Skydiving

So I did some math this morning and realized that I have exactly one month until I’m back home. That’s right, kids — if all goes well, which is to say disregarding the possibility of my expiring somewhere on the Inca Trail or perishing in the midst of the predicted apocalypse, I’ll be landing at JFK sometime around 6 a.m. on December 21st. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind about that reality — for all the talk going on amongst my friends and I lately about our first meals back in America, or all my efforts to ignore everyone’s Facebook updates about undoubtedly delicious Thanksgiving dinners, or my occasional annoyance that none of the emails I receive about events are ever relevant to me, I can’t figure out how to analyze the math in a way where the fact that I’ve been here for almost 11 months makes any sense. Sure, everyone always says “It feels like just yesterday that…” I won’t go so far as to say that it feels like yesterday, but it does feel like a whole bunch of yesterdays. It doesn’t feel like almost a year. It doesn’t feel like I’ve turned 24 here. And it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s time to go.

I always know when I need to move, because I do this thing where I start staring obsessively at every airplane overhead, wondering where they’re going, who’s aboard, why I’m not on that flight right now. It happened to me at home in Boston, it happened in Buenos Aires, it happened in Chicago. Even though I miss some of those places desperately (I still harbor a Charlie Brown-esque unrequited and unconsummated love for the Windy City that’s going to have to be remedied one of these days), the only recent time I can remember glancing at an airplane that I wasn’t about to board was one day where Bogotá was smothered in absolutely spectacular clouds and I couldn’t help watching the lights slice through the darkness. I’m just not ready to leave yet.

Of course, I’m ready to go home for the holidays. I miss my family, my friends, American football, Trader Joe’s, Harvard Square in December, good breakfast cereal, snow… the list goes on. I miss people. I miss things. But the unfortunate truth of where I am in my life is that I’m always going to miss people, places and things. My friends are scattered across the country, some of them across the world. I will never live within two miles of all of my closest friends at any point again in my life. Everything I love can never be in one place. And traveling doesn’t make it better — it exacerbates it. I keep moving, I keep falling in love, and then I keep moving on. I would rather be in love with everything than nothing, but it’s not my favorite kind of balancing act.

All of this is to say that, despite my itchy feet, I’m not done with Bogotá yet. Whenever I think, seriously think, about getting on a plane and never coming back, I start to freak out. I want to grab everything here that I care about and cling to it. You’re going to have to drag me away, I hiss to the imaginary authorities enforcing this mandatory evacuation.

But you know what? Nobody is enforcing it. I will be thrilled to go home in December, but I’m going to be just as happy to come back in January. Because yes, I’m coming back. It’s not exactly clear right now what I’m going to be doing (or how I’m going to make sure I feed myself), but that’s something I’ll figure out in the time between now and then. I’ve always landed on my feet so far in my life, and if a man can take the risk of jumping from an aircraft perched on the edge of space, the least my scaredy-cat self can do is try to make this work and see what happens. Because lord knows I won’t be jumping from any airplanes anytime soon.

Unless that Mayan apocalypse does happen, after all. Then I may not have a choice.

How can I think about leaving this place when I just want to wrap my arms around it?

Being Responsible Is Overrated (But Necessary)

Aside

Back around May or June, when I seriously began thinking about the possibility of trying to stay here for another year, I gave myself an arbitrary deadline of September to begin looking for jobs. It’s not like anyone here is going to be hiring four months ahead, but it at least gave me a concrete time to start scoping out potential employers, getting in touch with various people and organizations and engaging in that dreaded activity, networking.

Well, it’s September now. Time to act like a responsible adult and start begging people to hire me and/or sponsor my visa. So…. anyone know of any good jobs or people hiring enthusiastic Americans with above-average verbal skills in Bogotá? I’m all ears.

Don’t Worry, Mom, I’m Only Planning to Kidnap One Alpaca

Today I’m off on a grand 12-day adventure to Ecuador and Medellin! I don’t expect to be anywhere near the interwebs during that time, but I’ve scheduled a few posts, mostly photos, to keep you all entertained in my absence. See y’all in July!

