May 31, 2010

Colombian Elections Update

Juan Manuel Santos celebrates his initial victory.

The 2010 Colombian presidential elections were held yesterday. As predicted, no candidate obtained over 50% of the vote, so there will be a second runoff election held on June 20 between Santos (Unity Part/El Partido de U) and Mockus (Green Party/Partido Verde), the leading candidates. In yesterday's results Santos received 47% of the overall vote, while Mockus only received 21%, much less than indicated by the polls. Between now and the election, the two will continue to campaign hard with rallies and speeches in hopes of becoming the next president.

As much enthusiasm as there has been for Mockus recently, I cannot say I was shocked by the results. In my opinion, he is definitely the candidate for change, and I am not sure Colombians are ready for those changes. They like how things have been, they like Alvaro Uribe, the incumbent president, and they approve of his administration - an administration which Santos has been a part of for a long time. The second election will decide for sure, but from yesterday's vote it seems Colombians prefer continuity to change.

One woman interviewed by the BBC really summarized these sentiments:

Standing outside the polling booths in the Bogota neighbourhood of Chapinero, Martha Solano looked pensive after casting her vote. "Up until a few days ago I had thought I was going to vote for Mockus, as I like him and I think he is an honest politician and we have few enough of those," she explained. "But voting for him is a leap of faith and I decided better the devil you know and ticked the Santos box."

Since the second election will be on June 20, that means the last weekend I am in Colombia (aka the weekend after our last day with students) will be another dry weekend. Lame.

For further reading on the election results:

May 28, 2010

Dry Weekend in Colombia (No drinking allowed!)

This is probably going to be tamest weekend in Colombia since I arrived ten months ago. In honor of the Colombian presidential elections on Sunday, May 30, this weekend is a "Dry Weekend".

What's a dry weekend?
No alcohol sold anywhere, including restaurants, bars, grocery stores, clubs, gas stations, etc. Literally, this is a country wide alcohol ban from 6pm on Friday until 6 am Monday. All in all, an effort to encourage Colombians to make an informed, responsible, (sober) choice for their presidential candidates. This is also to benefit the volunteers who work the polls, so that they show up early Sunday morning with a clear mind and body.

Now while I support the general idea of the Dry Weekend in Colombia, I would be curious to see how effective this is in preventing alcohol influenced voting or volunteering. I have a feeling that most people probably stock up for the Dry Weekend in the same manner people stocked up on canned goods at the turn of the century.

Any one candidate needs over 50% of the vote in order to officially win the election, so if this doesn't happen on Sunday, a second runoff election will be held in June. If a runoff election is held, as the polls indicate, then Colombia will also have a dry weekend from Friday, June 18 to Monday, June 21. Seeing as how Friday, June 18 is our last day with students for the year, I am not so much looking forward to an alcohol ban for the weekend, but such is life...

Happy (sober) weekend from Colombia!

there goes my life...into big brown boxes. (Part 3)

On July 22, 2009 I wrote this post, when the four brown UPS boxes containing my life arrived in Miami, Florida to be shipped to Colombia. I posted this picture of the boxes in my living room in Eagan, Minnesota before I shipped them.
Almost five months later I sat in my (first) Colombian living room packing my life into the same brown boxes and wrote this post.

Here I am five months later again and packing my life into the same brown UPS boxes (There is something to be said for their durability, I guess...). WOW - it feels like I do this a lot.

Oh wait - I have done this a lot, in fact I figured out the other day that this move will mark my eleventh move in five years. To & from college freshman year. To & from college sophomore year. To & from college junior year. To & from college senior year. To Colombia. From my first apartment with Maggie to my second apartment with Steph & Hana. Now, to a new apartment with Kelsi.

