Category Archives: Fulbright

The World Through Music

I have no doubt that music can change lives. I have been blessed to watch my incredible brothers, James and Mateo, experience the world through music and grow from two of the most impossible little boys into two of the best young men I know. And they did it through music. So when I first saw the boys from Fundación Herencia Andina (Andean Heritage Foundation) play, I fell in love with the organization. Herencia Andina is a true grassroots organization here in Cali and they are literally creating something out of nothing. The founder, Carlos Alirio Mamian organizes kids from the low income community of the East side of Cali called Agua Blanca (the part of Cali most people never see) and teaches them traditional music and dance (they are now adding a theater group as well).

Carlos (with guitar) and some of the girls at the end-of-the-year celebration at Carlos' house

Carlos (with guitar) and some of the girls at the end-of-the-year celebration at Carlos’ house

I was honored to be asked to hand out gifts of notebooks and pencils to the kids.

I was honored to be asked to hand out gifts of notebooks and pencils to the kids.

The kids can seamlessly switch from guitar to pan-flute to drums, and kids who were once too shy to raise their hand in class are belting out beautiful traditional songs. But beyond the music and the talent, Carlos has created a safe space and a given the kids a way out. For many of the kids, the trips into beautiful colonial neighborhoods to play for tourists in hostels is the first time they have crossed into this part of town. Practicing their instruments becomes their alternative to wandering the streets of Agua Blanca. And not only does Carlos give to the kids, but he works really hard to engender them with a sense of social responsibility as well. The older kids are to mentor the younger. And the organization as a whole works year round to collect donations of children’s toys- not for themselves but to carry 8 hours on bus to San Miguel, the rural indigenous village where Carlos comes from. The annual pilgrimage to San Miguel (this year they are going in the first week of January) is a chance to see the countryside of Colombia, to deliver gifts into the hands of eager children, to see a way of life different from their own, and to connect these city kids with their roots and their role as socially responsible Colombians.

Personal performance at Carlos' house in Agua Blanca on Saturday. It was the "end of the year" party for the kids.

Personal performance at Carlos’ house in Agua Blanca on Saturday. It was the “end of the year” party for the kids.

Sergio and I posing for photo shoots with some of the kids.

Sergio and I posing for photo shoots with some of the kids.

Carlos and Maria have created an entire world for the children of Agua Blanca. A world that includes friendships, mentorships, social responsibility, connection, and of course music. They dedicate their lives to these kids. A small amount of help goes a long way in Agua Blanca- toward instruments, transportation for performances, snacks for the kids…It’s not a giant non-profit, it’s not a big organization…this is true Colombian grassroots change that I am directly involved with. You can find them on facebook (Fundación Escuela Herencia Andina). Can you skip your latte today and send us the $5 instead? I know a whole bunch of kids who will be greatly appreciative. =) I set up an easy PayPal donation button. Just click below and enter the amount you want to donate. And THANK YOU for your support!!!

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Encantada

Something is happening. It started last summer when I fell in love with my life and since then the shine has only gotten brighter. I feel like I am walking through life carrying my heart out in front of me for everyone to see. It’s intense and it’s also one of the most incredible spaces I have ever been in. I feel like I fall in love a million times per day. A song plays in the bus and my heart overflows. I discover a beautiful new cafe and my heart overflows. And most of all, I meet new people and my heart overflows. Like when I returned from the amazing 24 hours of bonding in San Cipriano, I am back from another trip and completely encantada with my travel buddy (and friend from San Francisco) Sarah AND with our new friends we met along the way.

Visiting the Cartagena market

Visiting the Cartagena market

Sarah and I started in Cartagena, that same colonial Caribbean city where Cameron and I ended our year of travels 3 years ago. My sister Sophie who has spent the last year teaching English on the rural island of Baru just off the coast, met us and we spent our days wandering the colonial streets, drinking wine on the city wall that overlooks the ocean, and enjoying Costeña food and mojitos. Sarah and I had never done more than a weekend away together but she is so laid back and easy going that we immediately fell into a perfect rhythm.

The old city wall around Cartagena

The old city wall around Cartagena

Lunch at La Mulata

Lunch at La Mulata

After Cartagena Sophie led us by bus, ferry, and motorcycle to her home on Baru where we toured her very tiny dusty town of Santa Ana and then headed to Playa Blanca for beach massages, sunshine, and a night in an adorable and extremely rustic sand-floored beach cabaña. Playa Blanca is packed full of tourists from Cartagena during the day, but at night and early in the morning we found ourselves on a deserted turquoise beach. Lovely.

Sophie on our way to her house on Baru

Sophie on our way to her house on Baru

Touring Sophie's school

Touring Sophie’s school

Playa Blanca!

Playa Blanca!

People watching with my lovely sister.

People watching with my lovely sister.

