Monday, February 13

Hey! How was Colombia??

Since my return to The Land of Uncle Sam, my closest friends, acquaintances, baristas and bartenders have all been asking me the same question.

So, how was Colombia??

Good question.  I suppose.  I have even been recruited to speak to school children on the subject.  And so, I think it wise to clarify my thoughts first.  Today, I will begin with basic information.

Here is Colombia:

It's a South American country nearly two times as big as Texas.   The country is home to 46.4 million people--nearly 8 million of whom live in the capital city of Bogota. 

The country boasts a little bit of every climate; islands and beaches; warm, fertile land where they produce delicious coffee and other, more addicting and less socially acceptable plants; cold and mountainous regions (where Bogota averages 60 degrees Fahrenheit year round); and its own little bit of the Amazon rain forest. 

Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Colombia has struggled under guerrilla warfare for some fifty years, only recently seeing any decline in the number of kidnappings and homicides.  The countryside remains an uncertain place to be, given the presence of FARC and of drug traffickers.  Partially as a result of this fact, millions of ruralites have migrated into the capital city, a population explosion that has affected everything from city growth and stoplight street performers, to contamination and unseasonal, street-wrecking deluges. 

To come:
Colombian Food and Vegetation
Educational Practices and Family Culture
Tourist Attractions and Public Transportation

Shoot, ya'll.  If you have any requests on what I should talk about, leave me a comment and let me know.  Bearing in mind, I spent most of my time in Bogota and Boyaca.

Thursday, January 5

Is Anyone From Here?

Will there come a point at which "International" is the new standard?

I´ve spent the last three weeks in the UK, beginning with a brief and drizzly spin around London´s center, and finding me here in Leicester, markedly more relaxed, but equally as multi-cultural.  With a population of only 300,000 people, I somehow assumed that would be more concentratedly English people.  Perhaps this is due to the city´s two university--University of Leicester and DeMontfort University, and the draw they have, particularly for students learning English and those persuing Britain´s 1-year taught Master´s degrees. 

Or perhaps I have no idea to what factors this is due.

What I do know is this:
The Subway restaurants advertise Halal meat in a green peel and stick star in their windows; the public libraries have not just shelves, but walls, devoted to books in Hindi, and half of the daily newspapers also; and you literally cannot walk more than a single block without seeing a language school or cultural center.

To further illustrate my point, of the four caucasian men I spoke to on New Year´s Eve, the ones I stereotyped on first sight as British; one was German, one American, one Australian, and only one from right here in Leicester.  This might even be an optimistic ratio.  On the streets, people speak French, Farsi, Hindi, Chinese, a number of languages I don´t actually recognize, English that I sometimes don´t recognize either, and, at least if I´m there with my friends, Spanish. 

The question is, though, that if a small, albeit recognized and established, city in England is so heavily international...and small cities throughout the US sport more and more signs in, restaurants of, and people who are Spanish, Arabic, Korean, and every other ethnicity imaginable...will there come a point at which pockets of citizens who are native to an area become the rarity...become...obsolete?  Is this only happening in English speaking countries?  Seoul, Buenos Aires, and Bogota had their foreigners, but fewer, and farther between.  In fact, in Seoul, some of the people trace their bloodlines back to ancient kings or, like, the beginning of time. 

In any case, I am pondering how it must be to wear headscarves or have stores that only women may enter.  And feeling still here that my blue eyes are a bit out of place.  And wondering how it would be, some day, if nobody came from anywhere, exactly, and certainly not from here.

Monday, August 29

Before You Eat It

When they won't tell you what it is before you eat it, you know it's something a lot of people wouldn't want to eat.

This has happened to me with lung, tongue, brain, liver, intestine, and blood sausage.  If it weren't for the fact that ants and tiny dried fish look exactly like what they are, I'm sure people would have avoided identifying those for me as well.

Most recently, on a trip to buy the lovely bamboo shade (which turned out to be about the equivalent of simply tinting my bedroom window sepia and letting everyone see in anyway), my friend and I stopped for lunch at Condado.  The restaurant, open on the front with lawn chair sidewalk seating and a view of the striped umbrella on the avocado cart where we picked up our squash-sized avocado, offered the plato corriente that we were hankering after.  To order one of these lunches is to get sort of the plate of the day, which will come first with soup, ajiaco, and juice freshly squeezed from lulo or lemon if you're lucky, and then a plate of rice, beans, and meat, and maybe some vegetables or fried plantains. 

We passed the llaneros in their aprons and mustaches, adjusting the meat over their tented grills, and a grin spread across my friend's face.  "I want you to try something," he said. 

"Okay, what is it?" 

"Just something," he said. 

At the table, he began to tell me about the many different types of water-dwelling animals Colombia has, and I began to suspect I would be eating salamander, or perhaps alligator.  And I was thinking that salamander would be harder to swallow.  Figuratively. 

Some of these many species, he said, are sold on the black market for food, which lead me to believe that some are facing extinction.

"How did you know you could get the meat here?"  I asked. 

"I heard them talking when we came in," he said, tapping his ear, apparently the one that led him to his illicit discovery. 

When our plates arrived, I was relieved to see that the slabs of meat were big as milanesas, flat steaks.  I cut into it, and placed the warm flesh in my mouth.

It was salty.

About the texture of tender steak or perhaps pork, with crispy edges.

My friend watched me.

"Do you like it?"

I made sure to finish chewing and swallowed before I asked, "What is it?"

He took a bite.  "Have you ever heard of capybara?"

I nodded.  He nodded.

"You basically just ate a giant rat."

I nodded.  I checked in with my stomach.  All okay.  Checked in with my conscience.  Slightly queasy.  But it was already there on my plate.  I couldn't save what was already dead.

That night, we had the leftovers for dinner.

Giant Rodent