Essentially I am getting pretty good at learning what I absolutely need in life and what can be parted with. I also can pack up everything I own in about a six hour time span, consecutive or not. Sort of creepy when you think about, that I have these places that I call "home" for the time being, yet I could pack and leave them completely given 24 hours notice. (Not that I would, I am just saying I could!) Then I think about what it will be like when I eventually move my things out of my parent's house someday. The place I grew up in and lived in since age 2. That...would be somewhat more difficult and definitely not possible in a 24 hour time span. There are things in my room that have occupied the exact same place for 20 years. My kindergarten best friends who are still best friends come over nowadays and we sprawl out on the same bed we did 17 years ago...we just have to squish a little bit more to all fit on it. :)

The move is set to happen Monday morning (although it has already been rescheduled once, so cross your fingers!), so after school on Monday we will come home to our brand new apartment! As much as the moving is a pain, I cannot wait to live in our new place with Kelsi. This is definitely one of the moves I have been most excited about in the last five years. :)

Mission for this weekend: Talk Direct TV into coming over Monday night to set up the cable in time for me to catch the 9:10 Twins vs. Mariners game. ;)

May 26, 2010

A Beautiful Sunday for Politics

Sunday afternoon my neighborhood was alive with festivity as a parade and political rally for one of the leading Colombian presidential candidates, Antanas Mockus, happened at the nearby Parque de las Banderas (Park of Flags). For your viewing pleasure, I discussed the details of the upcoming election here.

After listening to hours of crazy music from the windows of our apartment, we headed over to check out the action. Supporters streamed from every street corner wearing the traditional green Mockus shirts and carrying symbols of sunflowers (I still don't know why that is his symbol!). In the middle of the park a stage was set up with live music and people were selling all sorts of Mockus themed merchandise - from t-shirts and pencils to Mockus masks and paper fans.
Parque de las Banderas
Main Stage

Parade with giant cut-out of Mockus' face.
Last year, during the presidential elections in the United States, I had the opportunity to attend a few different political rallies led by Michelle Obama, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton (out in support of Hillary before the democratic candidate was announced). These events are always high intensity and high energy, making them a unique way to really capture the democratic spirit of an election.

Being at the rally, if only for a short hour or so, made me think about how far Colombia has come in recent years. In wasn't so long ago, only 20 years in fact, when a leading presidential candidate was assassinated during his own rally meeting. Now people are peacefully attending rallies without the same fear of repurcussions for being involved. Pretty cool - huh?

Another cool aspect of the upcoming election is how well informed my students are about everything! They know the candidates, their histories, their platforms, their slogans, they know the process, the rules and the regulations. I do not ever remember knowing very much about either presidential candidate until I started paying attention to the 2004 elections at age 17. Now these students defend their chosen candidate with specific evidence at age 13!
Steph & I with t-shirts and balloons - hooray Green Party!

May 22, 2010

Lucky Girl

If we could've seen how our lives would be,

we wouldn't have believed it - how lucky we are.

All of us.*

I talked to my friend Anna today for an hour and 30 minutes. Our conversation was non-stop, give and take, the kind where you move fluidly from topic to topic without ever realizing you are talking about something different. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Connections. They take my breath away. When Anna and I made the decision (separately) to go to the same college almost exactly five years ago I never would have predicted where our lives would go. How cool is that?

We both wanted to be teachers - so we did the teacher education program thing. We took some classes together, completed our student teaching, and became certified teachers. We moved out of our respective apartments in La Crosse, Wisconsin, left our college days behind, and said goodbye to a town that gave us incredible, life-changing memories. Now I am teaching 8th grade math in Cali, Colombia and she accepted a job for next year in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

How did we get to this point? Talking to her today reminded me of how incredibly lucky I am to have the relationships I do with people who challenge me, who build me up, who make me laugh, who make me feel alive. We meet new people everyday, we build friendships, we form relationships, and we turn new friends into old friends. We learn together, we live our lives together, we laugh together and in the process....we grow up. Our lives change more and more everyday and sooner or later, we change with them.

Throughout it all? The love we have for each other remains the same. As we laughed together thinking back on college memories, I thought to myself - why are we so quick to forget the bad and romanticize the past?
Because it made us who we are today.
Everything that happened, it happened for a reason.
That's how we got to this point.

In exactly one month my plane will touch down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and nine hours after that I will be bouncing out of my seat with excitement as I board my 6 am flight with final destination MINNESOTA. Eeeeeek! I literally cannot think about going home without squealing out loud. Eleven months is a long time and I cannot wait to reclaim that giant piece of my heart that I left the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I plan to spend a whirlwind thirty-five days rediscovering the stunning people I am so lucky to call my friends and family during the hot, humid days and breezy, cools nights of a Minnesota summer.

