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

Tuesday, August 23

La Catedral de Sal (a cathedral made of salt...)

Far away, in the foothills of Colombia, in a pretty Spanish town called Zipaquirá, lies a hidden cathedral --  Catedral de Sal.  This cathedral was constructed within a salt mine in the mid 1900's.  If you press your tongue against the wall, like a kid dared to the frozen flagpole, the smooth grey stone tastes of salt.  In fact, it is salt.

Other interesting facts desde mis ojos azules:

- The tour of the cathedral was really a run through the stations of the cross, each of which had a salt-carved cross at varying heights, depths, and distances from various precipices.

- It looked like they called in the tech department from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to do the lighting effects.

- In the forties, people toured the mine/cathedral in their automobiles.  These days, they've perfected their circular ventilation design with occasional draft vents, and prohibited things like smoking and, ahem, driving your vehicle inside the mountain.

- The singing from a mass once held in the underground cathedral is rumored to have been heard out to the coast.

-You can have your picture taken in front of a giant purple altar, and then printed on a slab of salt!  Or a t-shirt.  Whichever you prefer.

And finally, to end the day, a kindly gentleman with a yellow-umbrella-ed cart will prepare for you, from twenty years' experience, an oblea con todo.  This is, a waffle wafer the size of an outstretched hand, slathered with: arequipe (dulce de leche/caramel), leche condensada (sweet and condensed milk), crumbled parmesan, y mora (blackberry jelly).  It looks somewhat like the following photograph (I still have not replaced my stolen camera):

Monday, August 22

School Drills...en caso de emergencia...

En mis clases en los EEUU, los estudiantes practicaron esconder de ataques de malintencionados con armas, como lo que pasó mas infamosamente en Colombine.  Miramos películas de instrucción, y después tuvimos simulacros de cuando sonó el alarma, los profesores cerrían las puertas y las cortinas, apagaban las luces, y todos agachaban, silenciados, en el lado más oscuro y más lejano de los portales de entrada.

El domingo, leí en el periódico Bogotano, El Tiempo, que estudiantes acá tambien aprenden a protegerse de ataques. Ataques de las Farc.  Había una foto de ellos, debajo de las mesitas, igual a los estudiantes mios practicando tranquilitos a callarse para salvar a sus vidas.

Cuando yo era niña, hicimos files en los pasillos, cabezas a la pared, cubridas por nuestros brazos.  Pero, solo esperabamos el tornado ocasional... 


In my classes in the U.S., students practiced hiding from malicious attackers with weapons, as happened most infamously at Columbine. We watched instructional videos, and then we drilled when the alarm rang; teachers closed doors and curtains, turned out the lights, and everyone ducked, silenced, in the darkest and farthest corner from the entrance.

On Sunday, I read in a Bogota newspaper, El Tiempo, that students here also learn to protect themselves from attacks. FARC attacks. There was a picture of them under the tables, like my students before, practicing calmly the silence that might save their lives.

When I was little, we lined up in the hallways, heads to the wall, covered by our arms. But we were only expecting the odd tornado ...

Wednesday, August 17

Los Colores de la Montaña

(Por favor, disculpen los errores.)

Avergonzadamente, antes de que llegué en Colombia, no sabía nada del ambiente socio-politcal, ni el nombre del presidente.  Lo único que sabía era que en una época, no tan lejos de hoy, estaba peligrosa por guerra, drogas, y armas.

Ahora, está mejor, aunque permanece mucha cocaina y adictos.  La ciudad de Bogotá se hinchó con gente, desde 5 milliones de personas a 8.  Por qué esta estalla?  Porque unos diez o quince años atrás, la gente del campo se habían evictados y dejaron sus casas, sus cosas, su tierra, y ahora se los encuentran en las calles de Bogotá, desplazados y destituidos.

Un amigo expresó la idea de que ellos no eran pobre, porque, qué pobreza hay cuando tienes todas las necesidades?  Tenían tierra, comida, hogares, familia, y comunidades.  Ahora, sí, están pobre.  

El mismo amigo me mostró una película que se llama Los Colores de la Montaña.  Es la historía de un chico de nueve años que tenía de todo, incluso una pelota nueva.  Pero, poco a poco, las fincas alrededor, las de sus amigos, fueron agobiadas por guerrillas, los padres torturados, y las familias aterorizadas.

