Colombia from the Hip … The “Recolectores”

Walking downtown the other day, I met the most phenomenal delivery man. He takes this crazy-heavy wooden cart around town to make deliveries for people. I’m not talking pizza and Chinese food … I’m talking furniture, helping people move offices … you name it, he’ll carry it. Basically, the cart itself is heavier than anything I can budge.
And he was so happy to let me take pictures and show off his colorful cart, painted like a Chiva with “Jesus is my savior. God. Faith.” and similar signs everywhere.
I’m amazed at what a hard job this is. To get up and carry hundreds of pounds every day. I’m constantly in wonder by the drive of  people to make their lives better, to drag a cart around town hoping for work, not knowing, from day to day, if there will be work.
There’s definitely a huge element of faith in that.
And I feel fortunate to have celebrated his work with him for a moment. It’s humbling.

I think about Alicia Keys’  HOLY WAR. Maybe if we all took a moment to share and celebrate one another’s work and life challenges, we could bridge the hate and divide.

“What if sex was holy and war was obscene
And it wasn’t twisted, what a wonderful dream
Living for love, unafraid of the end
Forgiveness is the only real revenge

Oh, so we can heal each other and fill each other
We can break these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself open, yourself open”

#ColombiaFromTheHip #HolyDeliveryTruckBatMan !!


Happy Birthday to me! 17 years in Colombia and still … huh?

Well, it’s been seventeen years since I first arrived to Colombia. I flew into the Pereira airport after a two-day travesty of missed flights, missed connections (winter winter winter weather) and a blubbering meltdown in the Miami airport because of said missed flights. Finally, after spending the night in a paid-for-by-sympathetic-airline hotel, I boarded a flight for Bogota where a nice flight attendant ushered me into a small waiting room. Then I boarded the flight to Pereira, experienced a very bumpy bumpy landing, and walked down the Avianca stairs onto the tarmac. There was a crowd of people at a fence waving at me, and I felt totally and completely … terrified.

This is my home now.  I married a Colombian (love this guy!) and have two Colombo-American daughters. (More Colombian than American). Much to my dismay, they don’t like peanut butter. I know. And Cheerios are marginally acceptable to them.  I know. I know. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around that one.

So, as I said, Colombia is home. But I’ve realized that I’ll always be a foreigner here, and there are some things I just don’t get. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with these, “Huh?” things. But I’ve accepted them and have learned to question less, shrug my shoulders, and instead of “huh?” I say, “Hmmm.”  (Mostly to myself, though, because I can’t deal with another explanation of the inexplicable!)
(And I’m WELL aware many Colombians look at me and the things I do and say “huh?” too!)

Weird product-combos:
The idea, I think, behind giving free products when someone purchases a product is to either introduce the customer to a new line of products similar to what the customer already is buying or give a bonus product that most customers combine with the purchased product. (Say that ten times fast.) I’m not in advertising or marketing, but it seems that that would make sense. 

dandruff shampoo with a free dulce de leche sample; milk with free pencils; razors with canned sardines …

It’s kind of like bacon gumballs. Just …huh?
These are just the ones I remember. I’m not making this up. I’m simply not this creative.

Semantics, semantics, semantics:
Ahora (ahorita)

Ahora literally means “now.” Now, however, does not exist in Colombia. For instance, if you were to shout out, “Oh, look out! A bus is going to run you over ahora.” The guy would be one smashed frogger. Just by using “ahora”, you’re suggesting he has oodles of time. So, if  nothing is now … what is now? And if Colombians swear by living in the “now” but don’t have “now” …
“Huh?” I know! This, do not be fooled, is Colombian, not Spanish.

Me (while working in cafe in Spain): Would you like more coffee.
Spanish guy: Mas tarde (later)
Me: Okay. Ahora.
Spanish guy: No. mas tarde.
Me: I know. Ahorita.
Spanish guy (clearly irritated by the stupid American. They don’t like us much over there, you know): I said mas tarde.
Me (muttering): Damn ahora 
The only time I’ve heard a Colombian use ahora meaning now was when I was in labor. 
Doctor: Oh. It looks like she’s coming ahora.
Me (moving to get up): 
Doctor: Where are you going?
Me: To vaccuum. I have lots of time (major nesting happening here). Uff. What’s that weird pressure?
Doctor: The baby. She’s coming ahora.
Me: Ahora as in ahora or ahora as in ahora?

Trust me. While in labor, it’s not the best time to get in a semantic discussion with your Ob/Gyn.
In Colombia, they call blondes “mona.” Colombians love nicknames. It’s never meant in a derogatory way, and I think it’s kind of nice. So, let’s take the Colombian blonde test:
Which of these members of my family are mona(o)?

If you said, “all of the above,” you are right!
Yeah. I don’t get it, either.

Interpretive Traffic Signals:
Red is greenish, never really red. Green is always green, even if it’s red. And yellow is more of a sign to rev your engines and hit the gas. Basically, if you’re crossing the street, run like hell.

