the beauty of the city or sea. Beauty does not replace family, friends, or culture. It does not hide crime, poverty, or corruption.  I am here because all I have ever wanted to be is a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Magarita Sorock, a volunteer in Colombia in the 1960s and current resident of Cartagena, stated this at a party. Her audience was current and former PCVs, a motley crew drinking beers and talking about American politics and the conditions of the schools they worked in; a scenario tha…

Patience Will Drive You Nuts

Cartagena has taught me that patience is cultural. What drives me crazy as an American doesn’t seem to make Cartageneros blink. What makes them restless is completely normal to me.  As I patiently wait in line, the locals are pushing and yelling unless there is an armed guard. If there is a red light or a very short traffic jam, drivers and passengers are beeping their horns and insulting anyone within earshot. At a corner store, if I don’t speak up and push a grandmother out the way to pay, she will do it to me. When it comes to food, traffic and money, it’s survival of the fittest. Waiting is for the weak. 

As lines make Cartageneros crazy, waiting in any and every other way drives me up the wall, across the ceiling, and back down the other wall. However, I never show it. I would never have any Colombian friends if I did. One day, I waited for 2.5 hours in front of supermarket waiting for each member of the group to show up. No one seemed to mind. Waiting for friends and family is no…

No English. No Service. No Customers.

As I was walking in the historic center of Cartagena, I found a frantic woman asking me if I spoke English and if I could help her find her hotel. She was an American about 60 years old, completely baffled by the confusing colonial streets. She said she approached several police officers and vendors, but no one spoke English so she really started to panic. Eventually, we found her little hotel. Her family was waiting for her with very grateful looks on their worried faces. They wanted to give me money and take me out to dinner for my troubles. I refused, but it got me thinking of why this situation even occurred.

It was the fact that English has not been taught to the people. Cartagena's developers want the city to become an international destination. They are from the larger more metropolitan cities, Bogota and Medellin, and have smoothed talked international investors.  There are already beautiful boutique hotels and excellent restaurants. Shopping is improving. Currently, the I…

10 New Twists on the Old

One of the benefits of living in foreign country is that you find new twists on what you already know and do. Here are some that I have picked up and hopefully, you´ll try them too:

1. Instead of just putting a lime in your Corona, why not add lime and some salt to all of your favorite beers?
2. Try slicing some unripened mango and adding it to your salad. It goes great with a vinagrette.
3. "Eat like a king at breakfast, a prince for lunch, and a pauper for dinner." This Colombian saying may have  lose some weight and sleep better.
4.  Call your friends and family just to say "hello" and ask them how they are. You don't need to have a good reason to use those minutes.
5. In addition, say "hello" to everyone you come into contact with on a daily basis, ask how them how they are and then... actually listen to the answer.
6. Sit outside and talk with your neighbors. You might really like them.
7. Invite people of all age groups to social events. Grandma…

A New Twist - Kommunity Karaoke

I love to sing and put on a show. I have dreamed of being a rock star since, my brothers and I air-guitared to Van Halen in our childhood basement. I can carry a tune, but I am not America's next Idol. I am more like a clueless contestant from the blooper reel. In college, my friends and I would go to a blue collar bar called the Karaoke Kid, where we watched people believe they were stars; singing Fleetwood Mac while escaping their 9 to 5's. Most of them were horrible, but after a few beers, a few gems would gleem. Since, then I have also been a Karaoke Kid, paying $2 a pop for the poor audience to listen to me.

Last weekend, I discovered a solution to the sad sight and sound of horrible Idol auditions. I like to call it Kommunity Karaoke. It wasat a bar called  El baul de los recuerdos (The Trunk of Memories) in the Las Gaviotas neighborhood of Cartagena. There are two big screens and the bar tender  simply projects videos from YouTube. He chooses Latin classics and songs b…

The Silver Lining - Tragedy Sparks Development

During lunch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I heard two very tragic stories that come from the happiest, hardworking, and generous people I know. The first story came from my cleaning lady. She works 6 days a week at the high school where I taught and then comes to my house on Sundays. One day, as we were eating lunch, she began to talk about her hometown of 500 people in the mountains of Santa Marta. As a child she worked in the fields, but had to leave due to FARC and paramilitary forces. They overran her town killing her brother in the process. He didn’t want to give up his land and animals so they shot him. As she was telling her story, a friend who was visiting nodded her head with compassion as tears welled up in her eyes. She told the story of a fellow colleague of a private bilingual school in Valledupar. They taught kindergarten together until one day her friend was kidnapped by the FARC. For three years, her young students asked when their favorite teacher was coming back.…

Getsemani- Jesus Did Not Enter This Garden

In Spanish when people don't have cultura it means they have bad manners and are ignorant. There are times when I don't know why I walk down the streets of cultureless Getsemani, a run down zone of Cartagena. It is full of whore houses and small time drug dealers. The streets are poorly lit. Many bulidings are crumbling and have trees growing out of them. There is often a pungent smell of black mold caused by heat, humidity, and neglect. Despite these unpleasantries,  I go there all the time to see free movies and concerts or have bite to eat with friends. It has the best live Salsa bar in the city. I'm always intrigued by how I can walk by a whore house where men are openly choosing their women as I am thinking about what movie I am going to go see or if I want to sit at a restaurant or just scarf down an empanada on the corner. How can these two universes co-exist? Not sure but, maybe Getsemani is not in the process of gentrification, but culturafication.
Read  what the…

Not Your Average Commute

I have just finished my first week of work at the University of San Buenaventura. Everyone tells me the commute will get old pretty quickly. I live in downtown and my school is a straight shot, inland about 7.5 miles (12 km) away. That sounds like a great commute to me. Let´s look at my options for modes of transportation and consider the roads:

Car -  I love driving, have no fear of crazy drivers and don't get aggravated during traffic jams. A used car sounds perfect but, getting a driver's license, registering the car, buying insurance and gas, and figuring out where to get it fixed without getting jipped sounds like a very expensive pain in the rear.

Bus - I could take the bus which costs 80 cents, but takes an 1 hr and 15 min. The streets are congested and narrow, especially in the market area. Buses twist and turn in the residential neighborhoods stopping at every corner while dodging motorcycles, horse carts, and children, if they are lucky. They are creating a new bus …