See you there!!
*Quote credits: Brooke Davis, One Tree Hill. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it. :)
p.s. I have been having trouble blogging lately - call it Spring Fever, call it a busy schedule or call it lack of motivation. Whatever the reason was, all inspiration for the return is thanks to a beautiful friend - thanks Anna.

May 21, 2010

Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging

One of my friends at work asked me at work this week about personality types. Before I even officially knew what mine was, I could have told you a lot about myself. I have always been pretty aware of my personality traits, both good and not so good, but I feel like I have become even more aware of them in the past year. Nothing like packing up your life and moving to a new continent to ignite some self-awareness. :)

I am a take charge person. As the oldest of four kids and the only girl, I take responsibility for things quickly and easily. I am a planner. (Understatement, I know.) I plan my lessons, my vacations, my weekends, and I stick to that schedule. I am loyal - in good ways and intense ways. I don't give up on people, on friendships, on relationships. If I commit to something I am in it for the long haul. I'm also bossy, sometimes judging and no matter how many times my mother tells me "Patience is a virtue", I know it isn't one of mine. I know what I want and I am going to go out and get it. I'm a dreamer.

Alas when I took the online personality test my friend sent, I was not surprised when the results determined me to be an ENTJ - Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging personality. According to the description:

"As an ENTJ, your primary mode of living is focused externally, where you deal with things rationally and logically. Your secondary mode is internal, where you take things in primarily via your intuition. ENTJs are natural born leaders. They live in a world of possibilities where they see all sorts challenges to be surmounted, and they want to be the ones responsible for surmounting them. They have a drive for leadership, which is well-served by their quickness to grasp complexities, their ability to absorb a large amount of impersonal information, and their quick and decisive judgments. They are "take charge" people. There is not much room for error in the world of the ENTJ. They dislike to see mistakes repeated, and have no patience with inefficiency. They may become quite harsh when their patience is tried in these respects, because they are not naturally tuned in to people's feelings, and more than likely don't believe that they should tailor their judgments in consideration for people's feelings. ENTJs are very forceful, decisive individuals. They make decisions quickly, and are quick to verbalize their opinions and decisions to the rest of the world. Although ENTJs are not naturally tuned into other people's feelings, these individuals frequently have very strong sentimental streaks. ENTJs love to interact with people. As Extroverts, they're energized and stimulated primarily externally. There's nothing more enjoyable and satisfying to the ENTJ than having a lively, challenging conversation. They especially respect people who are able to stand up to the ENTJ, and argue persuasively for their point of view. There aren't too many people who will do so, however, because the ENTJ is a very forceful and dynamic presence who has a tremendous amount of self-confidence and excellent verbal communication skills. Even the most confident individuals may experience moments of self-doubt when debating a point with an ENTJ."

Pretty accurate, huh? This description matches me almost perfectly - in fact those of you who know me personally are probably laughing reading this because you can see all of those traits in me. When I got the link for the personality test, my friend made a comment, saying that knowing her own personality and the personality type of others helped her relate better to people. She understood what made them unique and so she could better understand how and why they approach situations in certain ways.

Just as I am very interested in different learning styles, taking this online test has made me even more interested in learning about personality types of my friends, family and really just anyone! Everyone is an individual, but that doesn't mean we don't all have a type?

So....what's your type?? Take the test and leave me a comment with the answer :)

May 18, 2010

Some Students Make a World of Difference

With only a month left of school, some days are definitely a struggle to motivate myself and my students. However, at times like these I love remembering all the amazing things I love about being a teacher and helping my students. The students that truly care about each other and the people around them remind me that there is hope for our collective future. And the ones who make me laugh, really laugh, make the weeks seem so much shorter. Here are a few photos I have taken from my classroom lately...
Any note that involves mathematical properties and calls me the Best Teacher of the World is a winner in my book. :)
Even my students believe I have a shot. Today I asked them to give me an example of something with a probability of 1 (always happens). They said me marrying Joe Mauer. God bless them and their childhood ability to believe that anything can happen.
Not very exciting but my friend Lindsey just posted pictures of her workplace and it made me realize how much I enjoy being able to picture someone at their job. We spend so much time at work, yet how many of our close friends and family members can actually envision us in that place? Here is my desk at work this morning.
Align Center
My updated word wall with assorted Twins memorabilia thanks to my mom, grandparents, and other various care packages throughout the year.
With that, Happy Tuesday and remember - only four weeks until summer! ;)