Car Bombs and the Incredible Power of Solidarity

So, today, May 15th (screw all of you with Daylight Savings hours, it’s still Tuesday here), was Día del Profesor here in Colombia — and, if I’m not mistaken, in many other countries as well. Here in Bogotá, though, the celebration was rather overshadowed by the unofficial Día de Car Bombs.

I’m not talking about offensively-named drinks, nor am I trying to make light of what is a really serious situation. There really were car bombs today. Plural. Fortunately, only one of them actually went off, but one is more than bad enough.

But let’s start at the beginning. Today marked the beginning of the official operation of the new free-trade agreement between Colombia and the U.S. I won’t even pretend that I paid enough attention in economics class to explain anything about it, but we’re all adults here, so I think we’re at least familiar with the basic idea of a free-trade agreement, in that it removes a significant number of tariffs and import/export taxes on goods between countries, thereby freeing up the possibility of a lot more movement of goods and basically screwing over most producers who aren’t giant evil corporations. In this case, a majority of U.S.-produced agricultural products (including most fruits and veggies, plus more soy and horrible genetically-engineered beef, yay!) will now come into Colombia tariff-free. This, for the people who failed Econ for Dummies (hey, I barely scraped by), means that these products will now be way cheaper in Colombian markets, making competition almost impossible for Colombia’s nearly 2 million small farmers, most of whom already live in serious rural poverty.

Of course, it’s GREAT for the U.S. economy — especially my least favorite state, Florida, which, as the closest point in the continental U.S., looks to benefit a hell of a lot from all that new movement of goods and will undoubtedly use that money to build more goddamn high-rise beachfront hotels or golf courses or something else equally awful. President Santos has sworn that it will create more than 300,000 new jobs for the Colombian economy, but Oxfam, who tend to know their stuff, predicted last year that the FTA (or TLC, as it’s rather amusingly called here) could cause those 1.8 million farmers to potentially lose more than half of their incomes, as well as negatively affecting their communities and undermining anti-FARC efforts made in poorer regions. So, yay free trade! Imposing U.S. demands and crappy products on countries across the world! Ruining the lives of small farmers so Monsanto can just move right in! Yay, destructive globalization!

Anyways, we won’t go into my feelings about free trade any further. Suffice it to say, there are some people in Colombia who agree with me about the potential issues presented by these kinds of treaties. However, the difference between me and these people is that I don’t go around expressing my feelings by blowing things — and people — up.

This morning, most of us awoke to the news that the police had discovered a car with an explosive device outside the police headquarters in the centro, near La Candelaria, in the early hours of the morning. Luckily, they discovered it in time to safely defuse it, and they apparently already caught some guy who was at least somewhat responsible. So, whew. Danger averted, right?

Not really. A little past 11 a.m., a bomb detonated in the middle of the busy intersection of Calle 74 and Avenida Caracas, one of the main carreras running north-south through the city and a primary hub and route for the public TransMilenio bus system. In fact, Calle 74 is right between Calles 72 and 76, which are both major interchange stations on the TransMilenio routes. There was obviously a ton of confusion at first about what had happened — Twitter, bless its robot heart, was, as usual in these kinds of situations, both incredibly useful and totally misdirecting. I initially found out about it from Twitter, where people were reporting a bus had blown up. There were five wounded, then ten, then 19, then two dead, and so on. All of this turned out to not quite be the truth, but as the day went on, we got closer.

We’re still piecing the whole thing together, but as it looks now, what happened was this: Whoever the attackers were (the government refuses to say anything official, but everyone is pretty sure it was the FARC), they were clearly targeting Fernando Londoño, a former justice minister under the previous Uribe administration. Why he was targeted isn’t really clear to me (or, apparently, anyone so far), but the people responsible pulled up next to his car on a motorcycle, attached the bomb to the door of his car, then zoomed away. And then it exploded.

