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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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.

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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

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Buenos Dias to the U.S. Government Security Monitors!

It has come to my attention that my blog is being monitored. Not in the “I’m on a Fulbright and represent the U.S. Gvmt” kind of way. The more specific “I posted something about a U.S. Embassy employee” way. So I just wanted to acknowledge that, wish everyone a good morning, and say that I hope that they enjoy reading about Colombian culture and my own journey in self discovery…pretty exciting stuff. 😉 

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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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Medellin Outside the Box and Colombian Chaos

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing Medellin. For a lot of people, Medellin brings to mind drug cartels, violence, and Pablo Escobar. Since Medellin first entered my scope of awareness a few years ago, it’s image has only grown- in a positive way. This NY Times article sums up the changes since Escobar’s death in the early 90’s:

“Then this city of 3.5 million was gradually graced with a series of improvements befitting its jewel-like setting in a lush valley surrounded by green mountains. Parks, libraries, museums and hotels were built. A gleaming metro system was completed…gondolas providing service to the city’s hillside shantytowns were added. Fernando Botero, a Medellín native, donated more than 1,000 pieces of his own and others’ art to the Museo de Antioquia. Birds, in short, began to twitter.”

Medellin in the afternoon light.

Medellin in the afternoon light.

So my expectations were high. Here are some of my impressions:

  • I got to see Caitlin! I can’t even express how wonderful it felt to wrap my arms around one of my best girlfriends from UCSF. Being able to wander the city and chat about our lives, catch up in our endless analyzing of love lives, being nurse practitioners, travel, and self discovery. As Caitlin said, we often forget to appreciate how much it matters to be around people who really know you, no explanations needed.

    Caitlin and I in the botanical gardens.

    Caitlin and I in the botanical gardens.

  • I had my first Air B&B experience! Yes, Air B&B exists in Colombia and it was wonderful. Rather than deal with a noisy hostel (which is wonderful if you are looking to meet other travelers) we got a beautiful private room with a sunny breakfast balcony. It was perfect.

    The Botero Statue Plaza, full of cubby figures! (NOT referring to self!)

    The Botero Statue Plaza, full of cubby figures! (NOT referring to self!)

  • The Metro! It’s usually one of the first things you hear about Medellin and now I understand why. It’s a beautiful, efficient, safe system. Clean, never overcrowded, no pushing and shoving to get on or off…it was an amazing way to travel the city. And the gondola system is actually part of the metro- it takes you straight up the hillside, over the tops of Medellin’s shanty towns. Being the voyeur that I am, I loved the chance to grab sneak peaks into courtyards and onto roofs. It’s a rare chance to be able to observe the goings on of the neighborhoods (rich or poor) without being watched.

    Barefoot park!

    Barefoot park!

  • The Parks! Caitlin and I spent many hours walking the streets and wandering from park to park. The biggest was Parque Arvi, which is a free national park at the very top of the gondola. 30 minutes on a gondola and you arrive in the middle of the countryside with woods, lakes, horseback riding, free bicycles to borrow…It felt so good to get out of the city and breath some fresh air! Within the city we explored the FREE botanical gardens where we ate ice cream in the shade, did a free yoga class, and wandered a “green” hippie market (if you need fresh goat yogurt, organic juiced carrots, or a menstrual cup, this is your place!). We paid to spend a few hours at Parque Explora, the local science center complete with games, multiple exhibits, and an aquarium. It was very impressive and lovely to see a good quality science center full of families! Parque de las Luces is a cement plaza downtown full of 30 foot light sculptures that glow at night. And then there was Parque de los Pies Descalzos which deserves it’s own bullet point.

    Families hanging out in barefoot park.

    Families hanging out in barefoot park.

  • Barefoot Park, situated right outside the “Museo del Agua” is a beautiful public space complete with a sand pit, a bamboo forest, and a couple fountains all designed to encourage you to kick off your shoes and play. On Saturday night the park turned into a free concert. On one side of the plaza was the Reggae rock concert, complete with hundred of pot smoking teenagers. After a few minutes of that scene we wandered to the other stage which was featuring The Alan Parsons Project (popular 80’s rocker from the US) with the Medellin philharmonic. Caitlin and I bought some wine and cheese and settled into the bamboo forest to listen. The warm air, children running around, couples making out, drunk men trying to sing along with Parsons…it was a lovely evening!
  • The Cat Calls. At first I thought maybe it was just because we were walking around downtown (which I almost never do in either Cali, San Francisco, or Seattle) or because were two blond heads bobbing down the street. But no. It continued. In every neighborhood except for El Poblado, the wealthy and white neighborhood. And it wasn’t the nice kind of cat calls that I am used to in Cali. I’ve been paying special attention since I’ve been back and here in Cali I get a lot of stares and a lot of “Hola Hermosa,” “Que reina,” “Mona bella.” (Mona is the Colombian term for light, like they say Guera in Mexico- and no, it doesn’t mean monkey!) Compliments that make me smile and don’t leave me feeling dirty and violated. In Medellin there was a lot of hissing and looks that left me feeling naked. I felt much more defensive in the streets. It was more exhausting. It made coming back to Cali feel like a huge relief. Home sweet home! Where I feel protected and admired. I was a little worried, after Medellin’s amazing reputation, that I would lose some of my love for Cali. But no. I still love Cali best.