My Mother's Daughter [A Brief Story from Kayaking on the Pacific Coast]

As I mentioned in my last post, over the three day weekend Kelsi and I embarked on a kayaking adventure to the Pacific Coast of Colombia. And I think it's now firmly in my top five spots in Colombia. There is just something undefinable about the extreme beauty that shines from untouched and undeveloped land. For those of you who have been, think Tayrona National Park only without a national park - just wild land with surprises around every corner.
There will be tons of pictures to share once I get them from our guide who brought his waterproof camera, but for now a quick story...about my own camera.

Just before coming to Colombia, I got a new camera which is hot pink in color and has been nicknamed the "Barbie Cam" by my friend Daniel, and various others. Whatever, it takes fabulous pictures and I absolutely love it, and on top of that it was expensive! So on Saturday morning when we arrived in Juanchaco after a 50 minute boat ride I was devastated when I couldn't find it at the bottom of my purse. I had only pulled it out to take one picture on the dock in Buenaventura and I was going to be so irritated if someone managed to steal it from me in that short time! I searched everywhere, dumped out my purse and then looked through my backpack as well. No camera to be found. Since my purse doesn't zip I then became convinced it was on the boat we had taken. Where was that boat? Slowly backing away from the dock...


I vainly attempted to call out to the man abroad, raising my voice to be heard above the crashing ocean waves to no avail. Now I was causing quite a scene on the dock and several people around me were discussing "the gringa who lost her camera". This friendly coast guard finally hears me and calls the boat back. I yell down to the man that my camera is lost and it's in a small blue case - does he see it? He scans the boat and says, "No, que peña (No, what a pain)."

Most people would probably walk away at this point after making a fool out of themselves yelling in a second language in front of a crowded dock. However, if my days as a young child listening to my mother call the Independent School District 196 transportation department looking for lost mittens, it's that nothing is ever lost, only misplaced. Before the guy had time to yell at me I jumped back aboard the boat to take a look myself. Just below where I had been sitting, wedged under the boat dock was my camera, somewhat dampened by waves, but overall intact and functioning. SUCCESS! The guy looked at me like I was nuts, but I just tossed him a "Gracias!" over my shoulder, a wave at the coast guard man, and went running down the dock to meet the rest of my group.

Kelsi laughed at me and I said if my mother was here right now she would have done the exact same thing. And would now probably be telling me that St. Francis or whoever the patron saint of lost things is (Update: The patron saint of lost things is St. Anthony- I cannot believe I forgot that after working 7 years in religious goods retail - thanks Bridget!), found my camera. At the end of the day, no matter how much we claim we will never grow up to be our parents, sooner or later we realize, we are exactly like them. In more ways than one, I am my mother's daughter.

God help me if I am calling bus companies in twenty years looking for lost mittens.

May 14, 2010

Kayaking Adventure: Pacific Coast Style

When my friend Allison visited at the beginning of January we spent about 12 days on the Atlantic Coast of Colombia visiting the city of Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona on our way do the trek to the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida). Since that trip I have been anxious to visit the Pacific Coast of Colombia, actually located much closer to Cali.
Over this three day weekend from school, Kelsi and I decided to take advantage of a great connection here with a guy named Julio, the uncle of one of my students. He runs his own ecotourism business and is one of the only people I know of who is really promoting this idea of getting out to explore the natural beauty Colombia. Remember when we went kayaking with him on the Rio Cauca last October? You can read about it here and see pictures here. We basically loved it so much that we are going back for a whole weekend of kayaking fun! I think by the time I get back to Minnesota this summer I will be a kayaking pro. Lake Calhoun to Lake of the Isles? No problem. ;)
The Plan
Wake up tomorrow at 4:00 am.
Think about crying and just going back to bed. (Just kidding....sort of...)
Get my butt out of bed and head off to the meeting point, where we will ride with Julio in his large van for about 3 hours to the city of Buenaventura.
From Buenaventura we will take a 50 minute boat to Juanchaco, which is where I think we are staying for the two nights. Juanchaco faces Bahia Malaga, the site of our kayaking adventures.
We will take day trips in kayak around Bahia Malaga, to various small islands, inlets, waterfalls, and more - kayaking about 35 km in 3 days. We will also explore the neighboring coastal town of Ladrilleros on foot.
The Pacific Coast (According to Lonely Planet)
This is where the jungle meets the sea. It's a wild, untamed area, drenched in up to 10m of rain per year. The beaches, unlike those of the Caribbean, are fine, gray sand. There is only one road to the interior, from Buenaventura to Cali. The coastal population is mostly descended from African slaves who once worked here. There remain a few isolated villages of indigenous people. The isolation of the coast has allowed the people to preserve much of their culture - which means great traditional food, but also a lack of infrastructure. Buenaventura is Colombia's busiest port, with almost 60% of all exports passing through this city.

