La paz con las mujeres

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White birds flew above our heads in a circle.

My battery had died, so I took a break and sat down on a pile of bricks.

Dancers dressed in long brown dresses and wearing head ornaments that looked like trees walked past me.

A mostly naked man in a cowboy hat and neon-shorts walked around with a red, blue and yellow banner reading, “Bienvenidos La Paz a Colombia.”

Nearby, women who told me they were all from indigenous communities located days from Bogota sat together, the pink sequins of their masks glinting in the sunlight.

Afro-Colombian women wearing head wraps chanted and sang, joined by a pair of elderly bogotanos who clapped with teethy grins.

On stage, the female hosts led the crowd in a series of chants, mostly containing the phrase, “La paz sin las mujeres no se va!

If you go to Colombia, one of the biggest questions among social commentators, activists and the like is: how to construyer peace in Colombia.

How to create a lasting and true peace in a country with 50 years of a complex and damaging armed conflict among guerrila forces, the state military and government-backed paramilitary forces. All are responsible for widespread death, destruction and heartache.

What that peace would even look like – more security, more education, guerrilla demobilization, land reform.

For whom the peace would be – the well-off city-dwellers, the poor city-dwellers, the campesinos in the countryside, the indigenous peoples living in the jungles and the mountains, the Afro-Colombian costenos.

How it could happen in a country with a history of failed peace talks, or peace talks that backfire, and if a peace constructed far away from the countryside and jungles could work.

It is the question thrown about on talk radio, on street murals, in folksy songs and in academic talks at stately universities. In a country with so much skepticism about the prospects for such a peace, and what that could even mean, the answer is complex and big, and one of the only sure answers, say peace activists and the populist/Marxist political movements known as Marcha Patriotica, is “Paz con Justicia Social.” Making peace, they say, must attack the roots of social and land inequality that perpetuate the conflict, which lives on in new ways despite the harsh security tactics at the core of the government’s anti-guerrilla strategy over the past decade.

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On Nov. 22, the women convocated in Bogota. The city closed streets, shut down some bus stops and the office of the mayor publically supported the event. The destinations for the rapid-transit bus line, Transmillenio, were not “Ruta Facil Norte G5como normal – instead, the destination was “Paz con las Mujeres.”

Thousands of women paraded through the streets, beginning in the Plaza de Bolivar, going past the Museo del Oro, past the Estadio El Campin.

Onstage and in the streets, they united across sexuality, gender identity, disability, religion, political affiliations, nationality and race, with frequent cries for unity from “Comunistas” a “personas sin afiliacion politica.”

They called for a seat for women at the ongoing peace talks in Havana. They called for stronger punishments for domestic and relationship violence, a widespread, machismo-infused crisis leaving millions of women impacted each year. They mentioned their support from other countries, such as Chile, who sent a representative to the event to proclaim their support for a peace in Colombia representative of varied and marginalized perspectives.

A few weeks ago, I saw a documentary called “Mujer, nosotras en Colombia.” Well-known faces like Piedad Cordoba, an ex-Senator known for her human rights work and controversy, discussed the fight for women’s rights in Colombia alongside former guerrillas and folk activists. You can watch an interview with the director for the film, which addresses the complex economic, social, political and religious realities of Colombian women, below.

On stage, a woman danced in contemporary Afro-Colombian dress, beginning her piece by speaking of her complex, layered identities as “negra,” “colombiana“, “bailarina,” “madre,” y “hermana“, and her often uncomfortable but joyful feelings toward each.

I looked for a face in a crowd. I have what I think is my birth mother’s Facebook profile, and according to it, she is a somewhat active support of progressive politics and women’s issues.

For algun razon, I mention this to the women sitting next to me. With tears in her eyes, she tells me how a niece of hers was adopted from Bogota 22 years ago.

But her sister’s name is not the same as my birth mothers, and she did not stay at the unwed mother’s home I know my own did.

We talked and cried, and she told me to never abandon my parents in the United States. She gave me her phone number and told me to call her sometime, but I haven’t yet. Maybe I will soon.