As you may have seen/heard (or maybe not) there is quite the community uprising going on in Colombia right now. It started with an agrarian strike protesting the US-Colombia free trade agreement, which they say is having a negative affect on local food production. As someone explained it to me, Colombia is used to producing enough to have plenty and still export. But right now foreign imported food is flooding the market and hurting the local farmers. But it’s not just campesinos now. It’s miners, the transport companies, and of course, at the heart of every protest, the national universities. Until last week the strike was a pretty abstract happening for me, even while I am here in the country. But while I was in Medellin, things came to a head and the universities joined in. Since then I am smack dab in the middle of it. So far, out of three threes of classes, we have managed one- the intro class on the first week. Last week the universities shut down for two days so that the students could join the big rallies and marches. This week, class has been canceled last minute for campus protests, sit ins, and even, yesterday, “papabomabs” which are “potassium chlorate, sulfur and aluminum dust mixture with a rock wrapped in aluminum foil bomb commonly used in student protests in Colombia” (Thanks Paxton!). We have continuously gotten reminders from Fulbright that as representatives of Fulbright and of the U.S. Government, because it can “jeopardize our security,” and because it is expressly forbidden in our terms and conditions that we are to steer clear of all protests AND to keep our phones charged in case of an emergency. It seems that negotiations are well underway and I get the feeling that things will quiet down soon. I haven’t been in danger at all and for the most part life continues as normal- except for a few canceled meetings and classes.

So, life continues! I am moved into my new home in my new neighborhood, which I LOVE. I live with an extended family including (as far as I can tell…it’s a little hard to tell who actually lives here) grandma, 2 daughters, one son in law, a happy singing 2 year old, a brand new baby (born yesterday!), a cat, a dog, and a few medical residents doing rotations for 2-3 months (who I haven’t actually seen!). The house is big and beautiful. We have a blender (back into the world of morning smoothies!), a juicer, an ice maker, and a blow dryer! So far I super happy here and feeling really settled. I have my french press and fancy local coffee. I have my morning smoothies. I have my fan. And today I joined the neighborhood gym just a block away. One advantage of looking so different from everyone is that you gain notoriety very quickly. I know that’s not always an advantage, but I love being recognized as a “neighborhood girl.” I love being a “regular.” I’ve been having moments of sadness for home and what I have left behind. But overall I feel really happy and excited about life.

Until next time, un beso!

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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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A Campesino Market Tour

It feels good to be back in Colombia. I had an amazing week of laughter, love, and tears with my dear friend Kate and her family in Vermont. But arriving back in Bogota on Thursday night felt good. Yesterday I spent 6 hours sitting in the waiting room of the immigration office waiting for number 34 to be called so I could get my visa. Believe it or not, it makes me feel grateful for the “efficiency” of U.S. bureaucracy. Today Sara, Logan, and I wandered around a regional farmer’s market here in Bogota. Tomorrow it’s back to Cali and time to actually start getting some work done. I suppose the U.S.

Campesino market in Bogota with vendors from the region.

Campesino market in Bogota with vendors from the region.

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Layered merengue cake and rice puddings.

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Yummmmm.

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Pudding Galore! Berry, Passion fruit, and Lime.

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Fresh grilled and friend blood sausage, chicken, pork, and chorizo. $2.00

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Sara and Logan about to dig into the merengue.

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Grilled and smoked meats. A massive pot of soup.

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Fresh roasted pig! The rice soaks up all the juices and the best part is the nice piece of fatty crispy chicharron (pig skin) you get on top.

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The “Queso con Dulces” station

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Digging into my plate of fresh farmers cheese topped with arequipe (dulce de leche), candied pineapple and strawberries, and jarabe de panela (sugar cane syrup).

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Sausage selection!

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The natural medicine booth. A root that you peel and eat raw to “cure diabetes,” oil of coca leaves for joint aches or memory problems, oil of marijuana leaves to prevent cancer and relax you.

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