As it happened, when the bomb detonated, Londoño’s car was right next to one of the thousands of public busetas that criss-cross all over the city, so the bus and all of its passengers were caught in the explosion as well. As of right now, the official tally is three dead (Londoño’s driver, a police bodyguard and an unidentified third person), and almost 40 injured, most of them passengers from the bus.

People here were, understandably, really shaken by the whole thing. The news began to spread around my school at about noon, and most of the teachers instantly grabbed for their phones, calling their loved ones to make sure everyone was safe. It was definitely a strange, unsettling day, but I want to try to make sure to point out the positive message here, because there is one.

Even though the image of Colombia may still be, to most outsiders, something along these lines, with random car bombs and assassination attempts happening on a daily basis, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, this was an important reminder of the reality of life in this country, that there remains an ongoing civil conflict from which all the tall buildings in Bogotá can’t shield us, and that to ignore this truth is both foolish and dangerous. But the fact that people were so shocked, so horrified, so quick to take to any and all means of communication to denounce today’s violence and express their solidarity for one another and for their country, says so much about how far this city and these people have come. This is not the Bogotá of ten or twenty years ago, where such events might not have come as a surprise. In today’s Bogotá, these things do not happen. And when they horrifyingly, shockingly do, as they did today, the whole city reaches out to one another and finds not fear, but strength.

As soon as news of the attack spread across social media, “74 con Caracas” and “londoño” shot to the top of Bogotá’s trending topics on Twitter. But what I found more interesting is that the next most popular tag across the city was “#NoAlTerrorismo” (“No To Terrorism”). As in, this shall not pass. As in, we won’t allow it. People here are shaken, but they aren’t scared. This is their city — they love this place, they’re proud of it, and they’re not going to let anyone take that away from them. And you can’t make that spirit disappear, no matter how strong your bombs might be. Some things can’t be destroyed.

The 10 Weirdest Search Terms That Have Led People to My Blog

One of the great joys of having a blog is looking at the search terms that lead people to said blog. This is partly just because of that nosy desire we all have to see the weird crap that other people Google when they think nobody is looking, but it’s also pretty hilarious to see what searches Google thinks are relevant to my life and/or dubious expertise. Many of them make some sort of sense — people are looking for information about Colombia, or travel, or peanut butter, or delicious micheladas. A surprising number of people are highly interested in Jet chocolate (although at least one searcher thinks it tastes bad). These are the normal ones.

But I can promise you, they are not all normal. I don’t want to keep the fun details to myself, so here, for the world’s enjoyment, are the weirdest search terms that have led people to stumble upon my humble blog, in order from strange to extremely strange (and these are just from the last 90 days! We can keep going forever!). Hope none of you lovely folks are reading this right now — but if you are, hey, thanks for stopping by! Hope I can help!

  1. “i’m not one for goodbyes” — this is what I get for writing blog posts that start like a bad emo song. My bad.
  2. “feliz cumpleanos boo” — this sounds like the world’s worst Chris Brown song
  3. “cupcake trends 2012” — new trend: EVERYONE JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN ABOUT THE CUPCAKES. Sex and the City ended like five years ago. Jesus.
  4. “how can i talk about myself” — get a blog!
  5. “ryan gosling eating pizza” — actually, I don’t know why we aren’t ALL googling this, all the time. I’m happy that somehow Google sees fit to connect me to the Baby Goose. First the internet, then real life! That’s how these things work, right?
  6. “things colombian women like” — um, oh gosh, why don’t you try asking A PERSON INSTEAD OF THE INTERNET?
  7. “geography of peanut butter” — THREE PEOPLE searched for this! We should probably be friends. I feel like we’d have a lot in common, even though I don’t really understand the question.
  8. “farewell to a difficult boss who is leaving” — I can only assume this is related to my post about cake.
  9. “peanut butter sandwich of inequality” — is there something they didn’t teach me in history class?
  10. and, my very favorite: “does wearing heels guarantee getting fucked” — I’m not even going to TOUCH this one. Apparently the great Search Engine Gods think I know the answer, though. Methinks I need to go revise my SEO terms. Or consider a career change.