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Wonders of Bogota

Bogota, like any other huge city, has millions of pockets to explore, and as a vegetarian, tea-loving women who loves dancing and yoga, I’ve found a ton of places that seem like they were made just for me.

1) Maha Vegetarian Food & Yoga

Photo courtesy of Jasminewanders.com

  • Address: Carrera 7, #46 – 42
  • Hours: Monday to Friday from noon to 5 p.m., Saturdays noon to 4:30 p.m.
  • Websitehttp://mahaveg.co/
  • My thoughts: There’s surprisingly a pretty strong vegetarian presence in Bogota, and it’s not just limited to the glitzier area north of Calle 93! Inside the bright and colorful Maha restaurant, I treated myself to a meal of a quinoa burger, homemade chips and all-natural mango juice. I then took a wonderful yoga class (first class is free!) in its tranquil upstairs yoga studio, and enjoyed some complementary agua aromatica after the class ended. Check out their website for their yoga schedule and their eclectic, all-vegetarian menu! They are also vegan friendly.

2) Wok

  • Address: Located all around Bogota. I’ve gone to the ones in Parque 93 and in Zona G.
  • Hours: Depends on location. Here’s the horario for the Parque 93 location: Monday to Tuesday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday: noon to 11 p.m. Sunday: noon to 9 p.m.
  • Websitehttp://www.wok.com.co/
  • My thoughts: Oh, how I’ve missed Thai food. Wok is both vegetarian and vegan friendly, and both times I’ve gone, I’ve gotten the tofu and vegetable pad Thai with veggie spring rolls.

3) La Castaña Empanadas Al Horno

  • Address: Calle 57 # 5 – 17
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Website: http://www.lacastana.com/
  • My thoughts: Such delicious empanadas. They’re baked, not fried, and super vegetariain friendly. I especially love the cheese and onion empanada, as well as the dried tomato and oregano one. On Wednesday, they have a sale on vegetarian empanadas, so I’d recommend going then! The cafe also has WiFi and outlets, and a very comfortable area in which to work. They also appear to have chocolate making workshops (?), so ask them what their upcoming workshops are if you’re interested!

4) Cafe Del Sol 

5) Asocación Cultural Adra

  • Address: Diagonal 42A #20-45, La Soledad
  • Hours: Check out their class schedule on their website.
  • Website: www.adradanza.com
  • Phone: 232-8478
  • My thoughts: They offer classes in modern dance, arabic dance, ballet, Afro-Jazz, yoga, Chi-kung and Biodanza. The classes are reasonably priced, about $13 USD each. They had a great deal where if two people signed up for a 4-class deal at once, they could get half off one of the deals. I ended up paying about $30~ USD for 4 classes, which was perfect for me! So far, I’ve taken the Afro class, and am planning on taking the modern class and the ballet class this week!

6) Bogota Graffiti Tours

  • Address: Meet in Plaza de Periodistas, then walk around Candelaria
  • Hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Websitehttp://bogotagraffiti.com/
  • My thoughts: Probably the first thing you’ll notice in Bogota is its often remarkable graffiti. This tour takes you around the colonial La Candelaria area of the city, where you learn about the cultural relevance and history of all different kinds of street art in Bogota, from the beautiful, socially-tinged murals, to tiny stickers on street signs, to sculptures of angels perched on roofs. It’s affordable, with a suggested donation of about $10-$20 USD.

7) Momentos Drink House

  • Address: Carrera 7 # 45 -52
  • Phone: 3143694469
  • Hours: ??
  • Websitehttp://www.reverbnation.com/venue/353796
  • My thoughts: With comfy couches and a rock-inspired ambiance, Momentos is a very short walk from Maha and features a variety of seating areas for the college students and soccer fans who frequent the locale. I enjoyed a delicious mango and vanilla ice cream milkshake and watched a futbol game , all while listening to the Beatles and classic rock. No WiFi, but there are power outlets, so I found the mellow coffee house a great spot for distraction-free writing.

Also, make sure to hit up just about any “comida corriente” (i.e. fast meals) restaurant you can find. For the equivalent of $3-$5 USD, you can get a typical Colombian lunch of rice, beans, meat, etc. As a vegetarian, I’m perfectly happy with rice, beans, avocado, sweet plantains, salad and of course, mango juice, wherever I go.

