On My Own and The 4th Trimester

In a lot of ways today is a typical Colombian day for me. This isn’t the first time in my life that I have been in charge of my own schedule. I have been lucky in that way. Twice as an adult I have taken a full year off, lived off savings, and let my whims carry me through jungles and desserts and pueblos and cities. And graduate school also left me with three day weekends (full of books to read, online lectures to watch, and case studies to puzzle out, but the schedule was mine…) However, this is the first time I have really truly felt on my own since I was 19 years old. When I was 19 I traveled through Southern Mexico by myself and I relished the shocked responses I got to the fact that I was by myself…although I think to say on my own is an exaggeration because not only was I adopted everywhere I went, it also took only one month before meet a musician and got swept up in the magic of falling in love and being taken care of. Since then, I have been on many adventures, but none of them alone. Beyond the sense of being on my own, I am really, truly my own boss at this stage of my life (I mean, besides the fact that the U.S. Government hovers over me a strangely invisible way). There is no charge nurse or clinic expecting my arrival at 7 am.  There is no one checking on me every day to make sure I am doing my work. There is no lecture or study group on my calendar. My project is mine. It is not for a grade. It is not for a graduation. It is just for me. Because I find it interesting and because I made a deal with Fulbright that if they pay my way I will do this project. Because it is my excuse for living the life I am living. So what does my daily planner look like? (My planner is figurative at this point. I actually do want a planner in my life, but as of yet have been unable to locate one. The last libreria I asked at assured me that they would be coming out in December for the new year as opposed to ours that run Sept-Sept.) So anyway, today is a good example of my daily life.

My view of Cali from my bedroom window.

My view of Cali from my bedroom window.


Taking a walk at Lago Calima

Normally I have class on Thursdays at 2 pm (My Colombian Cultural and Ethnic Diversity class. Super interesting, but three hours with twenty 19 year olds in a stiflingly hot room with uncomfortable elementary school style chairs can be a bit much.) But today I decided to skip class because I finally heard back from the Ethics Committee with suggested changes to my study proposal and after all, my study is why I am here and a totally legit reason to skip class, right? I worked all day yesterday to address the committee’s questions and concerns and today I had an appointment with my advisor at the University to review my changes and hopefully get the revised proposal turned in and approved ASAP because I am SO ready to get started. I managed to get UCSF IRB (Ethic’s committee) approval way back in June but the Colombian process has been a bit harder for me, and technically I can’t start recruiting participants until I have dual approval. Today started slow. I slept in, I listened to Morning Edition, I exercised at home (Jillian Michaels in the back yard), I checked e-mail and perused facebook. Around 11:00 I went for a coffee at a nearby café and finished the novel I am reading (Game of Thrones- thanks Alicia!). I called my advisor to confirm our appointment and agree on a time, but she didn’t answer. I ate lunch (white fish in creamy shrimp sauce, beans, rice, and salad for $2.50) and then wandered over the health sciences university campus in hopes of catching her in her office. Except that the campus was closed for another strike. The university students are marching downtown (naked I think…as a form of protest) I had heard a warning rumor last week that there may be a strike this Wed/Thursday

See what I'm missing out on by being banned from all protests! (Photo from El Pais)

See what I’m missing out on by being banned from all protests! (Photo from El Pais)

I made sure to stay tuned to the University facebook page and even found an official memo from the University stating that classes would continue but exams would be postponed…apparently the official memo was wrong. (Facebook seems to be the primary source for all information. Most clubs and events don’t have webpages, they have FB pages. There isn’t a good central “events calendar,” but if you “Like” enough local FB pages you can kind of keep tabs on what’s going on in the city.) By now it is 1:45 and the class I was planning on skipping starts at 2. I call my classmate to see if the main campus is open. She (an actual employee of the University language department) also has no idea what’s going on. The building seems to be unlocked, but it’s 2:05 there are no students or teachers in sight. No announcements, no updates…so we just have to assume that this means no class. (Two weeks ago we made a similar assumption and it turned out we were wrong a missed a week of class…whoops!). No worries though- the day isn’t totally wasted because I have a coffee date at 5 pm with a Colombian friend who needs some help on her U.S. Film School application essays. Except now she calls me to tell me that her work schedule got changed and she can’t meet until tomorrow. Dang. Now it’s 3 pm and every plan I had for the day has fallen through. Luckily, I get invited to go salsa dancing at 10 pm. Whew! At least the day won’t be a total loss. I can count that as Spanish practice, Dance practice, exercise, and socialization. And the rest of it will be rescheduled for tomorrow. So here I sit counting down the hours until 10 pm, trying to stay out of the house so that my landlords don’t think I’m lazy (and so I can be out of the way for the weekly room cleaning) and writing this blog. =)

