About four months into living in another country is when one allegedly hits that first real “low” of culture shock. It takes different forms and manifests in various ways for different people, of course — I’m overall a pretty upbeat, cheerful person, so anytime I don’t feel like hugging half the city is a warning sign for me. Luckily, this is fairly uncommon, and I usually just blame my bad-mood days on the rain, PMS, a painfully crowded bus or the fact that I cannot get my sixth-graders to shut up for two minutes, for the love of god.
Personally, I have yet to really hit that all-out valley of crap feelings — and, barring some sort of traumatic event, I’m not entirely sure I ever will, at least not completely. It’s barely been five months, and I already feel so at home here, in so many ways. The difference between how I feel at five months in Bogotá (blissfully happy) and how I felt at five months during study abroad in Buenos Aires (oh my god get me on a plane I miss baseball season and walking down the street without people saying creepy shit to me more than anything in the world) is just astronomical. I know this is blasphemy and everyone loves Buenos Aires and yay you can totally function there without even really speaking Spanish and blah blah blah etc., but all I can speak for is my own experience. While I’d love to go back and visit all of the parts of Argentina I didn’t get a chance to see the first time, I don’t think I’ll ever be tempted to live there again. The way I feel here right now, they’ll be dragging me out of Colombia kicking and screaming in December, if I end up leaving at all.
But back to the culture shock for a minute. Last weekend I was talking with a few friends about how a lot of us volunteers — who all arrived here at the beginning of January — are probably going through similar low points around the same time. Living abroad, it’s even easier to feel isolated than it is at home; or to think you’re the only one feeling the way you are; or feeling a lot of pressure to keep up a happy facade, whether it’s for friends and family or because everyone else seems happy and you don’t want to be the only Debbie Downer of the group. This is normal, but it’s not positive. We all have bad days, but we also all have reasons why we came here, and reasons why we haven’t left yet. And those bad days are the times when it’s most important to remember those reasons.
One of my friends already wrote a very entertaining blog post about some of her favorite things in Colombia, and another excellent gringa blogger in Colombia has a really delightful list of reasons to love Bogotá. Encouraged by these ladies’ efforts, I want to toss my own hat into the ring. You can call it copying — I call it inspiration. Everyone else is talking about what they love about Colombia, and I just don’t want to be left out!
So, ladies and gents, in what I expect may be somewhat of a continuing series:
25 Things That Make Me Never Want To Leave Bogotá
1. No matter where I am in the city, I can see mountains. It is impossible to overstate how beneficial this is to my mental and emotional health.
2. It is totally socially acceptable for adults to walk around eating all kinds of sugary treats.
3. People stop to help other people change their flat tires. In the middle of the street. At 11:30 at night.
4. Crepes & Waffles. Oh my god, Crepes & Waffles.
5. At most tiendas (and grocery stores), a beer costs about US$1.
6. Random people at bars will buy you a beer, invite you to join them at their table and talk to you like they’ve known you for years.
7. Everyone has a finca outside the city. And they all want you to visit. You could spend months just finca-hopping every weekend.
8. Walks of shame do not visibly exist here (or are at least extremely covert), because tons of women are normally walking around in dresses and heels on weekend mornings.
9. People drink hot chocolate at breakfast and dinner.
10. Colombians will invite you to their birthday parties after knowing you for exactly two hours — or to their weddings after two months.
11. You can buy a cup of strong, dark coffee on pretty much any street corner in the city, for about 25 cents.
12. Also lollipops, if you’re into that.
13. When the guy at my favorite local bakery calls me “amor,” it actually does make me feel just a little more loved.
14. There are dogs everywhere. Everywhere. And they are beautiful.
15. Passengers on crowded buses will happily pass bus fare and change back and forth between fellow passengers and the driver.
16. The cops posted at every TransMilenio station are basically unofficial travel agents in flourescent jackets. The only things I’ve ever seen them do are text, give people directions and occasionally ask random people for identification if they’re feeling especially bored.
17. People keep their horses in the strangest, most surprising places. Like the field next to the Éxito on my walk home from school. Or their back yards.
18. Eggs are fresh, delicious, cheap and probably came from the chicken strolling down the sidewalk outside the store.
19. Reading is considered a worthwhile and normal use of personal time.
20. They have beer towers in more than a few bars. I missed you, college.
21. If you’re an hour late arriving somewhere, it is perfectly acceptable to blame it on the traffic, even if it’s not true. Everyone will understand.
22. Sundays are exactly the way Sundays should be: lazy, quiet, with empty offices and full bike paths and cafés. You can even get away with walking around in sweatpants on Sundays.
23. There is some sort of holiday almost every week. Most of them are celebrated on multiple days, and they often involve presents.
24. For some reason, stilts are really popular here. At almost any kind of large public event, there are guaranteed to be people on stilts. I think I’ve seen more stilts in my five months here than the rest of my life prior to this year.
25. Teenagers are not too embarrassed to be seen in public with their parents. Sometimes they even hug them.