Lulo

DSCN0522I’ve been very into myself this entire trip. Taking in the holes filled with trash on the sidewalks, the smog in the sky, the silence of the Transmilenio bus, the taste of jugo de lulo – all the little parts that make up this city I’ve convinced myself I alone must absorb y conocer. With a greedy tongue and longing gaze, I’m taking this city in, sharing little with others close to me.

I’m at a coffee shop near my house right now. University students are here coding and staring out cafe windows, boyfriends are kissing sus novias with full-on amor, and I am observing, eating a plate of pasta. It’s like I asked, smothered in pesto, oil and mushrooms, with little garlic tostados on the side.

I haven’t been letting myself write, and I’m not sure why. I lull my time away at coffee shops and empanada bakeries, always sipping on aguas aromáticas, making lists and re-Tweeting the afternoon away. I strike up conversations with strangers, always hoping they might ignore the discrepancy between my gringa accent and piel de color cafe. I hope to find someone whom I can temporarily spew observations to, someone who will tell me about themselves, and will know and understand when I have nothing left to say. I’ve found myself excited to meet others here, but at the same time I must admit I intentionally misplace phone numbers, or skip a day trip to go to a random part of the city alone. I didn’t expect to enjoy solitude so, that I would so crave being solita y pensive. I am addicted to the feeling of being an anonymous body in a city of millions.

What troubles me is the thought of being an anonymous body walking past a certain other body, a body that gave me my own. Knowing my birth/natural/first/unknown mother lives in this city gives me a reason to search faces in a crowd. They do not know, but I am not just a people-watcher – I am a possible-mother watcher.

Still, I’m not quite sure if the reason this always comes to my mind when I’m in big spaces if I’m truly interested in meeting her, or if I just have little else to think about.

I’m trying to put myself out there more.

Last Friday, I got a Facebook message from a friend of a friend of a friend about a party going down in an unknown barrio cerca de mi apartamento.

My mistake was that I got there early. I found myself in a bohemian, artsy boarding house someone called the “underground of Bogota,” home to French girls with short bangs and a goateed guy from Alaska who manages an art gallery.

I stood next to the bar – the adult equivalent of the dessert table at a school dance – making conversation with the bartender from Armenia.

Party guests trickled in, coming in one-by-one and later, splattering in by the dozen. I said hello as they walked by, making inane comments about why I actually don’t mind aguardiente, the ubiquitous, oft-disdained cheap Colombian liquor. They always replied with an “Oh!” and told me that I needed to meet so-and-so, or go to so-and-so-‘s bar or restaurant or exhibit. I always told them I will.

The guy from Alaska told me he only “produces art,” he doesn’t create it. He lived in Vancouver for a bit, and then decided to up and move to Colombia.

“Vancouver’s like dating this beautiful woman,” he mumbled. “She’s so nice to look at, but so expensive.” He ended meaningfully, eliciting a laugh from a woman with a blond fauxhawk.

Of course, he had a sister who graduated from Dartmouth. And I was no longer the random Colombian-looking soul looking at people and charging her phone at the bar. I was a job-less college graduate, that “adopted Colombian girl trying to find her roots in a big city,” the wandering intruder, the girl who left all her friends and family hundreds of miles away. I could no longer listen, wonder and question – I had to participate. People crowded around me, the Ivy League girl, before filing away one by one as my stories about college proved dull, unrelatable and slightly bitter.

A couple of beers later, I left.

“Well, next time!” said the friend of a friend of a friend, who wore a metallic bandeau and matching shorts ala the party’s theme: the future.

I nodded, gave him a wave and called a taxi.

—-

I like this act of spewing 500 or so words with a 30 minute deadline – it’s the precise mix of adrenaline and pleasure I’ve always craved. I’m listening to the same playlist of electronic, Adult Swim commercial interlude music that got me through the college essays I somehow “wrote” during overnight, chocolate-covered expresso bean binges. My goal is to write asi everyday for my last 17 days. I think it would be good to write about things I haven’t shared with anybody.

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:

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!