Bogotá, Te Quiero

So it’s finally happening. Tonight, at 11:59 p.m., I board a plane at Bogotá El Dorado’s shiny new international terminal, bound for JFK. Touchdown at 6:02 a.m., the usual customs wrangling (potentially with a few more pointed questions than usual), and a transfer to the equally shiny JetBlue terminal for my connection home to Boston. Logan homecoming should happen right around 10:40 a.m. tomorrow morning, as long as the world is still here.

For the record, I’m not dealing well with this. Overall, I like change, but I’m not a big fan of the enforced kind, and plane tickets are nothing if non-negotiable (unless you have lots of money to throw around). The idea of reverse culture shock has always been something that I didn’t think really applied to me — I love travel, but I also love homecomings. Coming home is much easier when you love your city so much it’s like a physical affliction. Mostly, though, I’ve never really experienced it before. I’ve been sad to leave places before, and I have a long list of planned return visits to places that I left too soon (I’m coming for you, Amsterdam and New Zealand), but the only other time I lived outside of the country for a significant period ended with a feeling of relief more than sadness. I was so happy to come home from Argentina that I didn’t even have space in my heart for culture shock. You can’t be shocked by something that’s welcome.

But then this year happened. This year, where I’ve been happy and comfortable, challenged but able to deal with it and grow with it. I didn’t realize how attached I was here until my plane ride from Lima to Cuzco, about two weeks ago. I was sleepy and my hostel only had instant coffee (practically a cardinal sin to me, after a year of Colombian tinto), so I wasn’t in the best frame of mind from the outset. And then my flight — my flight was full of people like me. Full of loud, enthusiastic, poorly dressed American tourists. Everyone speaking English. Nobody saying “chévere” or wearing totally age-inappropriate clothing. After spending this year surrounded on all sides by Spanish, by friendliness and disorganization, this sudden immersion back into almost-America felt like parachuting into a suddenly foreign region. It was strange and uncomfortable, and I sank into my chair, protected by my headphones, to hide from it all. All I can remember thinking right then was, “I want to go home.” Home, in this case, meant Bogotá. Because maybe it is home now, in a way.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m super excited to be capital-H Home for Christmas, to see my parents and my brother, to sleep on my friends’ sofas, to drink good beer and stay out late and have normal conversations with people in bars without the immediate need to justify my presence there, to walk through Boston and take the T and eat the entire stock of the breakfast cereal aisle at Stop and Shop and watch college football for like 3 days straight and touch snow again and mostly just be home. A year is a long time to be out of one’s comfort zone, and despite the extent to which I’ve fallen in love with Bogotá, a little comfort couldn’t hurt.

The underlying layer of that comfort, though, is the knowledge that I’m coming back in three weeks. That might be the most comforting thing of all.

Happy Holidays and a festive New Year to one and all! If you need me, I’ll be at a bar drinking as much Sam Adams as one can reasonably consume in a three-week period. God bless America, indeed.

Hasta 2013, Bogotá!

7 thoughts on “Bogotá, Te Quiero

  1. I know exactly how you feel. Bogotá has been my home for five months now. I arrived back in Virginia yesterday, and although I am happy to see everyone, I can’t wait to get back “home”. Have you tried Blue Moon? I like it as much as Sam Adams. Or course, you are in Boston…:)

  2. Natalie, Colombia has a way of burrowing into one’s heart, doesn’t it? I left my last home of Cartagena for the States in September and was undone, shattered, heartbroken for two months (might have had something to do with the fact that I also broke up with a Colombiano whom I adored). You captured a lot of it here– the friendliness, the colors, the disorganization, the babydoll tee’s and sparkly lipgloss on fifty-year-old women. I know I’ll live there again some day. I will be that fifty-year-old cuchi barbie!

    Anyway, enough of my whining. I hope you’ve enjoyed your break at home!

  3. Hi Natalie, my name is Sophia and I’m a Fulbright grantee this year in Bogota. I’m in my fifth month here in Bogota and…I love your blog. Are you back in Bogota? How have you found your return to this fascinating and insane city?

    • Hi Sophia!
      It’s great to hear from you — I hope you’ve been enjoying your time in Bogotá so far, and thanks so much for reading the blog! I am back in town now, with a vengeance, and so far everything is going well, although crazy/disorganized/busy and, like you said, fascinating and insane. I’m trying to have the fascinating balance out the insane — so far it’s working, but things can always change.
      What are you doing your Fulbright research on? I wanted to apply for one here but since I’d already been living here for a year, it was kind of too late. There are so many interesting areas to explore, though. I’d love to hear about your project!

      • Hi Natalie,

        Glad to hear that you’re back in Bogota! My Fulbright grant is an English Language Teaching Assistantship, which is a little different than the “pure” research Fulbrights. For the ETA I’m in the languages department at the Universidad Cooperativa.

        ETAs also do a project, similar to the research Fulbrights, and mine is at a unique charter school in Ciudad Bolivar, which has really burrowed into my soul. When I’m asked what my favorite place in Bogota is, I always want to say, “Ciudad Bolivar!” Not everyone understands that, though, so I usually choose another part of the city to name.

        Last semester I was involved with an extremely grassroots project at the charter school–Gimnasio Colegio Real de Colombia–that does cinematic training and projects with the high school students. One of the focuses has been doing official music videos for Colombian bands, most recently for La Mojarra Electrica and Doctor Krapula. Shooting music videos with high school students from Ciudad Bolivar has been, in my experience, ecstatically joyful.

        This semester I’m hoping to get involved in some of the extracurricular programs for the younger students, also. The CGR has been in state of flux since Gustavo Petro revoked, at the end of last year, most of the convenios de financiamiento that allowed such a school to serve some of the most disadvantaged young people in the city. So there are a lot of questions, and question marks, surrounding CGR’s future. The amount of pathos and community at this school is truly amazing, nevertheless. What kind of projects are you working on in the new year?



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