Happy Teacher's Day!

Happy Teacher's Day to all my fellow educators, wherever you may be on Teacher's Day!
We have been celebrating since yesterday after school when our parents association, Asopadres, organized an after school happy hour that some of us took the liberty of extending well into the night. The school hosted lived music, karaoke, Arabic food, and fresh fruit juices with vodka. While it definitely took the party a little while to get going, things got quite lively with karaoke and LOTS of dancing. I think the dancing and just random craziness is one of my favorite things about Colombia in general. No matter what the reason for the party, there will at some point be a giant group dancing session.
Today at school I had a number of students wish me a happy day and a few stop by with delicious gifts of chocolates. Yuuuuum! This is my first Teacher's Day as a full-time teacher, not a student teacher, and I must say it makes me think about how my students view me. Right now, I know that the vast majority are much too absorbed in their own teenage worlds to really appreciate the things that teachers (or anyone else) do for them everyday. However, that being said, thinking back on my own education I didn't ever really truly appreciate my teachers either. At least, not enough to compensate for their time and dedication. As I grew up and attended college, I realized the profound impact these educators had on my life. They guided me to learn, to grow and to expand my horizons. They inspired me to want to help others learn. Looking back, they made a world of a difference for me, for my friends and for so many people. I guess that's pretty much why I became a teacher... ;)

May 10, 2010

Take Me Home Tonight! [New Apartment]

Apartment hunting in Colombia is no small task since it involves lots of Spanish, sometimes sketchy landlords, lots of walking and usually a personal connection! When I arrived last August the human resources people at school took us around to look at apartments in a big group on a bus. They had already scouted out the landlords and apartments previously, so it was a pretty simple way to find a place to live. (Read about my thoughts on it here.)
For the upcoming school year, Kelsi and I took it upon ourselves to find a place to live. We knew we wanted to stay in San Fernando (the neighborhood I live in now), save a bit more money, and find a balcony. After lots of apartment viewing and a little back and forth decision making, we have finally settled on this lovely three bedroom about four blocks from my current apartment and just around the corner from our friend Tara.
We went to look at the place today just to remind ourselves of the specifics and we are finalizing the lease this week! Yay! We plan to move at the beginning of June so that we have plenty of time to get the place set up before leaving for a few weeks in the US. Also, when Kelsi comes back in early July she has a few friends coming to visit, so we want it to be all ready for them! :) Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the place...more to come when we move in and make it look like our own.
Kelsi on the balcony - this is just half of it :)
Cannot lie...I would say this balcony is about 95% of the reason we bought the apartment. View overlooking Parque del Perro and north of Cali.
The main room in the middle of the apartment is really just a giant room sort of sectioned off with this pillar in the middle and these half walls.
Nook things in the main room that we want to make shelves for!
Side part of the main room...perhaps a reading nook??
Room #1 with walk in closet, bathroom and walk out to balcony.
Walk in closet.
Room #2 with big closet and walk out to balcony. {Note: There is a small third bedroom that will be an extra, I just didn't take a picture of it.}
Kitchen...lots of cupboards, counter space and a reasonable amount of light for a Colombian kitchen. Don't worry, a stove is being added...we were a bit concerned initially.
Staircase leading up from first floor walk in entrance.
Looking from the main room over to the staircase and the doors for the three bedrooms.
View across the street.
Home sweet home!
Thus far things we plan to accomplish while living together include:
  1. Buy hammocks. Get people from school to hang them. Have hammock parties.
  2. Bake delicious things. Since our school blocked Facebook at work, Kelsi has started reading food blogs during the day at school and trying out the recipes.
  3. One such recipe = oatmeal bars. We experimented this weekend with adding mashed up banana, raisins and almonds...I am sure there are more varieties on the way.
  4. A possible themed house-warming party. Details to follow.
Happy Monday!!