But it was the trip up the coast to Taganga and into Tayrona National Park when the adventures really began. There was the bus incident when a simple 20 minute bus ride turned into 3 bus transfers and an hour of Caribbean sweat (met with good humor and topped off with a passionfruit cocktail in the swimming pool that made everything better). There was the iguana incident while we waited to board our boat to Tayrona, when a giant iguana lept out of a tree nearly falling on someone’s head, raced around the street causing total chaos and then ran into the ocean and disappeared. 30 minutes later as our boat speeds through the ocean waves on the way to the park, said iguana appeared on the outboard motor. We had to pull into shore and toss him toward the rocks. =) Hopefully he is having a less adventurous life now. There was the monkey incident when Sarah and I hiked through the jungle to visit the ruins of an indigenous village. We were so excited to run into a group of monkeys playing in the treetops. Until one got a little too interested in us and headed straight down the tree to get a better look. We very quickly decided it was time to move on. =)

Tayrona from the upper hammocks

Tayrona from the upper hammocks

Tayrona

Tayrona

And then there was the Tropical Storm Incident. We first met Jose and Jose from Valencia, Spain, in Taganga before we left for the park. But we had no idea how integral to our trip they would become. Parque Tayrona is one of my favorite spots in Latin America. It’s wild. Giant boulders, palm trees, and sandy beaches backed by thick jungle and blue mountains. The ocean is fierce but there a few protected bays for swimming. The most popular spot is Cabo San Juan del Guía where you can rent a tent or sleep in a hammock. There are two sets of hammocks- the lower ones set back from the beach, packed tightly under a thatched roof reinforced with black plastic where you sleep to the sound of the generator and the smell the horses. The upper hammocks are fewer and harder to get but are high above the ocean, where you listen to the waves and smell the salty air. Sleeping in the upper hammocks is one of my favorite memories of my last trip in South America, so Sarah and I were determined to get up early and reserve them for our second night in Tayrona. Our new friends, the Joses, decided to stay in the lower hammocks and we teased them for it, bragging about what a lovely night we were going to have from our ocean front viewpoint. The only downside of the upper hammocks is that the ocean breeze is a bit chilly at night. Luckily I knew this from past experience and Sarah and I had packed very carefully including long sleeves, hats, socks…we had planned extensively to make sure we would have dry warm clothes for a comfortable night.

The upper hammocks (photo taken from the restaurant)

The upper hammocks (photo taken from the restaurant)

That night, we were sitting in the restaurant for dinner when the storm started. The restaurant is a large open air “room” covered by a thatched roof, filled with plastic tables and chairs, and the only place to be under cover besides in our hammock. It’s also the only place with light at night so most people sit there to play cards etc. The rain started hard- true tropical storm style. We were sitting the middle of the cover but it soon became obvious that that wasn’t enough to keep us dry. I was still in my beach clothes. A sleeveless cotton minidress, no shoes. And starting to shiver. My backpack and all my clothes was all the way across the beach and up the hill in my hammock. And as the downpour and gusts of wind continued for the next hour it became apparent that all my careful planning was probably soaking wet along with my hammock. The boys gathered up the few articles of clothing and damp towels they had and we all circled up to try to stay warm. Amazingly, while other tables of stranded travelers sulked and argued, we spent hours laughing at the absurd hilarity of the situation. Even though Sarah and I had absolutely no idea how exactly we were going to get through the night, for the time being it felt like enough to be in good company and we managed to maugh our way through hours of rain. Around 10 pm the rain slowed enough that I decided to borrow a broken umbrella and make a beach-run for it to see if I could salvage anything from the backpacks. The beach was dark and deserted and I hurried down the narrow strip of sand between the two bays that leads to the steep rocky trail up to the hammocks. It was dark and raining and all I could see was the circle of light right in front of me so when I suddenly reached the end of the sand I was disoriented. Where was the trail? and the hammocks? About 50 feet in front of me I could see the cliff where we were supposed to sleep. Except that the peninsula had turned into an island and between me and the island was a lot of dark rushing water. We were definitely NOT sleeping in our hammocks tonight. And it was probably better because anyone who had been in the hammocks when the storm started was now stuck out there. I hurried back to the restaurant and wrapped myself up in Jose’s towel. All the staff members had gone home after dinner leaving a dining room full of stranded and desperate travelers. All around us people we sleeping with their heads on the plastic tables or trying to curl up on flimsy beach chairs.

Surviving the storm in borrowed clothes

Surviving the storm in borrowed clothes

Around midnight when we couldn’t manage to stay awake any longer, the boys cemented the friendship and put us in their debt by giving us one of their hammocks. Muddy feet, wet minidress, and all, Sarah and I cuddled up in the single person hammock. Next door two 32 year old men did the same and we all made it through the night, exhausted and sleep deprived but still smiling. The next morning, emerging from our hammocks felt like we were survivors of a natural disaster. The grass was scattered with debris, clothes, overturned tents. There was no electricity and no running water. Nearby someone was bailing buckets of rainwater from inside a tent. All around people were ringing out everything they owned. We wandered to the beach and found that the island was still an island, but in the daylight the water was crossable so I waded over and gathered up a backpack full of wet clothes. We decided to hike out of the park early in case it started raining again. 5 hours and a bus ride later we arrived in Cartagena, wet and exhausted but still laughing about the adventure and so grateful we had met the Joses.

Hiking through the jungle to visit El Pueblito, ruins of an indigenous village

Hiking through the jungle to visit El Pueblito, ruins of an indigenous village

Sarah flew home the next morning and I headed to Bogota to spend the rest of the weekend with the boys. Maybe that is what happens when you survive a storm together, but we were totally bonded and the three of us stuck together like glue for the next 3 days. We took long bus rides, we visited the absolutely lovely mountain town of Villa de Leyva where we watched fireworks and drank wine, and we partied with the entire Spanish ex-pat community of Bogota (Fancy cheese, Spanish tortilla, Sangría, and lots of lessons in how to speak “real” Spanish and where I need to visit in Spain). I came home with the same floating on air feeling I had after my weekend in San Cipriano. Just feeling completely blessed to have so many amazing people in my life.

