A Thousand Little Changes
Read about Annie Forman’s transformation into a true Colombian after five months with WorldTeach Colombia! How long do you think it will take this seasoned traveler to adjust to hot water once she returns to the States?
The dust has finally settled at the end of semester numero uno. I have turned in all my final grades and end of semester reports, gone to all the faculty meetings, and completed all of the necessary paperwork. I’m just teaching my small class of adults (university faculty and administrators) for one hour every day for the next couple of weeks, then I’ll be 100% on vacation! I’m so excited for my parents and my friend Desi to visit and to travel to some different cities. But for now I don’t mind at all going in to work for just an hour or so every day because I love this class so much. If you stopped by my class, you’d be sure to hear my students enthusiastically throwing around their favorite phrases that I have taught them, including but not limited to: “___ is not my cup of tea,” “Are you sure?” “___ is picking on me!” and “Yuck!!” They are so eager to learn from me and I can’t believe how much progress they’ve made this semester, it’s a beautiful thing. I know most of them are about twice my age, but I feel like such a proud mama with this group!
In other news, as crazy as it seems to me, I’m about at the halfway mark of my contract with WorldTeach! After living in Colombia for over 5 months now, I’ve realized that I’ve completely accepted as normal a lot of the little things in my daily life here that are done differently in the US, and it’s my old habits in the US that now seem foreign. How absurd it now seems that in the US when I took a shower, I used to turn the water on and let it run for a few minutes while I waited for it to heat up. Water is viewed here as it should be – a precious, costly resource that should be conserved, so I now consider it incredibly wasteful and expensive to just let water run. Also in Colombia, who knows if the water is ever going to warm up at all, so you might as well start right away in the cold water. Also, how odd that I used to expect to be able to get a seat every time I boarded a bus in the US. If I miraculously get a seat on the insanely crowded buses in Bogotá it is the highlight of my day! On that note, how weird that I used to use any mode of transportation other than the bus. I wonder if I still remember how to drive a car? I also used to think it was normal to buy yogurt, vegetables and bread at the same time at the same store in the US, now it seems much more reasonable to make three separate stops to get the best quality and prices for the previous list of food: a supermarket, a fruit/vegetable store and a bread store. I’ve also internalized the costs of things here. In my neighborhood it costs about $1.50 to get a pair of pants dry cleaned and a haircut costs about $5, that’s normal right? And I should be able to eat a good, big meal for $3, anything more than $10 is just unnecessarily expensive. I think I might be paralyzed with an unwillingness to spend money when I return to the US because everything will seem so outrageously expensive. It also now seems normal to consider my hair blonde, especially since I am referred to as mona (blonde girl) on a regular basis. And I can no longer even imagine a world where you would flush the toilet paper instead of putting it in the garbage can.
I’ve also been thinking about the lovely little things that I enjoy about daily life in Colombia: the group of serious old men that plays chess near my gym, the way people give up their seats for old people and mamas with babies on the crowded buses, the way that old people and mamas with babies stand over reluctant youths on the bus and stare at them until they give up their seats, little kids running around together in their perfectly matching school uniforms, the man who sells fish out of the back of his truck filled with ice super early in the morning near my university while playing salsa music, the girls who ride on the handlebars of their boyfriends’ bikes, likewise puppies who ride majestically on the handlebars of their owners’ bikes, women in 6-inch heels running to catch a bus like it’s no big deal, the friendly other professors who try to teach me Colombian sayings and body language, playing clapping games and making funny faces with my little host sister Vicky, the way all the motherly figures in the English department fuss over me when I have a sunburn, the view of the Andes mountains, the piles of exotic fruit in the fruterías that I’ve never seen before, the way my host family changes into their pajamas immediately once they get home from work, and on and on. Colombia and I are friends.
Another thing that I enjoy is the level of patriotism on the days when the national Colombian soccer team has a game, which is equal to or greater than the 4th of July in the USA. On game days everyone and their mother is wearing a yellow Colombia jersey, including but not limited to the majority of the students as well as the other professors at my university, the weathered looking woman who sells eggs on the corner by my bus stop, dogs (matching their owners), the old man who dry cleans my work pants, and my 1 ½ year old host sister (her jersey goes down past her knees). I bet that if you looked at South America from space on game days, Colombia would have a yellowish hue. And when it’s game time, every single Colombian finds a TV and crowds around it, and no matter where you are you, you can hear and feel the huge roar of excitement every time Colombia scores a goal. I also read in the newspaper that alcohol sales in Colombia always increase by a minimum of 30% on game days. I’m not surprised.
I can hardly believe that I’m already halfway through my year with WorldTeach. I also can’t believe that as of today, an entire year has passed since I graduated from college! Unbelievable. When I was 13, I did an assignment for health class where we had to plan out the rest of our lives, and I rediscovered that little gem when I cleaned out my childhood room at my parents’ house last summer. I’m not quite on the track that I predicted for myself a decade ago, since at that point I was still two years away from starting to study Spanish and five years away from falling in love with the language and the cultures of Latin America and at least seven years away from even starting to think about chasing my dreams down to South America. I do still plan on saving the world by 2025, though, as well as traveling into outer space on vacation (with or without the help of NASA!) and raising wildly successful children with my dream man. I think if I did that assignment again today I would be just as clueless about what the future holds for me, but for now I’d say I’m content with the direction that my life is going. I love Colombia and I love my work here and I love/hate the adventure/uncertainty of trying to decide what I’ll do next. I’ll keep you posted.
– Annie Forman, WorldTeach Colombia 2013