May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Times Square, New York City
October 2010
Happy Mother's Day TT! I will be thinking of you all day. I love you and miss you and cannot wait to see you in 39 days!

Weekend Recap: the food mecca of Cali

Back home in Minnesota my family has become pretty well acquainted with the various restaurants on St. Paul's Grand Avenue. This 2-3 mile stretch of road through the state's capital city is full of restaurants in all shapes and sizes, with a little something for everyone.
This weekend we continued to explore what I will refer to as the Cali, Colombia version of Grand Avenue, known as La Novena (Ninth Street). About a ten minutes drive north of my apartment is a neighborhood called Granada. Granada is basically the restaurant and bar mecca of Cali. Every time I go there I see a new place I want to try!
This Friday we ventured to San Fermin, a wine and tapas bar, just off the Novena. They had a full menu of Spanish tapas (appetizers), some of which I have not had since studying abroad in Spain three years ago! We started with delicious Sangria and followed with an array of tapas which we all taste tested. Ham croquetas, vegetarian Spanish tortilla, cooked eggplant, portobello mushrooms with cheese....mmmmm SO GOOD! And the restaurant was so cute with its decorations, wine bar and plush couches for seats! I really really should have taken some pictures to document for this blog post.
Other restaurants/bars we have tried in the area:
  • Platillos Voladores (Flying Saucers) - Thai food restaurant with purple and green themed decorations (my two favorite colors) and delicious green curry
  • Bourbon Street - New Orleans style pub with pub food, LOUD live music and New Orleans themed decorations
  • British Pub - Across the street from Bourbon St. - about the same atmosphere and menu, just replace the Mardi Gras New Orleans theme with Beatles photos and British flags
  • Enoki - Asian food...not great, but decent place for some thai chicken with peanut sauce
  • Fusion Wok - I think I might be addicted to their sake thai Sushi roll. I might start having daydreams about it.
  • Juan Valdez - Coffee chain - I am making it my personal goal to visit all of the ones in Cali and at least one in every city in Colombia.
Overall, in Colombia it is difficult to find good or authentic food that is not from Colombia, so I really appreciate the diversity one can find in this area of the city. Also, as many of you can tell, this selection of international restaurants and food has forced me to expand my eating habits beyond just pasta. :) So, beautiful people/readers, when you come to visit me in Cali, Colombia perhaps I will take you there :) Cheers!