Photobooth at the Spanish Party in Bogota.

Photobooth at the Spanish Party in Bogota.

Drinking wine in La Guaca, an old colonial home turned into the most adorable and romantic restaurant in Villa de Leyva. (With our new Colombian friend, also names Jose. And no, I am not making this up.)

Drinking wine in La Guaca, an old colonial home turned into the most adorable and romantic restaurant in Villa de Leyva. (With our new Colombian friend, also named Jose. And no, I am not making this up.)

And for the weekly single paragraph update on my actual research…I finally have a green light! I presented my project to a panel of Public Health staff members and they gave me my third and final letter of approval. I am now the proud owner of three whole ethics committee approval letters (UCSF, Universidad de Valle, and now the Cali public health administration). The one catch is that I can’t start until January. Colombia takes Christmas very seriously and the entire month of December is reserved for holiday happenings. So my job is to officially enjoy life until January when I can actually start working. =) Luckily I have had plenty of practice and am getting pretty good at that job…

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Caleño Caleño

I’m still trying to figure out what exactly it means to be an extranjera in Cali. And not just an American woman passing through the hostal scene with my backpack. But one who really has fallen hard for this city. One who dreams of calling it her own city. I know it’s not and it will never be mine. But I like to dream of it. Everything that adds to the illusion of my belonging her is welcomed with opened arms. Running into friends on the street absolutely makes my day because it reaffirms my sense of place. Whipping out my frequent buyer card at the supermarket or my local ID card (which is extra cool because you have to be somewhat official to get one) makes me glow with pride. Hopping on the bus with my bus pass and chatting on my Colombian cell phone leave me feeling special…special in a “I’m just another girl in the crowd” kind of a way. Except that even while I am trying my very best to blend, I will never ever be just another girl in the crowd in Cali. My friend Delana has been living in Cali for over a year. She originally came here on vacation (from Santa Cruz), fell in love with the city, and moved back to study Spanish and salsa dancing. She also teaches yoga which is how I originally met her. Delana’s story is not uncommon here. Where as Cali is just another big, bustling, sweltering city for many of the tourists who pass by, those who take the time to see beneath the surface often fall in love. How many extranjeros have I met who get a dreamy look in their eyes when they talk about Cali? And not just extranjeros- Caleños get it too. One of my favorite conversation starters is to ask someone if they were born and raised in Cali. Nearly 100% of the time they puff out their chest, get a sparkle in their eyes, and very proudly claim to be “Caleño Caleño” as opposed to just one Caleño which might mean you are from a nearby town or relocated from another city.

Sergio, Delana, and I at a salsa club the night before Delana left for the US.

Sergio, Delana, and I at a salsa club the night before Delana left for the US.

But the reason I brought up Delana is that she recently headed back to The States for a holiday visit and one of the first things she was surprised by was this: “I actually miss being openly ogled by strangers. (How rude! Don’t they see how hot I am?!)” It’s hilarious because it is absolutely true. As annoying as it can be to be constantly watched, the attention has become the new norm. And it would be a lie to say that I didn’t sometimes (or often) enjoy the heads that turn when I walk into the room. But along with the excitement of being so different comes the undeniable fact that I can never truly belong here. I will always be an outsider. So what would it mean to build my life in Colombia? I have friends, I have a community- many locals and many extranjeros…but now that I have been here for 4 months the first of my close extranjero friends are starting to leave. People who have been part of my social circle nearly since I arrived, people who, for me, have been part of the Cali landscape. And now it is changing. And I realize that it is only a teensy tiny taste of what life is like for the Caleños who have opened their hearts to me- the constant coming and going of people. How do they do that? How can they be so genuinely open and welcoming to me if I am just another extranjera who will leave? And what if I didn’t leave? Or what if I came back? What is I built my life here? What would it mean to build my life in a place where I am always an outsider, where I am always part of a culture that will never quite be my own? I am sure that I have no idea. Of all the time I have spent abroad, even in Brazil where I really did immerse myself, I have never had the experience of calling a foreign place home. But there are a lot of people in the world who do just that…in fact my own step mother (from Germany) and my step father (from Mexico) did just that. I grew up surrounded by people who were doing just that and I was never even really aware of what it meant. I’m not saying I am planning on staying in Colombia forever (don’t worry family!) But this might be the first time I could actually imagine that as a possibility. And it makes me see Cali in a different way.

Dancing the night away. Literally.

Dancing the night away. Literally.

