A list of places I’d like to go

With (wow!) already two months left in Colombia, here’s a list of places I’m going to go visit during the rest of my time here:

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Qualifying for the World Cup

A mall security guard repeatedly jumped up to hit a high-definition flat screen hanging above the food court, willing its fuzzy picture to sharpen.

To those watching, the television’s less-than stellar quality was no matter. Families, boyfriends and girlfriends and professionals in suits crowded the downtown Bogota’s San Martin shopping center last night, watching the Colombia national fútbol team’s game against Chile.

If they scored enough points, Colombia would cinch its qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brasil – the first time it would do so in 16 years.

I watched from the nearby entrance of a movie theater adjacent to the food court.

In the taxi on the way to the mall, I heard it wasn’t going so well at half-time. Colombia was down 3-0. Earlier in the day, I saw street fences lined with yellow, red and blue jerseys for sale, Colombian flags blowing in the breeze. You could feel the hopes, the excitement.

There was just a few seconds left in the game.

And sure enough, something happened. Given my complete lack of soccer knowledge, I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I later learned that Colombians defended enough goals to end the game in a draw. After Chile began the game with winning three quick goals, the Colombian team:

…responded with a 69th-minute goal from Teofilio Gutierrez and two penalties by Falcao in the 75th and 84th.

“The dream is complete!”, an announcer shouted, as the crowd of fans swelled and waved their flags.

A father bent down and hugged his son, picking him up and pointing at the screen. A cleaning woman started smiling and clapping, while everyone else in the food court cheered loudly in a singular moment of deep joy and national pride.

For an idea of what it was like, here’s a video of a celebration in a Northern Bogota supermarket:

This is the closest to the World Cup’s that Colombia, a country where soccer has often been linked to narco-trafficking (If you haven’t seen ESPN’s Los Dos Escobars yet, see it!), has been in 16 years.

To summarize Los Dos Escobars, basically, in the 1990s, Colombia’s team got really amazing, partly because they got a lot of laundered money from narco-traffickers. At the World Cup in 1994, wonderful human being and fútbolista Andres Escobar accidentally scored a goal for his own team, and along with other reasons, Colombia’s aspirations were short-lived.

Several weeks later, he decided to go out to a bar, got heckled, and was murdered under the shadiest of circumstances. His death wracked a nation, and since then, his murderers have gotten jail time, and the government worked harder at cleaning up the sport, aiming to get the “narco” out of its “narco-soccer” label.

Still, Colombian fútbol has a lingering legacy of violence. Just a few weeks ago, fights between fans of rival teams resulted in the deaths of three fans (including a 66 year-old retired Army commander protecting his son from oncoming ‘fans), following years of sporadic attempts to quell such violence.

So for many reasons, yesterday’s win meant a lot.

It drove Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos yesterday to say the win represents a “new Colombia.”

And it’s a reason that today, many are still smiling and using the hashtag #VamosColombia, united under one flag.

Colombia national soccer team fans celebrate their team’s 2014 World Cup qualification, in Barranquilla, Colombia, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. Colombia booked a World Cup place with an epic 3-3 draw against Chile Friday night. AP

 

Here, watch a re-cap of the game! 

7 Ways Zumba Has Helped Me Better Navigate Intercultural Interaction, i.e. “Being Gringa”

A bit of me died inside when writing that headline.

Perhaps ’tis a sign that my powers of observation and critical analysis have been reduced to that of the shallow, formulaic lists of Buzzfeed. Those that have served both as fodder for dinnertime, ivy-tower smarminess on the vapiditiy of viral Internet culture and as my website of choice for late-night, early-morning, mid-day, and early-afternoon procrastination.

On the other hand, I think it’s the best way of quickly articulating the feelings of cultural weirdness I’ve been having, and the ways I’m thinking of overcoming them.

So, to begin with, I’ve been lucky enough to have taken Zumba classes in four states and two countries. Now, I’m (obviously) in Colombia, the birthplace of the high-paced “rumba” dance culture later appropriated/bastardized into Zumba, the Latin-infused, undeniably cooler grand-cousin of 1980 jazzercise a la Richard Simmons.