Honorable mention goes to: “can you wear heels everywhere,” “ten personal questions,” the name of one of the other volunteers on my program and “where to buy fresh fruit smoothies fast food cumming ga.” Hope you figured that one out, hungry Georgia resident! And stop stalking the other people on my program, Internet creepers.

We’ll check back in a few months from now to see if you people have managed to get any weirder. Good luck beating #10, though.

Why You’re Wrong about Bogotá

Earlier this afternoon, I was sitting on a bench in the park in the middle of my apartment complex — sipping tea with honey, writing what I hoped were clever captions for some photos, and watching the dogs and little kids that belong to my neighbors playing on the colorful wooden park equipment. It was sunny and warm with a light breeze, seed pods were tumbling from the trees and attempting a 10.0 splashless landing in my tea mug and the teenage couple (both in hoodies, of course) on the bench nearest me were engaged in an extremely serious conversation about shoes between drags of their cigarettes.

threatening seed pods

A view of the park outside my building. 100% guerrilla-free!

I’m not describing this scene because I’m practicing for a future creative nonfiction class in which I have to describe the most cliché moment of my day. Usually we writers attempt to focus on the unique moments in our lives, but I’m writing about this particular moment because of, rather than in spite of, how very generic it was. This park could be in Denver, or Sydney, or Johannesburg. Other than the fact that everyone around me is speaking Spanish, there is nothing to distinguish this moment in this place from a Tuesday afternoon in a small park in any major city in the world. There are no bullets flying overhead, no men on the corner sporting gang colors, no guerrillas or paramilitares lurking in the trees.

Keep reading!

Oh hey there, legitimacy

Aside

Greetings, fan club! I’m just dropping in for a second, in between sessions of stuffing my face with pizza and/or Crepes and Waffles, to inform you all that some other people have decided my writing is worthy of their time! For the foreseeable future, in addition to keeping up the steady trickle of updates here, I’m also going to be blogging over at La Vida Idealist. La Vida Idealist was originally created by the lovely people at everyone’s favorite job-hunting site, and has since evolved into a blog for and about all of us crazy people who choose to spend our time doing volunteer and non-profit work in Latin America. In addition to my fabulous contributions, it’s got some really interesting posts on everything from the life of Kiva Fellows to how it feels to be a Peace Corps member being forced to leave Honduras. If any of you are at all interested in heading down to this part of the world anytime soon, it’s a great resource and is definitely worth your time.

But even if you’re determined to stay somewhere they celebrate Presidents’ Day, you should still read it, because you like me! You can check out my incredibly eloquent introductory post here. Hopefully there will be many more to follow!

School updates and vague threats

YOU GUYS. January 4th is exactly one week from today. I leave in seven days. Woah.

Way back in the spring, when I was applying for this program, 2012 seemed miles away (fortunately, since I was in no mood to be seriously considering the advent of the looming apocalypse. But I digress). But now it’s here, perched just four days away from me, waiting. Needless to say, I have packed exactly nothing, although I do have a cardboard box sitting on the floor in my room, designated for “things I need to remember to bring.” So that’s something, I suppose.

In other news, I got my school assignment a few days ago — it’s a small, semi-private school waaaayyyyy up in one of the northernmost neighborhoods of Bogotá. It also starts at 7 a.m., so that’s going to be a party. I hope for the sake of my relationship with my students that I don’t have any classes first thing in the morning, or we are not going to be friends. It seems like a pretty cool school, though — there’s a strong focus on the arts and significant emphasis on bilingual education, which means I might even feel useful! Fancy that! The school is fairly small, as well, with less than 900 students across grades K-12, so I’m excited about the small class sizes. Hopefully I’ll get to know most of my students pretty well, rather than resorting to calling them “Hey you, in the blue shirt.” Although if I don’t know their names, I can never get them in trouble, so there might be some benefit to anonymity, after all.

In any case, for all of you here in Boston: You have exactly six days to confess your love to me, buy me a drink or do anything else you’ve been putting off all year. Because when I stay in South America forever, you’ll be sorry you didn’t do it before I left. Consider this your final warning.