May 2, 2010

The Other Colombia

When I told my parents I was going to a job fair to look for an international teaching job they were excited for me, but the idea definitely took a bit of getting used to. I am the oldest child, and short of crossing the Mississippi for four years of college in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I have never spent more than about two months away from home.
When I told them I was looking into Colombia the conversation intensified a bit because, let's be honest, Colombia doesn't exactly have reassuring reputation as the safest place in the world. Nonetheless, they remained supportive, and with the exception of the occasional drug jokes, so did most of my friends and extended family.
My Side of Colombia
Here I sit nine months into living in a county that the U.S. State Department still warns Americans against visiting. In nine months I have taken a number of precautions to keep myself safe. I almost always call a taxi if I need one, rather than just hailing one off the street. I have yet to ever walk alone after about 9 pm at night. In fact, I rarely even walk around anywhere after 9 pm at night with a group of people unless its in a well known area with restaurants or bars and lots of people around. I try not to make a scene or draw attention to myself as an outsider when I am in public places. I stay away from more dangerous parts of cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cali. As a result of these basic precautions I can count on one hand the times I have felt even the slightest bit uncomfortable in the last nine months. Now, knock on wood, I know anything can happen, and crime takes place all the time, but for now I feel safe.
The Other Side of the Story
This morning I finished Ingrid Betancourt's book, My Struggle To Reclaim Colombia. Yes this is the same book that I started reading after book club four days ago. I couldn't put it down! In her first book, Betancourt details her time as a child growing up in France in the early 1960s until her present day involvement in the Colombian government. Despite all the odds stacked her favor, Betancourt was elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 and the Senate in 1998. She ran on a platform of anti-corruption - she exposed fellow politicians (including then president Ernesto Samper) who accepted bribes and money from drug traffickers. She marched against election fraud after she won a Senate seat despite the corrupt blocking of votes against her. In 2002 she published this book in the midst of a campaign for presidential election. A campaign that Alvaro Uribe, the current president of Colombia won. However, after the publication of this book and before the end of the campaign season, Betancourt was kidnapped by the most powerful guerilla group in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on February 23, 2002. Six years (2, 321 days) later she was rescued on July 2, 2008 by the Colombian National Army. In the time after her rescue, Betancourt has been both praised and criticized in Colombia and internationally. While she certainly paints a picture of herself as a national hero, others, including fellow hostages and her ex-husband describe her as a woman who took advantage of her political and social standing both during and after captivity. As always, there are two sides to every story...
Where Two Sides Meet
Colombia now stands at a crossroads. As Colombians prepare for the next presidential election to take place in a mere 29 days, I struggle to understand the reality of where these two worlds meet. On one hand, I realize that Colombia is becoming a safer place to live and to travel every single day. The majority of Americans and other travelers who visit here leave with a positive outlook that surprises even the most cynic of international onlookers. Is this because of Ingrid Betancourt and her work in Colombian politics? Maybe in part. She was one of the first people to stand up against corruption at any cost. But is the struggle to reclaim Colombia, to reclaim democracy over? Definitely not. While I do feel safe here on a daily basis, I still would not list Colombia as one of the safest places to visit or travel. There will continue to be issues related to corruption, drugs, smuggling and dishonesty that remain to be dealt with on a national scale.
Final Thoughts
The Colombia I know today is a beautiful place, albeit complex and complicated in its political scene, and for me, what is of the utmost importance is that I am able to judge, to understand, to contemplate, to think, to know, to explore this country for myself. It might not make the State Department's Top 10 List for travel, but that doesn't mean it won't make mine.

May 1, 2010

The Colombian Gym Experience

Whenever I start to feel settled here, like Cali, Colombia really is a place I can call home, something new happens to make me appreciate the little things all over again.
After doing a lot of commuting this month to go to the gym in Kelsi's neighborhood I decided it was time to seek out something a little closer to home. I had seen a number of gyms in my neighborhood, but never really took it any further. This week after school I did some investigating and found one that seemed to suit my needs.
A mere two blocks from my house, this place is small, but the monthly fee of $70,000 pesos ($35 USD) is totally worth it for the convenience. They are open all weeknights and Saturdays too, which isn't as popular in Colombia as you would think. There are only about 10 bikes, 5 ellipticals and 3 treadmills in the place, but they offer classes like yoga, dance and spinning in addition, so what's not to love?
I went to the spin class on Monday night, where the instructor personally introduced himself to me and then we chatted before the class. During the class he introduced me to everyone else (since the class was only about 10 people) and made sure I felt welcome. What a change from gyms and rec centers where anonymity seems to be what people desire most. Then yesterday, as I was on the elliptical, one of the older men from the spin class came into the gym. I gave him a little wave to show I recognized him. He then proceeds to come over, shake my hand mid-run and chat me up! He remembers my name and asks how I like the place. Fascinating! I thoroughly enjoy the extent to which Colombians are so into making connections and forming relationships with others. Guaranteed I probably stick out like a sore thumb as the only non-Colombian in the place, but it was still nice that this guy remembered me.
Since being in Colombia I have been missing the consistency of being able to go to my college rec center whenever I wanted (open from 6 am to midnight) without having to pay a thing (outside tuition) and usually running into a friend or five. While Colombians are very concerned with their personal image, this does not always correspond to a need to stay physically fit. Working out in public, aka running outdoors, is not very popular. Therefore, I am hoping that by joining this gym I will feel a bit more like myself here. In the mean time, I am loving the warm welcome! :)
Happy Saturday!
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