So maybe it’s only right I’m using a shallow, yet pleasing, method of analysis to discuss a similiarly consumer-drizen, yet undeniably helpful, mass faze.

I had a rather stressful time last week – one of my stories seemed to no longer be “a story” (a weird turn of phrase likely used too often by journalists), and I was feeling a bit lonely and weird.

After graduating from college this June and immediately moving into an apartment house in Georgetown, I often struggled to “find myself” and missed being able to text my best friends and hang out with them instantly.

By the end of the summer, I made more of an effort to make plans with other Dartmouth students in D.C., and I also developed a great appreciation for solitude, and its calming, self-actualizing (Hi Mia!) properties.

Still, coming (and at the same time returning) to a new (yet also my own) country introduced another set of challenges. I am at once able to physically fit in, and also noticeably different. Despite my ability to converse and interview in Spanish, my accent often gives me away: I am often mistaken for a Brazilian, Uruguayan and of course, estadounidense. But it doesn’t stop at my voice – I give myself away with my ways of dressing, of sneezing, of walking and of even looking around a café.

For the past three weeks, I’ve let myself constantly worry about “giving myself away.” One day this week, I felt particularly low, and just wished I could automatically “be” Colombian.

Then, I took a nap, had some food and went to Rumba class with a clear head, and I thought some thoughts.

So here’s how Rumba/Zumba helped me destress and re-evaluate my approach to living and enjoying myself in a foreign country:

1) It’s good to know the basics, but no one’s perfect. 

Dance is a language all on its own, and I am so grateful to have learned strong ballet and jazz technique at a young age. Even though I was basically a back-row Nia to my own Miss Abby who loved to ask only me to do extra sit-ups, I know I developed a discipline and attention to detail that has helped me in a lot of ways – particularly dance.

But after not dancing for a year or two and then taking up modern dance, ballet and Zumba, it took several weeks of classes to get back into the mode of watching someone dance and internalizing it. The best Zumba teachers I’ve had get that this is a difficult foundational skill to acquire, and will either demonstrate moves or use the same routines for weekly classes.

Similarly, I’m glad to have the experience of a study-abroad stay in Mexico, language drills at Dartmouth, and practice interviewing in Spanish in Tucson, Arizona and Long Island, New York. But I still have areas to improve, and sometimes, I need to review the basics. I hope that being in Colombia will allow me to build off the solid grammar and vocabulary foundation I have, while also helping me internalize the colloquialisms and conversational pacing that will ultimately help me become very fluent.

I’m also going to be chilling out with the need-to-be-perfect-at-journalism-always and letting myself grow as a writer, story-teller and observer of the humons.

2) Pace yourself.

 

Like with any aerobic class, if you start off going at 85 mph, you will quickly fade. 

For a good chunk of last week, I stayed up too late working on articles and  watching telenovelas (Sin tetas <3). But then, I would oversleep and miss the overly strict iCal schedule I had made, adding to my stress. I’m taking it easier recently, going to sleep at 11 and waking up around 7, and setting more times in my schedule for breaks.

3) Just keep moving. Let yourself try something new to you, something foreign to your body.

Often in Zumba class, the teacher will throw something crazy at you, whether it be a Bollywood/step-dance fusion routine or an Afro-Latin jazz step that looks impossible. I’ve found it’s best to just try your best to get your body moving in a way that just makes you feel good. Refinement will come later.

When I first got to Bogotá, I sometimes felt myself getting “stuck”. That is, I missed some cultural cue in a fast-paced conversation, film, play, song or Spanish article I was reading, and it was really hard to get over that hump and keep following along. Bad example: when I first met my roommate, she used a barrage of slang terms – like chévere, maluko, etc – and I felt myself focusing in on what those specific words meant rather than thinking on the context of the larger conversation. There’s also less of a sense of individualism here in Colombia, with more of an emphasis on family ties – something else I’ve had a bit of struggle with internalizing. I’m learning, and trying to pick up as much as I can without worrying if I immediately understand every single word or cultural cue. And when I’m in doubt or want to learn more – I ask.

