Observations and Realities

I’ve been in Bogota almost three weeks.  I’m beginning to feel less like a tourist and more like…what the heck do I feel like?  I’m not sure.  I think it’s the next phase that may come and go, or linger for a long time as I try to assimilate into daily life here.

IMG_9682Stopped on my bicycle at an intersection behind one of the thousands of motorcycles in this city.

 

The excitement about newness and the thrill and challenge of getting to know the city is pretty constant, which is fun.  But I am also experiencing many frustrations about lack of info, understanding, and efficiency.  Everything seems to take longer than it should.  At least, according to my “fit-in-as-much-as-possible” lifestyle.  So maybe there are some lessons to be learned (I’m sure of it), but right now I mostly just feel frustrated and like time gets wasted on fill-in-the-blank every day.  One of my greatest challenges is getting around.  My preference is to walk; I feel most in control that way.  If it pours rain, I can dash inside somewhere.  If I get lost, I can backtrack easily.  On foot I am slow enough to take in my surroundings and begin to piece together parts of the city so as to create a mental map and not feel so lost all the time.  But walking takes a lot of time.  The meeting place of one of my students is well over an hour walk from my apartment.  I need to learn the bus system; right now it really intimidates me.  Taxis and Ubers are prevalent, but to utilize them regularly adds up quickly.  I feel like this is one of the greatest “brain fitness” activities one could ever do:  transplant to a huge new city and be assigned to 6 clients who live or work in all different places and then have to put the puzzle together.  With a timer going.

This city is very bike-friendly; every Sunday many main streets are closed for "Ciclovia". The entire city has an extensive network of bike lanes and paths.  I'm trying to find them and piece them together - for recreation and for practical transportation!

This city is very bike-friendly; every Sunday many main streets are closed for “Ciclovia”. The entire city has an extensive network of bike lanes and paths. I’m trying to find them and piece them together – for recreation and for practical transportation!

 

Over the first couple weeks, there was the “grace-period” of having to set up new things:  paperwork, IDs, bank account, etc.  All of these processes take time and you have to do them no matter how much time they take.  To me, these time-suck things feel acceptable because they are foundational and mandatory.  It almost feels like a free pass to “waste time” – meaning, if I have to spend 4 hours waiting in the Office of Migracion, then so be it.  I bring a book and don’t worry about it.  But after many of the basics have now been taken care of, I’m feeling the pressure to be more productive… But what am I producing?  Lesson plans for my English clients, studying Spanish for my own classes…but really, how urgent are these things, moment-to-moment?  I am recognizing my addiction to productivity.

In opposition to this angst about accomplishing things, the simplicity of my life here and the lack of access to many things and comforts I’m used to is actually a blessing.  Well, and a challenge.  For instance, laundry is a task in and of itself that produced such a feeling of happiness and accomplishment in me the other day.  It never used to cross my mind as something to celebrate in any way.  I am also getting used to sink-washing the small items, simplified outfits and accessories, and curly hair.  I’m often not bothering to use a hair-dryer due to time, effort, and the humidity here that basically renders my hair-straightening efforts useless anyway.

A rainy walk to meet a student; say goodbye to straight hair!

A rainy walk to meet a student; say goodbye to straight hair!

 

Between the challenges, I am finding joy in simplicity, and also in random things I observe.  For instance, Monday March 26 I passed by a young Colombian woman and her boyfriend as I was walking to meet an English client.  The woman was standing on a bench holding her umbrella high up over her head and singing – I caught it as I walked by – a song from the Little Mermaid.  It was so cute.  She spoke Spanish but yet was singing this child’s song in English.  She was delighting herself and her boyfriend.  And she had a great voice!  I couldn’t help but smile and I wanted to applaud but refrained, leaving them in apparent privacy to continue their movie scene.

Then there was the poster of “Eat More Bread”.  I had to take a photo.  Laughing, I thought of it as an anti-gluten-free ad that one would never see in the land of “eat less everything-except-kale-and-craft-beer” of Boulder County, Colorado.

IMG_9910 2This poster says “Eat More Bread” and “Good energy is made with wheat”.