Tomorrow I head to the North Coast for a vacation (from all this intense work I have been doing…) on the beach with one of my best friends from San Francisco. It is the same area of Colombia where Cameron and I ended out year-long trip just about 3 years ago. It will be interesting to return there- but I can’t think of a better person to do it with that Sarah. Off for some good old fashioned girls time. =)

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Riding Brujitas in the Rain

I have been thinking a lot about how quickly cultural shifts happen. Sophie and I talked about it when she was visiting me- about how we find ourselves commenting on “cute” outfits in the street and then realize that it is something we would have laughed at at home. Like leopard print mesh tank tops or one piece jumpers or sparkly leggings. In fact I have to check myself when I buy new clothes here…on a scale of 1 to 10 how Colombian IS this shirt? Would I ever wear it in San Francisco…? And if not, will I wear it enough in the next 6 months to justify buying it? (Since I have been swimming so much, my bikini from home is asking to be replaced…Colombian bikini shopping…I may be in trouble!) But it’s not just with clothes. I’ve noticed the change in my taste in men’s styles as well. Whereas at home I am all about the bearded, flannel-clad, half-hipster, half-mountain-man…in Colombia that prototype doesn’t exactly exist. Too hot for a flannel and half the men can’t even grown a full beard…but very quickly I noticed my preferences changing. Suddenly I’m checking out  clean cut, freshly cologned men in fitted jeans and fancy shoes. Speaking of fancy shoes, sexual orientation  is another cultural conception that has been completely blown out of the water. Sometimes I sit and watch my friends, men I am as sure as sure can be are straight, and try to imagine how popular they would be at a club in the Castro district in San Francisco. The classy clothes, the cologne, the jewelry…and most of all, the way they move their hips…it’s amazingly sexy and by US standards, extremely gay. But I’m not in the US…and those standards are quickly fading from my frame of mind. So bring on the backless shirts, the heels, the animal print leggings. Bring on the cologne, the speedos, the gelled hair. The questions remains, what happens when I move home. Does my world shrink back down, in accordance with local culture? Or does it stay open? I have a feeling it shrinks back down. But maybe not. Maybe forevermore, the smell of cologne, the sight of a silver cross hanging on a smooth chest, and salsa dancing hips will make me swoon. =)

Sergio, Alejandro, and I on the bank of the river in San Cipriano

Sergio, Alejandro, and I on the bank of the river in San Cipriano

Colombia loves to celebrate. This weekend (and last!) was another Puente (3 day weekend). For what…? I have no idea. There was never any mention of why it was a Puente, just plenty of discussion of how to celebrate. So on Sunday morning, after a night of salsa in a packed club, we started an adventure to San Cipriano, a little river town near the Pacific coast. 

The crew. Jefferson, Diego, Linda, Sabrina, Me, Sergio, Alejandro, and Theodora.

The crew. Jefferson, Diego, Linda, Sabrina, Me, Sergio, Alejandro, and Theodora.

Every time I travel, I see groups of local young adults on trips together. Guys and girls BBQing, playing games, flirting, laughing, listening to music…and every time I think how much fun it would be to be part of one of those groups. This weekend I got my wish. We had the best little group of friends. We jumped off high rocks into the river, we had chicken fights and handstand contests, we played silly games, we cuddled, we drank arrechón and played never have I ever, we all slept in one room. It was amazingly fun to be part of this close knit group of friends- it was a feeling I have missed. Since I arrived in Colombia I have made dozens of friends and been received warmly everywhere I go, but I have deeply missed the feeling of intimacy. Long hugs, massages, sharing secrets, sleeping next to someone…it’s easy to feel alone in a crowd when you are in a foreign country. This weekend I got to remember how it feels to be part of something. But enough feelings talk. It’s the actual trip to San Cipriano I want to tell you about.

Chicken fight!

Chicken fight!

My friend Alejo

My friend Alejo

As per usual, I  only had a bout a 25% understanding of The Plan. It’s a nice change for me since I am usually making, organizing, and enforcing The Plan at home, to have to sit back and go with this flow. So my technique is just to be prepared for anything , since I never know exactly what is going to happen (I have developed a reputation of having a Mary Poppin’s purse since I am always pulling random needed items out of my bag). All I knew about San Cipriano before we left was that it was a couple hours away toward the Pacific ocean and that there was a river. From the side of the the highway, we crossed a swinging bridge and there is where the adventure began.

Getting ready to baptize Diego in the river (we made him confess first)

Getting ready to baptize Diego in the river (we made him confess first)

The tiny little pueblo of San Cipriano is about 5 miles down the old railroad tracks. The locals have a thriving business of transporting tourists (mostly Colombian tourists) down the tracks on big wooden planks (called Brujitas- little witches) that they mount on the tracks. Until about 5 years ago, these planks were propelled along the tracks by a local man with a pole (and delicious biceps). But now, modern technology has added motorcycles into the equation (don’t worry, there are still delicious biceps involved). Along one side of the plank, a small motor bike is mounted with the back wheel touching the rail. The tourists climb aboard and off we go, flying through amazingly green trees, past wooden shacks and naked babies, clothes drying on barbed wire fences, through tunnels, across bridges and finally landing in San Cipriano.

Climbing aboard the brujita for our ride into San Cipriano.

Climbing aboard the brujita for our ride into San Cipriano.

What happens when you run into oncoming traffic. Someone has to lift their brujita OFF the tracks so the others can pass.

What happens when you run into oncoming traffic. Someone has to lift their brujita OFF the tracks so the others can pass.

The town itself is nothing more than a gravel road lined with super basic services. Cement and wooden “hotels”, giant pots simmering over open fires (fish, lobster, crab), and plenty of inner tubes for rent. Since it was a 3 day weekend, the town was pretty full of Colombian families and couples, although I imagine that mid-week it is an absolute ghost town.