5) Sometimes, you’re just going to be doing your own thing in the corner, while everyone else is doing something completely different, and that’s completely fine. 

Once in a while, I’ll get really into the groove of a specific move that the teacher’s throwing at us. So much so that when I look over at her, she’s moved onto something completely different. Or, when I really need a break, I’ll start grape-vining in the corner.. quite like the above gentleman.

And that’s perfectly fine. There will be ideas or concepts that really appeal to me, or that really trouble me, and in those moments, I’m just going to do my own thing and do what feels comfortable.

6) Relax.

Zumba is meant to be fun. 

Here’s to not taking myself so seriously, and making the next ten weeks as fun and enriching as possible!

Something to internalize: I am a United-Statesian. I can’t stop being American, no matter how much I want to de-Americanize. I think that if I work on accepting my own “outsider” identity, I’ll have a much richer cultural experience.

This week, I’m going to start going to Gringo Tuesdays, an ex-pat night of conversation and cheap drinks at a local bar. I’m hoping to find comradery among friends with similar moments of inter-cultural weirdness.

Another goal for the week: Making the necessary phone calls/interviews in order to volunteer with children at FANA, the orphanage from which I was adopted. I also want to spend time at Hogar Margarita, the women’s shelter in which my birthmother stayed at during her pregnancy. I’ll keep you all updated with my progress!

 

Places I’ve Been: Felipan, Cinema Paraíso

Felipan

As a vegetarian for the past 2.5 years (with some dark moments of chicken-related failure..), my friends and teachers have often warned me of how difficult it is to be a vegetarian in Latin America.

And for the most part, they’ve been right. I mainly cook all my meals (Freudian typo: I almost wrote, “I mainly cook all my feels), and have established a tasty, though somewhat boring, daily routine. For breakfast, I have whole grain cereal, fruit and almond milk, for lunch: quesadillas, baby carrots and grapes and for snacks, almonds and popcorn. Dinner is sometimes a bit different: a mix of vegetables, like broccoli, espinacas and cherry tomatoes, sprinkled with sweet chili sauce or pasta sauce over a bed of pasta, quinoa or rice.

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Of course, this sometimes get old! So I’ve been looking for vegetarian restaurants in Bogota, where a vegetarian movement is on-the-rise, mainly in richer areas or those close to universities.

On the advice of this super helpful Bogota vegetarian guide, I found this gem: Felipan.

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Located near two universities on Calle 51, the all-vegetarian Felipan serves freshly-made lunches and dinners on the second floor, and rich desserts and breads on the first floor.

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Sorry for the awful quality of these photos – the lighting didn’t help my poor iPhone. I enjoyed the nice view of the street outside, as well as the crates of fresh fruits and veggies I spied from the nearby kitchen.IMG_2490

Along with a cup of freshly squeezed mango juice, I had spaghetti tossed with pesto, cucumbers and tomatoes, garnished with three breadsticks – all for about $7-8 USD (they only accept cash).

While the majority of vegetarian restaurants in Bogota seem to close for dinner, Felipan serves dinner from 5-9 p.m. Another plus: they also appear vegan-friendly, with several non-dairy options.

Cinema Paraiso

Think Chunky’s, but at half the cost and with delicious food.

Last weekend, I traveled to the classy neighborhood of Usaquen, in northern Bogota to see the Argentinian film, Infancia Clandestina. A bit on the movie: Haunting, beautiful – but for me, an ultimately unsatisfying operatic look at the Dirty War of the 1970s.

Sidenote: The movie comes just months after the death of former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who took power in a 1976 coup.  

He led a military junta that killed thousands of his fellow Argentines in a war to eliminate “subversives,” died Friday while serving life sentences in prison for crimes against humanity.