Les recomienda esta película a uds.  Es una historía triste, pero clara, con un buen actorito, y lindo cinematografía.

Now to translate:

Embarrassingly, before I got to Colombia, I didn't know anything of the socio-political climate, or even the name of the president.  The only thing I knew was that at one time, not so long ago, it was dangerous here due to war, drugs, and arms.

Now, it is better, although there is still a lot of cocaine and addicts.  The city of Bogota swelled with people, from 5 million to 8 in just a few years.  Why this explosion?  Because some ten or fifteen years ago, the people of the countryside were forced from their homes, forced to leave their things, their land, their lives.  Now, you can find them in the streets of Bogota.  Displaced and destitute. 

A friend expressed the thought that they were not poor, because, how can you be poor when you have all the necessities?  They had land, food, homes, families, and community.  Now, yes, they are poor.

The same friend showed me a movie called Los Colores de la Montaña.  It's the story of a nine-year-old boy who had everything, including a new soccer ball.  But, little by little, the farms surrounding him, those of his friends, were overrun by guerrillas, the fathers tortured, and the families terrorized.

I would recommend this film to you guys.  It's a sad story, but clearly told, with a great little actor and beautiful cinematography.

Monday, August 8

Corkboards and Blueprints

Today at my school, I needed to ask for a corkboard to post some class information in my room, which brought me into contact with the man who runs the "workshop".  As far as I can tell, he develops the fancy classroom paraphernalia, basically sets, and his workshop has random halves of dolls, a workbench, drafting materials etc.  He had piercings in both ears, looped with small silver crescents.  His red t-shirt hugged his small but muscled frame.  His sincere and friendly smile, his short, buzzed hair, and his amazing job creating themed classrooms and set-pieces...

I miss Daniel so much.  He was going to have such a cool life.  I was so proud of him.  Blueprints laced with lines and angles, directional insertion arrows, grids and measurements so entangled I could hardly pick one to follow from one end to the other, but Daniel could look at that and build a crow's nest, a table, anything.  I would still brag about him if it didn't make people uncomfortable.  I want him to be here with me, to see how amazing the computer lab is, dressed up like a starship, or all the sharks hanging from the ceiling in Cousteau, and the giant rooks and knights in the chess room, and the Colombian man who has his ideal job.

Another co-worker, all-American, laid back and irresistably wholesome looking, teaches, as of tomorrow, history to fifth graders.  He tells me he falls in love three times a day here.  His smile reminds me of Daniel, but more his laugh, which is quiet, if not silent, and the slight shake of his head at the absurdity of life and the plight of the people. 

Daniel...You were the most quality person I ever knew.  You were the only person whose intentions I trusted entirely.  I trusted you with my life.  With my happiness.  With my undying devotion.  With all my love.   I miss you.

Sunday, August 7

First Night Out

Imagine dancing on a moving bus.  A crowded bus.   In Bogotá traffic.  I'll say just one thing...
you have to hold on.

My first night of not just falling into bed exhausted, I joined a fellow teacher and some of his friends for a birthday party.  We boarded a party bus, called a chiva rumbera.  It looked something like this:

After an hour of salsa, reggaetón, and a couple rounds of a Spanish birthday song, sung forehead to forehead with the birthday boy; a trip to a mountain lookout to see the lights of Bogotá; and a few shouts of "qué divina!" at passing female pedestrians, we arrived at a restaurant/bar to conclude the night with some salsa dancing on tierra sólida.

Today, after a walk from Calle 138 to Calle 100  and some delicious Colombian soups, I am exhausted.  Thankfully, my mattress arrived...and the doorman took pity on our floor-sleeping situation and so let the delivery guys in against the rules.  Yes, we live in the burbs.  Hardly bummed because: sweet place, close(ish) to work.

Tomorrow is the last day before we meet our students.  I got first graders.  After I got over some disappointment at not being able to use my training with older students, I am excited to meet them and take off running.  Or walking.  Politely.  In red and navy blue track suits.

Tuesday, August 2

Arriving in Bogotá

La Llegada

It wasn't until I hit the automatic doors after la aduana here in Bogotá that I was giddy with la entrada to a new country--one with montañas bellas, and every type of weather in the space of two hours. this Denver?