One of the restaurants along the main (i.e. only) road

One of the restaurants along the main (i.e. only) road

About a 5-10 minute walk from town, you find the charcos (swimming holes) in the beautiful green river. The water here is much warmer than the river in Cali, probably about 75 degrees- like a comfortable swimming pool. I was in heaven diving through that water, jumping off the rocks, floating on my back under the blue sky. Well, there was blue sky for a few hours on Sunday. But by the time we were ready for our Brujita ride back to the highway, there was definitely NO blue sky. We stripped down to the fewest clothes possible in an attempt to keep something dry for the bus ride home. But it was all in vain. By the time we arrived back to the highway, we, along with our bags, were all completely soaked. The bus ride back to Cali was long, sleepy, and wet. But I was still basking in the memories of such a wonderful trip so I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I would have stayed on that bus forever smiling and feeling grateful for my friends. =)

Sabrina got the best seat on the ride back...trying to stay dry with the driver.

Sabrina got the best seat on the ride back…trying to stay dry with the driver.

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On another note, as you may have seen on Facebook, I GOT IRB APPROVAL! Today I meet with the head doctor of this public health sector and tomorrow I will start recruiting participants for my focus groups. I have a lovely little group of nursing students who are working with me in data collection. Very soon I promise actual research updates! 

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Tricky Tricky ‘Alloween!

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Valley around Salento, Colombia

Plastic Bags

I’m notorious at the local super market for being the Bagless Mona. They think I’m nuts because I never want a bag. And they are crazy about bags in Colombia. Not only does nearly every item in your cart get it’s very own bag, but they also tie each back closed in a very annoying way that makes it hard to carry. So when I say, “Oh, I don’t need a bag, I can just put it in my backpack.” I get a lot of stares. Or almost worse is when I try to give the bag boy instructions to put it all together in one bag, please… I often find myself in an argument about whether it will be too heavy or not. Sometimes it’s not worth the fight. I realized the extent of my reputation one day when I did take a bag. Everyone paused to stare and one girl said “Es un milagro….”

Piropos

Piropos is the spanish word for compliments, usually cat calls in the street or declarations of love given on the dance floor. In my past travel experiences piropos have left me feeling anywhere from annoyed to pissed off to violated, but I’ve come to love the Caleño piropos in the last few months. Most commonly I get a simple exclamation of “Mona!” which is the Colombian term for light skinned girl (like guera or chela in Mexico). Sometimes it’s “Mona linda…” or “Mona bella” but it’s often just plain “Mona!” which would be like yelling “Ginger!” as you passed a redhead on the street. It always leaves me with the urge to call them out on something obvious…but what to say? “Colombian guy!” or “Brown Skinned Man!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But my favorites are “Reina” and “Nena.” Reina is queen and Nena means baby girl, but they are both used as pet names in an affectionate, non-threatening way by both men and women (usually older women). I was recently proof-reading film school applications for a couple Colombian friends who are applying to grad school in the US. In one of the screen plays my friend had a street kid addressing a women as “Beautiful Princess” and I had to explain that we don’t have anything like that in English…Beyond “mam” or “miss” there isn’t really anything…I’ll miss being called “Mi Reina” all day.

Salento

Last weekend I escaped the city for the Zona Cafetera (Coffee Region) just a few hours north of Cali (between here and Medellin). Salento is known as being a quaint tourist town but most people go to tour the Valle de Cocora which is full of wax palms, the tallest palm trees in the world. Not to mention the incredible vistas, the misty blue mountains, the rivers, the fields, the hummingbirds…it was stunning. I stayed in an amazing little home away from home hostel called Yambolombia. I chose it because it was TV and internet free and situated about 25 minutes walking outside of town (even quaint Colombian mountain town enjoy the weekend Rumba and I was looking to escape the aguadiente and the dancing for a few days.) Gabriel, the hostel owner, was muy buena onda, and I immediately felt at home. But the best part of all was the mirador. From Yambolombia you have almost a 360 degree view of the valley. Layer upon layer of mountains, greenery, all the way down to the river at the base of the valley. Every morning found Gabriel, Hana, and myself on the mirador welcoming the sunrise with yoga. And the evenings were filled with fireflies, stars, and the delicious feeling of being cold and cuddling up under 3 blankets to sleep. I went to Salento to escape the city and all it’s distractions (salsa three nights a week, dates two days a week, rum many nights a week…) and spend some introspective Corinna time. I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful and gorgeous place to dive into my own processing. I will absolutely be back with Gabriel soon! I know that Salento will be calling me again in the near future. Next time I am going to rent a tent from Gabriel and sleep on the mirador. As the say in Cali, It’s “Deli” up there (deli as is delicioso.)