Lago Calima paisaje and clothes drying on a fence

Lago Calima paisaje and clothes drying on a fence

On Tuesday, Isabella reached her 40th day of life outside the womb. Which means that her mama’s post partum dieta ended. I had heard of The Dieta before (not a diet as we think of it), from patients, but I didn’t know much about it and always assumed it was something practiced in rural indigenous areas. Apparently this is not so. The family I live with is light skinned, middle-upper class, Western. And although they refer to The Dieta as something “de las abuelas” they take it seriously. It is the 4th trimester and the body needs support as it returns to its non-pregnant state. A lot of it seems to be about the balance between hot and cold. The Dieta helps the mother heal, helps her uterus shrink, her cervix close, her milk come, her body strengthen. For the first week after the birth, the mother stays closed up in her room. She is not to go outside for any reason. She doesn’t bathe. She drinks herbs that bring her milk in, she sleeps, and she feeds her baby, she takes in only “hot” foods and drinks. I didn’t see Carolina or Isabella for a week. After that they emerged and life seemed pretty normal except for the daily pot of herbs boiling on the stove. At first I just assumed it was more breastmilk support, but after a month I figured the breastmilk supply must be firmly established and there had to be more to the story. It turns out the hot eucalyptus/rosemary tea was for bathing. Carolina is not allowed to bathe in cold water, lest it affect her healing and any future pregnancies she may have. And on Tuesday, Day 40, Carolina once again shut herself up in the bedroom for 24 hours to breathe in the vapor of the herbal baths, to be with her baby, and her finalize the healing process. On Wednesday she emerged, no longer in the post partum period- now just a beautiful mama to a 41 day old baby girl who is finally waking up and finding her voice (to the chagrin of all in the house).

Carolina giving a double-time bath to the girls

Carolina giving a double-time bath to the girls

My sister Sophie is finishing up a year of teaching English on an island off the northern coast of Colombia (it is by chance we both find ourselves here). She flew to Cali for the long weekend (Dia de la Raza, which has recently replaced Christopher Columbus Day in a Colombian attempt to be PC). As is tradition, we followed the masses to get out of town for the weekend. My lovely friends David and Cristina invited us up to Lago Calima, a reservoir and hydroelectric Dam north of Cali, just high enough in the mountains to escape the heat and breathe some mountain air. It was beautiful- the fog over the hills and the green grass contrasted against the red earth reminded me how much I love the cool wet weather (home!!!). I even got to put on a sweater and cuddle up underneath blankets. Yummmm.

Getting cozy in the cool weather of Lago Calima with my sister Sophie

Getting cozy in the cool weather of Lago Calima with my sister Sophie

The reservoir itself was like a lot of Latin American weekend getaways. Families pile in cars and park lakeside, music blaring, beers cracked, swimsuits on, breathing in gasoline smells and having a blast. At the lake you can rent jetskis by the 15 minutes or you can opt for a Banana ride (you know, you sit on a giant inflatable banana, get pulled around the lake for 5 minutes and then dumped into the water at the very end.) I tried to convince someone to ride the banana with me but it wasn’t quite warm enough to really make the reservoir water look enticing. Next time, they promised. (On our way home it down-poured. When that happens here, it happened BIG. No time for drainage- within minutes the streets turn into rivers. We were in an SUV, driving through a good 12 inches of water, splashing past poor motorcycles who were stuck in the water. In fact, it rained so hard that out passenger side (luckily!) windshield wiper fell off! No joke…)

Banana rides from an almost sinking dock at Lago Calima

Banana rides from an almost sinking dock at Lago Calima

Being at Lago Calima ignited a pretty intense cold-weather longing inside of me. It’s October. Everyone at home is picking out pumpkins and planning costumes…my favorite holiday of the year! (Don’t worry! I just found out that Colombians have adopted Halloween and even the adults get to dress up when we go out dancing…so I am working on a last minute costume with glue and safety pins.) Between my cold weather longing and a surfacing feeling that I need to spend some time alone with myself, I am planning a long weekend of my own for next weekend. Salento and the Valle de Coroco are about a 4-5 hour bus trip from Cali. Hiking, local fresh coffee, the tallest palm trees in the world, and plenty of rain are what is promised. I plan to bring my one long sleeve shirt (my precious Smartwool- thank you Megan!!!), my rain coat, my journal, and a good book and spend some time with myself away from Facebook, away from Skype and online chat, away from Netflix…away from all the things I use in my daily life to feel less alone, to avoid my grief and feelings of loss, to distract… I feel like its time for a little Corinna time.

More beautiful Valle de Cauca countryside

More beautiful Valle de Cauca countryside


1 Comment

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One response to “On My Own and The 4th Trimester

  1. Shairn Villa

    Thanks for the update, sweetie. Life is a journey, no matter what, but it is when we are aware that the journey is most wonderful. Enjoy!

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