At something like 8 or 10 thousand feet, I have found myself sucking air for the first time in my life.  A strange experience for someone from the Mile High City.

To be honest, my first first impression of Colombia was one of annoyance.  Everyone on the plane shoved into the aisles, and at  baggage claim humped the conveyor.  Just because our lungs aren't full of as much air doesn't mean that we take up less space...

But then, Rafael, our petit and portly chief of security, met me with my recruiter, Gary the personable Floridian, with a colorful sign bearing my name.  We took one of the school's buses up the back roads to the Montessori, past houses with thier bases at forty-five degress from the hill of a street.  The driver, Juan, was playing salsa, even songs I could sing along to, the whole way.

Over the crest and the roads widened a touch, the houses grew, and we turned the corner to Montessori British School--Black and white gates adorned with this:

  and a couple of those Montessori Dudes that look like apprentice Nutcrackers, clean-shaven and of pleasant demeanor.

I didn't get to see the school, then, however, as there were apartments to be seen, and hotels to check into, and other new coworkers with whom to drink smoothies made from fruits I've never heard of, let alone tasted.

La Introduccion

This morning, Gary gave the other new teachers and I a quick tour of Montessori British School before our first day of orientation.  He started with the hall of administrative offices, curriculum development, and something they call "the workshop," which might be where the elves go when they feel like their skills are worth more than some holiday cookies.  On display in the window were a wire model of a motorcycle, a model of a printing press, Pacman figurine, and various contraptions with moving parts.
Gary led us up through the Kindergarten and primary areas, where each room is themed, or purposed.  For example, the music room, where a dozen miniscule baby grand pianos form neat rows.  (Stacy, are you dying?)  Or the Jacques Cousteau room where life-size sharks hang from the ceiling.  In-house artists handle all the incredible, distinctly child-friendly but adult-sensible murals.  In one room, the school chef demonstrates his cooking, and in another, students reinforce their learning through a game of Jeopardy...while standing at their own individual podiums.  I was impressed with the puppet-theater and multi-color mini-antique couches, until we hit the secondary wing.

In secondary, the murals become more muted, more realistic.  Rooms are themed by historical figures like Coretta Scott King, and Jorge Luis Borges.  And who graces the wall outside the room for screening films but Stephen Spielberg.  I hope to work in this wing, where the student desks are made of clear plastic, and the glass walls echo a bit, but the windows out onto the courtyard are probably as tall as I am.  Of course, I still don't know what I will be teaching.

Up the stairs to the third floor (fourth?), I'm pretty sure the murals are the iPod dancers:

And here, we entered the brand new library addition.  Dayna, it's like I work at Hogwarts.  The desks, and floors, and walls are all rich wood paneling.  The ceilings are high, vaulted, and painted like the Sistine Chapel.  The study desks are long, communal affairs with bronze-accented chairs along either side.  It's like I work at Hogwarts, with computer labs and track suits.  And instead of learning Latin, the students manage French, Spanish, English, and, as of September, Mandarin.

I will admit.

This school leaves me speechless.  Breathless, even (literally, too, after all those stairs at ten thousand feet).

It also makes me feel guilty.

I just wish that every student could study in such a beautiful place.

I mean...look at this theater.


Los Profesores

Today in orientation, we spent some time in icebreakers.  Good, because it was intimidating to have breakfast Hogwarts-style, at one of two tables running the length of the entire cafeteria, inhabited by navy and red-clad instructors.

This is the first year they have recruited directly out of the States and abroad, rather than just pulling foreign teachers who were already in Bogotá.  Some sixteen of us have flown in during the last two weeks.  Four of us in the last twenty-four hours.

I met French teachers, and Spanish teachers, math teachers and physics teachers, art teachers and PE teachers, and the most exciting, for me, profesores de danza.  Not only do they have dance teachers in full-time employ, they have multiple dance teachers.  As our inner and outer circles of teachers shuffled around the basketball court, we introduced ourselves in English and Spanish, and some of them not me in French, and some of them including me in fake Chinese. 

My new life--a fluid combination of languages, in a city high in the mountains, where the sun on my back is cooled by rain, and re-warmed by the smiles of two hundred people like me, who love teaching and culture, and language.

I'm glad to have arrived.

Welcome to Bogotá.