Oh, I almost forgot…I promised the story of how this yoga pose saved my life. Ok, saved my life is definitely an exaggeration…but I’m still grateful. It’s become my tradition to always take a yoga photo in front of beautiful vistas while traveling. I have yoga photos on the Nicaraguan beaches, in the Peruvian andes, at the Patagonia glaciers…so when I was near the end of my 7 hour hike through the Valle de Cocora and I realized I hadn’t done a wax palm yoga photo, I found the first stable fence post I could and set up for a self timer balancing pose (which is actually a little difficult cause it involves setting the 10 second timer and then rushing to find your center and get into a a good balance before the camera goes off…) Just as I got set up, a Canadian couple came around the bend. I got shy and pretended I was just enjoying the view. I very nearly decided to forget the photos and just keep walking, but I really really wanted my yoga photos, so I stuck it out, chatted with them for a while, and then stayed on while they continued the walk. The photo session went well, so I was ready to follow them down after just about 5 minutes. The trail curved down hill into a big field, so I could actually see the couple in the field as I headed down. Suddenly, there were 4 people, and I couldn’t quite tell what was happening down there but it looked like horseplay…the girl was kind of running, arguing, then she was on her knees…. my body completely reacted before my mind was sure of what was happening. Total adrenaline rush. I still didn’t know what exactly was going on, but I knew it was not good. I quickly took stock of my backpack. SIM card into the bra. Credit card and ID into the underwear. I left my camera (sans card), some cash, and my decade old IPOD  accessible as bait and I started down the hill. I am not sure why I started down the hill…I think that I thought that whoever those people were, they would be coming up the path and I was there, alone, in their way. I didn’t want to be alone and in their way, so I figured I would meet them, at the same time I would be uniting myself with the Canadian couple. But they didn’t come up the hill, they took off running down the valley. I reached the Canadian couple just a few minutes after the ladrones had left. They were shaken and in tears, without cameras or money, but unharmed despite the gigantic knives that had been used in the theft. We found a local guide, reported it all, joined forces with a Swiss couple so we could be 5 strong for the rest of the walk, and continued on for the last 20 minutes. The ladrones weren’t caught but the local guides and police were all really helpful. Apparently Salento and Cocora really pride themselves on being known as safe tourist destinations and the concern for maintaining that reputation means that the communities stay pretty vigilant. It was unfortunate and it was actually the closest I have been to getting robbed (as far as I know) in all of the years I have traveled Latin America. But I still couldn’t help but thank my yoga guardian angel that kept me from being 5 minutes ahead of myself on the path…and alone. So appreciate the beautiful yoga pose. =)

Halloween

Yesterday was Halloween! And Thursday which means that you can find me at Tin Tin Deo, one of the traditional salsa clubs. I have absolutely turned into a salsa snob. The Salsa Boys I have met through my friend and yoga teacher Delana are absolutely amazing dancers. Sergio, Daniel, Ricardo, Carlos…I lose myself in their arms every Wednesday and Thursday until my whole body aches and my toes are blistered. I made sure my panda bear Halloween costume wouldn’t impede on my double spins and dips. =) Cali has 100% adopted Halloween, American style- except with the Colombian twist that the parties last from Wednesday to Sunday. The kids are all decked out in store bought costumes and they all head to the local malls to trick or treat (or “Tricky tricky ‘alloween” as they say) from store to store. I saw many many 4 year old princesses (with extensive eye make-up and sparkling high heels), quite a few 5 year old police officers and super heroes, and a lot of baby animals. So sweet. And as you can imagine, the Colombian women go all out on the traditional sexy costume front. =)

The news on the research front is…No News. Yet. I swear, I am going to get the go-ahead in these next couple weeks and soon I will have something for you to read about besides my social life. 😉 But until then I will work hard to have as much fun as possible…for your benefit of course, so I can have good stories for you, my loyal readers. Muchos besos…y hasta pronto!

 

(Having a hard time uploading photos for some reason so I’m going to have to send you to the Salento album on facebook! https://www.facebook.com/corinna.michels/media_set?set=a.10100129996058722.1073741841.7104513&type=3

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Filling Up The Love Tank

It has been way too long between posts- I apologize. The good news is that my excuse is Having Too Much Fun. It’s been a whirlwind couple weeks that included a number of visitors, a lot of English speaking, and some needed soul recharging. It all started with my lovely little sister Alicia who stopped by on her way home from a summer of volunteer work in Ecuador.

Best Sisters

Best Sisters

Alicia and I have always been close, but we spent the last few years trying to navigate a changing relationship- from little girl:mother-figure (10 years age difference) to Two Adult Sisters. Last summer we traveled to Nicaragua together and I found myself confused about my role. Was I her cool travel buddy or her guardian? Was I supposed to join her in flirting at the bar or was I supposed to glare at the boys protectively? This summer it felt like we were meeting on equal ground. She was an easy going, mature guest. She speaks Spanish, she understands how to navigate Latin American culture, she deals with the heat and the food and the men like a pro. She was just as happy to salsa dance until 3 am as she was to cuddle up in bed with Netflix and a margarita. I think part of it was that Alicia is growing up (into an amazing young woman I might add.) But another part of it is that I am rediscovering how to have fun…in the old fashioned 20-something way that I kind of skipped for most of my 20-somethings. As part of my Great Life Change (also known as my Saturn Return- look it up) that started this last summer, I have managed to let go and live a little. And that includes laughing and dancing and meeting new people in a way I haven’t done for years. And yes, it often lasts until 3  or 4 am. And I love it.

Cracking up during Happy Hour Margaritas at Mister Wings.

Cracking up during Happy Hour Margaritas at Mister Wings.

The weekend after Alicia left was Festival Petronio Alvarez a gigantic free music festival in Cali that celebrates Pacific Colombian culture, specifically AfroColombian culture from the coast. A number of Fulbrighters from Medellin and Bogota came to town for the weekend so Elena and I traveled with a pack of ladies and we had a wonderful time.