For English speakers, here’s a Democracy Now video on the war:

Though I thought the film failed to issue the sort of striking condemnation of the Dirty War that its plot seemed to have been leading to, I still enjoyed it and recommend it. And maybe I’m wrong.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYXvxkuuDx8‎

Back to Cinema Paraiso: After entering via a simple room of white walls and a ticket booth, I passed through a gorgeous earthy café, which served gourmet meals and drinks en lugar de popcorn, hot dogs and Hershey bars. (Photos from the Cinema Paraiso website)

I then entered a small room off to the side, and sat down in a plush red chair complete with my own round wooden table. The picture below is of a larger, even more amazing room – wait it has its own bar.. inside the theater!! Crazy.

Anyways, a waitress soon arrived to take my order, and for a total $15 USD, I enjoyed the movie, a homemade pizza topped with basil and as always, freshly-squeezed mango juice.

I’m grateful I saved up a good chunk of money from my internship this summer for my trip, even if it meant a lot of veggie ramen soups and $1 wine bottles from Trader Joe’s.

Bogota, I will use the next ten weeks to see as much of your arts and culture as I can!

Places I’ve been: Casa Ensamble

Sorry again for having been away – I’ve been trying to immerse myself in Spanish, and have found that writing in English was distracting. Also, my goal of writing everyday was silly! So, now I’m going to update a few times a week.

It’s been a hectic and invigorating three weeks. On the advice of some friends, who were shocked when I told them I did barely any sight-seeing this summer in Georgetown, I’ve made sure I stay out of my apartment as much as possible.

I’ve gone to absurdist plays, a cathedral made of salt, vegetarian restaurants, an Irish-Colombian pub and contemporary art exhibits. Journalism has proven an amazing way to immerse myself in Bogota and challenge myself in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. During a recent trip to the headquarters of Colombia’s coffee federation, I interviewed the head of Juan Valdez – Colombia’s iconic coffee brand – for a look at the state of today’s coffee industry, and a day later, I headed to the soccer field of Tiempo De Juego, an organization working with vulnerable populations in Soacha, Colombia to instill values of fair play and teamwork.

I’m going to write a post in a day or so about what it feels like to “return” to a country, and some reflections on challenges I’ve faced in the past month – but for now, I’m going to do a round-up of places I’ve been!

Casa Ensamble, a theater group

From the outside, Casa Ensamble’s home on Bogota’s Carrera 24 looks like a traditional, albeit a bit funky, theater auditorium, replete with large play posters and a ticket booth.

Once inside, you find yourself in the foyer of a massive, swanky mansion inspired by early 20th century Swiss architect Le Corbusier, a modernist known for such geometric wonders as southeast Paris’s Chapel of Nôtre Dame du Haut and Villa Savoye.

 

Built in 1958,  the Bogota building es un icono de la ciudad, known as “The House of the Million” for its extravagance. In 2008, Bogota thespians and investors finally began the two year-long process of transforming the home into a cultural center.  What once served as living rooms, dining rooms and tiny attic rooms became furnished theatres and comfier open-concept stages.

 

I went to see “Parábola del insulto”, a comedic play starring a group of six nuns – three played by women, the other three by men. It runs at 8 p.m. from Thursdays to Friday, and cost me about $15. To reach the performance space, I walked through a swarm of people, went through a small door, and then climbed a small, rickety staircase to a dark, cafe-like room. I sat in a chair on the side of the slightly-elevated stage, eyeing the open-bar to my left. Other attendees, mainly families and groups of friends, sat in front of the stage at small, round tables.

The play had four “parables”, each using black humor and the concept of an “insult” to elucidate controversial yet weighty subjects in Colombia: 1) the growing acceptance of homosexuality amidst still-present homophobia, racism and violence, 2) abnormally high rates of plastic surgery, 3) the impact of television and media consumption, 4) xenophobia, immigration issues and lingering colonial-tinged tensions, and of course, 5) family relationships.

I absolutely adored the performances of the six highly-talented comedians, and the interactive nature of the play. In between parables, the nuns would improvise bits based on audience member feedback, while never shying away from teasing, explicit sexual references.

I can’t wait to go see more performances by the talented group, and plan on going to see “Sex Zoo” next week. I’m also going to be trying out theater performances all across the city, as I’m sure this performance was only a small slice of cultural offerings in this theatrical city.