 

I find myself having to push back feelings of entitlement that I didn’t realize I had, and a strange resentment that nags at times.   ”My college education and hard work for this?”  Traipsing around in the rain, navigating on foot or my borrowed clunky bike through heavy traffic, sweaty and unattractive, hoping and doubting the English lesson I’ve planned for the advanced-speaker client will be sufficient.. I could have stayed in my comfortable life and the role at work I knew I was good at.  And I knew exactly how to get to work and back without getting lost or almost hit by a bus.

However, those unwelcome feelings are followed by gratitude that I actually had a choice to come here and do this.  I see people working on the street here -  some are literally in the street, trying to get attention with tricks, selling fruit and candy that probably no one buys, unsolicitedly washing the back window of a car to then ask for a few coins as payment… The other evening, my driver calmly rolled down his window one inch and gave the window-washer some money, for which the man politely said thank you and walked off.  The empathy and understanding for one another, a shared understanding of the daily grind- the daily fight (lucha) – is palpable here.  It humbles me, and over time will be the cure for entitled feelings.

This street-art was one example in the Graffiti Tour I took that depicted the life of street vendors.  Many families need their kids to work; this shows a small child selling pineapple.

This street-art was one example in the Graffiti Tour I took that depicted the life of street vendors. Many families need their kids to work; this shows a small child selling pineapple.

 

I now have two English clients for a total of 5 classes/appointments per week, and next week I will be adding two more clients (8 more classes), and the week after that I will add three more classes.  So any worries about getting enough clients have been squelched!  The pay is minimal, but I didn’t come here to build up my 401K, so I’m just thankful to have work – purpose and the opportunity to meet motivated individuals who want to improve their lives through language.  My role as an English teacher here is to meet with students 1:1 or in small groups.  The students are adults and professionals of all kinds.  I am working with an economist for JP Morgan, a Director of Innovation for Avianca airline, a financial planner with Lewis Energy, and a newly-married couple (I forget their professions..) whose goal is to move to New Zealand in a year so they are motivated to improve their English in order to assimilate into life there better. I am so inspired by these people, and I can relate to them.  We are all just trying to do our best in this life and make new opportunities for ourselves.  It’s truly a privilege to get to work with them on their goals for the next 6 months.

 

IMG_9928 My motivated student was one of the multiple-authors of this book (not originally written in English). She’s also a fiction-writer, mother of two children under 5 years old, and holds a high position at her job.  WOW

 

I also began my own Spanish classes at the Spanish World Institute  language center, and in this I can relate so much to what my students are experiencing as they strive and struggle to learn another language as an adult.  I’m just taking a two-week course and was a bit dismayed to find out after taking the entry-test  the first day that I come out as a “high beginner” Spanish speaker.  (Wah-waah:  disappointed tone). Hopefully some review will boost my level quickly, and then living here surrounded by the language will make a big difference too.

One of my two Spanish teachers, Jessica.  Young, bright, and very patient!

One of my two Spanish teachers, Jessica. Young, bright, and very patient!

 

I have two instructors and both are young, and very smart.  The other day I had a very interesting “conversation” (that’s in quotes because it was mostly him speaking, me nodding and throwing in a few questions or single-words that a 6-year-old might perhaps utter in a conversation such as this).  Andreas is a 24-yr-old Venezuelan who attended university in Colombia.  He’s well-educated and perceptive, and we began talking about paradigms and culture-centered-thinking, about waste and how most things in the US are seen as disposable.  He had a summer job as a camp counselor in Alabama a couple summers ago.  It was eye-opening to hear him talk about the food waste in particular.  He was aghast when he saw all the leftovers from people’s plates being thrown into the garbage, saying that where he came from that would be unfathomable.  He said he gained about gained about 12 pounds over 2 months because he couldn’t let food be tossed out so he would eat it all, his and others’!

There are a dozen more little observances, questions, ponderings, and experiences I’d like to share with you but I realize you probably have other things to do!  Thanks for reading.  Maybe these observations spark a question or two in you:  What is important to you right now?  How do you view your life, your habits, your “entitlements”; and what big and small things bring you joy?  Perhaps a Disney song, or enjoying a generous slice of bread will do it for you today.

IMG_9906 2

 

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