Sharing out Arrechón with new amigas

Sharing out Arrechón with new amigas

Every evening, as the breeze came in and sun started to back-off we wandered down to the Pan-American Fields where we spent the evenings dancing to marimba, drums, and maracas under the full moon and treating ourselves to new sensory experiences straight from the coast. Fried plantains covered with shrimp in coconut sauce. Fried potato stuffed with shark. Arroz con Mariscos. Ceviches. Shrimp empanadas. And of course, bottle after bottle of Arrechón and Viche. Viche is a bootleg backyard sugar cane alcohol. Not delicious. But Crema de Viche and Arrechón…YUM.  Arrechón is a funny story. The word actually means “pissed off” except on the Pacific Coast where it means “horny.” Yup…it’s supposedly a very potent aphrodisiac known for improving male virility as well as cleaning out all the female “parts” in preparation for reproduction. =) And it’s the drink of choice at Petronio. Made of Viche, sweetened condensed milk, peanuts, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Turns out it’s also a very potent hangover inducer.

The main stage at Petronio

The main stage at Petronio

The weekend of Petronio, I was also lucky enough to receive a visit from Pilar Bernal de Pheils who is my mentor and professor from UCSF- the reason I am in Colombia right now. Pilar is from Cali and I had the pleasure of accompanying her, her mother, and a few other professors on a day trip to La Hacienda El Paraiso, a historic old hacienda/plantation outside Cali.

Pilar, my mentor and friend.

Pilar, my mentor and friend.

The best part of the trip (besides being Pilar of course) was the chance to appreciate the countryside around Cali. Without a car, my options for getting out of the city are limited. And maybe it was Pilar’s enthusiasm (you could really tell that the beauty of her home touches her soul) but I absolutely fell in love with the countryside. The deep green valley flanked on both sides by towering mountains. The gigantic trees with roots that reach for miles, their branches hanging with spanish moss and bromeliads. The cattle grazing, the villages we passed, the colonial haciendas…all amazing.

Valle de Cauca

Valle de Cauca

On the Hacienda

On the Hacienda

Amazing trees

Amazing trees

On Monday one of my very best friends in the world, Victoria, arrived for a visit. She arrived baring gifts (directly off my List of Requests). She was my wing woman for the week, accompanying me to new parts of Cali I had been too shy to explore on my own. It was so wonderful to be loved by someone who knows me so well- just what I needed.

Best Friend Love

Best Friend Love

Word on the street is that the Ethic’s Committee is done with their initial review of my project and I should have a list of revisions in hand soon. Which means that Phase 1: Recruitment is just around the corner! Today I wandered around town until I wandered into “Professional Printers” block, picked one that looked good (kind of like picking a Tarot card…I just go with my gut) and had my posters and brochures all printed off. So exciting!

Feeling very official...

Feeling very official…

These will soon be gracing the walls of the Centro de Salud Siloe. I’m not counting on getting very many phone calls since no one ever has any credit on their phones around here, so my plan centers around charming the nursing assistant (“You look lovely today! Oh yes, you are KEY to this study because all the patients trust and respect you sooooo much…oh and here is a small gift, a token of my appreciation for all your help with recruitment…”) so that she will collect names and numbers for me on a sheet of paper. Every Monday I will swing by the clinic to collect the *massively long* list of interested participants. As soon as I have about 12-15 confirmed eligible women (I’m anticipating anywhere between a 25% to 50% no show rate…) I will schedule and hold my first focus group. But that is for a future post…once  actually have something to report!

Thank you all for baring with me these last weeks and for all the comments of love, support, and encouragement.  I’m missing the fall (all your photos of pumpkin patches and leaves!) but am still enjoying all my hours spend swimming in the beautiful outdoor pool and the evenings in tank tops. Abrazos for everyone!!!

The last light over San Antonio Church

The last light over San Antonio Church

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The question is, how long can Corinna manage to stay away from a University…

Back to School Week!

As much as I loved my nice long summer and slow introduction to Cali, it feels dang good to have my To Do list back up and running. You guys know how I am- always with a plan, always organizing life. I managed to make it work these past couple weeks by creating activities for myself and allowing them to take all day. Do a load of bucket laundry. Walk to buy groceries. Try to make it all he way across town on the bus without getting lost. Or of course, ogle everyone at the gym. But yesterday I had my first meeting with my advisor at the University, Luzmila. We have been in touch by email since last summer, but it was so exciting to actually give her a hug and the mandatory air-kiss-by-the-right-cheek. We spent the whole morning together, with a tour, introductions all around the nursing school (everyone knew who I was and was so excited to meet me! I can’t tell you how many people offered their services!) and then we sat down to start to work on my project.

Profesora Luzmila and I on campus.

Profesora Luzmila and I on campus.

After months of emails and flip flopping about whether or not I need local ethic’s committee approval for my project, it was finally decided that yes, I do. Luckily I got to charm the head of the committee yesterday and she assured me that if I can get my application put together by the time they meet in 15 days (lucky timing!) it shouldn’t be a problem. And luckily Luzmila has done this many times before. A few of her past projects have included beliefs and perceptions of indigenous populations who are given a perinatal diagnosis of malformation and perceptions of breastfeeding among teen mothers in Cali. Super interesting. She was also very interested to hear about my work at UW with perinatal loss. When a perinatal loss occurs here, the baby is whisked away without ceremony and she was eager to hear about some of the rituals we do as routine care (memory boxes, footprints, photos, encouraging time to say goodbye). I think I sense a future grant proposal idea… a training program for Colombian nurses caring for families experiencing perinatal loss. I would LOVE to do that!

