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Published: February 18th 2017
My first two weeks in Colombia were amazing: I got to see quite a bit of the diverse landscape and make some fantastic memories with some great people. However, it was not representative of how the rest of my time in Colombia will go. For the next 10 months, I will be a volunteer teaching English at a government sponsored institution called SENA (Servicio National Aprendizaje). The program has many similarities to the community college system in the United States and can best be equated to a trade school. It is a post primary educational program -- meaning that most of my students will be between 18-30 years old. When I originally applied to the program back in May (2016) I put my preferred city of placement as Pereira, a middle-sized city in the coffee region of Colombia. Haven chosen a more obscure placement city as my first choose I was fairly confident that the program would place me there. However, I was mistaken. When I finally got my long-awaited placement city email last week I was disappointed to see Girón. I had never heard of the city, seen it on a map or come across it on during my extensive
View of Medellin
research on Colombia.
The disappoint soon changed to excitement though because of the countless advantages of the city (or rather the larger city next to it Bucaramanga where I will be living). Like Medellin the climate is constantly perfect year-round, it is situated on a mountain and surrounded by loads of outdoor activities (like one of the biggest canyons is South America); unlike Medellin it is virtually untouched by gringos (people like me) so I won’t be tempted me to surround myself with English speakers. My main reason for coming to Colombia is to better my Spanish so the placement actually makes great sense. The only downside to Buca is that it is pretty far away from other main cities and the flights are expensive… at least by Colombian standards. So, if I want to head up to the coast for the weekend it looks like I will be taking the 12-hour overnight bus.
So enough with my future plans…
The past two weeks have been incredibly relaxing for me. My daily routine has been waking up to a hot breakfast of eggs with diced onions and tomatoes, rice and arepa with cheese. For those who don’t
Getting serenading during breakfast ft. Palomo
know what an arepa is – an arepa is like a hard pita made with cornmeal and Colombians don’t eat a meal without one. After thanking Inés and Ángela for another wonderful breakfast, I would head directly for the leather chair with my e-book in hand. I would pass the morning reading and occasionally helping with chores around the house or the farm. Lunch would then be served; a combination of some meat, rice and vegetables with a potato soup and of course an arepa or two. The afternoon was always open to improvisation: sometimes I would go with Jaime to a job site or deliver some produce to a small fruit shop or go with Jaime’s cousins to their band practice or explore the city or just stay in my chair on the front porch reading.
On the weekends, some of Jaime’s cousins and I would go hiking and Sunday morning from 6:00 to 8:00 play soccer. The hikes usually ended with a spectacular view of the city except for the time that we wandered off the trail and ended up treading through some pretty thick jungle. We never reached the top but after a few hours I
Sancocho: Typical Lunch
was happy to be turning around to get out of the mosquito swarm following me. The Sunday morning game was surprisingly intense considering the time of day. I introduced myself to the team but they must have heard gringo instead of Niko (Colombian people don’t do so well with Nik) because that’s all they called me. Gringo this, gringo that, good gringo, bad gringo, ball gringo.
Another break from the daily routine of doing nothing was our day excursion to Guatapé, a cute little town an hour and half west of Medellin. The fjord like lake that surrounds it serves as a respite for the wealthier Paisas (people from Medellin and its department Antioquia). The main attractions for tourists like myself are: a massive rock has an impressive view from the top and a cute little town that is very colorful (tourists are pretty easy to please). The view from the top of the massive stone was impressive but what was disappointing was that nowhere along the 750-stair staircase was there a plaque explaining how the massive rock ended came to be. It literally looks like a meteorite that instead of making a crater just stuck into the earth.
Dinner with mini-me arepa
I’m still looking for an adequate explanation for how it got there… even Wikipedia doesn’t know.
After ascending the rock, we headed to the town which is known as the village of zócalas, which are colorful paintings on the side of houses. The most exciting part of the walking through the village was keeping up with Jaime’s dad as he followed tours we weren’t apart of, randomly talked to strangers and tested my Spanish listening skills as he continually told people that I was in Colombia wife hunting. But I think I caught him every time he tried to pull that one and quickly let the unsuspecting strangers in on the truth.
That has probably been the hardest part about being in Colombia – not being able to fully express myself and not being able to fully understand everything. Some Colombians speak so quickly that it’s a miracle that native speakers can understand them let alone me! I often find myself trying to look attentive and adding an affirmative injection like sí every few moments because asking them to repeat themselves “one more time but more slowly” usually results in the same sentence being repeated at the mind-blowing
speed. However, the method of affirming everything that I don’t understand has gotten me into some interesting situations especially when I agree to plans unknowingly. My Spanish is definitely improving though but speaking English is still like a breath of fresh air.
My time in Medellin is coming to end as I fly to Bogotá Sunday morning to begin the 14 days of training before I start teaching (10 days in Bogotá, 4 in Girón). The slow tempo of life the last 2 weeks is starting to make me a little restless so I am really ready for a change in pace. Training will be 8-6 everyday so a change in pace it will be.
Thank you all for reading and keeping up with me!
Expect another post next week
P.s. I got my visa today so I am officially not just a tourist 😊
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