Anyway, I am waist deep in my ethic’s committee application. Luzmila gave me a copy of a qualitative research application she used in the past along with a copy of a chapter on Colombian prenatal care from the nursing curriculum so I can copy her format, borrow some language, and do my best to throw together a 15 page document. Luckily the prep work is already done (thank the lord I wrote my Master’s thesis on almost the same topic!) so I am able to cut and paste entire sections (we’re talking theoretical framework, literature review, etc.) into freetranslation.com and then “doctor” it up as needed. It’s quite the process and of course poor Luzmila will have to edit the entire thing in order to keep it from looking like a 6th grader wrote it, but hopefully I will soon be the very proud author of an actual IRB application in Spanish.

In other news, I continue to fall in love with Cali. Even while I sweat from every single pore and struggle to keep up with the conversations around me and long to have a community again, I feel so happy here. Every day a million little things happen that I want to share with you all. So many of them are insignificant but together they make up my new life.

UniValle Campus, walking near the track. You can see a bunch of boys playing soccer behind the tree. The campus is huge and filled with fields, trees, even a lake.

UniValle Campus, walking near the track. You can see a bunch of boys playing soccer behind the tree. The campus is huge and filled with fields, trees, even a lake.

For example, today I was on the Mio. The Mio is Cali’s new bus system, big blue buses that travel in their own lanes and stop at designated bus stops (“El Mio Es Tuyo!”). That may sounds like a “normal” bus but it’s quite different from most public transport in Latin America. Pre-Mio, the city relied on the busetas to get around. Busetas are little 20 seat buses that have a general route and stop wherever someone waves them over (which means they can end up stopping every block). Busetas still exist, although not as many, and a lot of locals prefer them. The complaints about Mio are frequent. It’s too slow, it’s too crowded, it’s too expensive. The other Mio phenomenon that constantly strikes me as funny is the use of the “preferential seats.” Most the seats are grey, but every bus has a row or two of blue seats, which are reserved for the old, the pregnant, the alterabled, or those with babes in arm. What shocks me is the juxtaposition of the absolute respect for this rule (even if the bus is packed like sardines people leave these seats open) with the utter chaos that ensures when the bus pulls up. The crowd of people waiting pushes forward, not waiting for anyone to disembark, so that the people trying to get off the bus have to elbow their way off while the people trying to get on the bus shove forward to take the space. Ayayay! The simple concept of letting people off the bus to make space before getting on is totally unheard of. How do people decide which rules to hold as sacred and which to toss out the window?

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El Mio Es Tuyo

A taxi (you can see the license plate painted on the side) and a Buseta.

A taxi (you can see the license plate painted on the side) and a Buseta.

Anyway, I was on a packed Mio bus, standing squashed between people when an old woman with a walking cane who was sitting in the blue seat, started looking over her shoulder in an attempt to locate her travel companion who was somewhere in the back of the bus. She turns right to me (remember, we are packed in- there are plenty of locals standing around) and asks me to call out for Patricia. “Me?” I ask, in disbelief. Why on earth would she pick the one person who looks the least likely to even understand what she is saying? At this point everyone around us is looking at me- they think it’s funny too, but the woman is totally clueless. Maybe she is colorblind. So I shrug and call out as loud as I can “PATRICIA!!!” Patricia appears and everyone giggles at me. I blush. A totally insignificant moment of my day that I wanted to share with you. =) In fact, I have been stopped in the street by folks needing directions nearly daily. I must looks extra confident (part of my travelers facade) or something because I am usually shocked that people even assume I speak Spanish, let alone that I would be able to give them directions! Nevertheless, I have been able to answer their questions at least 75% of the time.

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Siesta on the floor of the literature building after lunch.

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Today’s class: “Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Colombia” The main themes are sexual diversity, ethnic diversity, and gender diversity in Colombia. Fun!

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Hanging out on campus.

Today is my first day of class at the University! It’s not required, since I already have my Masters, but it’s free so why not!. And there is something about the university campus that absolutely draws me in. It is like the center life force for young people in the city. Constant soccer games, gossip circles, protests (don’t worry, I steer clear as directed). So many young people, so much energy! I just love it. In fact since classes started on Tuesday I have been on campus every day (the health sciences campus is in a totally separate location so there really isn’t a reason for me to be on main campus, but I’m good at inventing excuses.) and yesterday I finally signed up for a class. I’m still deciding but it’s between Contemporary Colombian Stories, Diversity Ethnicity and Culture in Colombia, or Literature and Erotism. Plus a Hatha Yoga class (since it’s free!) I’m really excited. I am sure I will be older than everyone in the undergrad class and equally sure I will only be able to follow 75% of it at best (the poor professor is going to have a laugh when he tries to read my essays, which will written at a 6th grade level I’m sure!) but since I don’t really care about the grades and I adore being in school so much, I figured it was worth a shot. I don’t know folks…it may be harder than previously anticipated to keep me out of school!

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Random picture of a fence near my house. “This lot is not for sale. God Loves You. Not for Sale.” Makes me smile.

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