El sereno (serenar):
Here, people always talk about el sereno in whispers and almost always as if it were a menacing thing.  Of course I didn’t speak Spanish when I arrived, so imagine when somebody told me that her uncle got pneumonia because of el sereno, I was freaked out thinking, “Oh shit. Do they have a vaccination for that stuff?”
Literally, serenar means to go out in the evening.
Yep. That’s it.
And people here are terrified of the deathly effects of “el sereno”. Most people here have never lived in snow. So when we’re in the tropics, and temperatures drop to the low sixties, panic sets in if somebody has a sniffle.
“Don’t you serenar or you could kick it.”
“What happened to Phil?” “Bronchitis?” “Did he serenar?” “Yeah. Silly, silly Phil.”

Living with parents:

I get that a lot of the time people live with family members because of economics. I’m talking about the Latin cultural aspect of it here. It’s very much the same in Spain, France, Italy … and Colombia. People live with their parents long after high school, college, getting a steady job, becoming economically independent.
I just don’t get it. (Just as they don’t get why we don’t, I suppose.)  

 Maybe if I stick around another 17 years, I’ll be able to resolve (in my very core) one of these things. Plus, I might have daughters who never, ahem, leave the nest. Who knows what will be?
Until then, I’m grateful that I have a beautiful home surrounded by beautiful people who tend to be terrified of evenings.

Happy Birthday to me! I love you, Colombia.


Today’s the day!!
I could get all gushy and go on about it … but let’s cut to the chase: the prizes!!
Stop by: Reading Angel and get to know Josh to win SWAG and something from the anti-bullshit division! Trust me, you’ll want to win this one. 😉

And TODAY … is mega-prize giveaway time! Big time. As in books, books, books galore plus some pretty cool Colombian goods! At One Book At a Time I got a little confused and thought I had to do THREE tens lists. Well, I was supposed to choose but ended up doing all three. More work, more prizes. You can win a signed copy of WANTED, SWAG, a signed copy of one of my other novels, Colombian coffee … and more!

Hey. It’s a birthday. It’s time to celebrate.
Stop by and THANK YOU TEEN BOOK SCENE for this ultra-cool tour we’re doing!


It’s not like I didn’t warn you. You knew you’d be bombarded by this stuff!! 😉
Anyway, today WANTED’s tour takes us to Britta’s house at I Like These Books  where I rave about Colombia and my life here.
Stop by and win Colombian coffee and SWAG! AND … learn a little about the magical world where I live!

Reviews posted this week include two for WANTED and one for FREEZE FRAME! Two good ones, one pretty blah, but it’s part of the deal. Gotta post the good with the blah.
Girls in the Stacks
365 Days of Reading

The Year of Prime and Colombia From the Hip …

THE Guiness Record.
Yep. I went to see a really really long chorizo on Saturday. A 1,917 meter long chorizo.

Think of it this way. It’s like going up the Burj Dubai (including its spire) and down and back up a third of the way with one LONG chorizo … Yes, making Oscar Meyer seem quite flaccid in comparison.
(I WILL refrain from any other inappropriate chorizo references because it’s way too easy, expected and inappropriate, right?)
Anyway, here’s the dish (literally): 900 kilos of meat, 500 kilos of fat, 50 kilos of condiments, and two-thousand meters of intestinal stuff to stuff it. 
Holy heart burn, Bat Man!.
So where did this cholesterol bomb get made? Santa Rosa, Risaralda — a small town about twenty minutes from where we live in Pereira. When Cesar told me that we’d have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the longest chorizo in the world, I didn’t hesitate quite simply because I doubt most people will be able to say they’ve seen such a thing. I mean, it is kind of cool.
So we drove up to the Santa Rosa and wandered through the crowds that packed like sausages (ha!) around the haz-mat-like looking tent with the workers intently stuffing the pig intestines.

… music blared over the speakers, people cheered, signs were posted everywhere celebrating the goal of 1400 (though it ended up being 1917 meters long!) and the Santarrosano pride.

And our daughter got her first traffic ticket. Apparently, you’re NOT allowed to ride livestock in a public park. Go figure. (The cow’s name is Chiquitolin. Her owner battled the authorities for the right to ride. Personally, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea to NOT have livestock in a plaza. But, well, Pamplona and other cities don’t necessarily set the best examples, letting bulls trample all over the town.) This does not bode well for our daughter’s future transit future. Her first “transportation” and she’s ticketed.

And after almost getting Chiquitolin, um, towed, the police let us off with a stern warning, and the owner led the cow to … well, I don’t really know where. We wandered around, checking out the chorizo progress, finding a beautiful cafe where we drank hot chocolate and decided it was time to end our adventure. The weather determined this since it started pissing rain.
Not to fear. The chorizo-lovers weren’t deterred so easily. I guess we’re a bit wimpy.
There’s something magical about a city in celebration. I LOVE this about Colombia — their celebrations.  Colombians can find a reason to celebrate every day: music festivals, food, history … anything worth a *cheers* gets one. And most everything is worth celebration. There’s a general happiness here that I haven’t encountered elsewhere. They’re less broody, less gloomy, less existential angst-like. Colombians are quick to smile, quick to laugh, hot-headed but also quick to forgive. They talk loud, sing louder, interrupt each other constantly and ALWAYS are ready to tell you what they think. But there’s something about this openness and sincerity that’s endearing and, sure, infuriating. But Colombia wouldn’t be Colombia without it.
Today in Santa Rosa, they’re DEFINITELY not worried about counting calories, triglycerides and cholesterol. They’re not worried about heartburn and ulcers. Hell. They have a near two-kilometer sized chorizo to eat.
And we got a chance to see it. 

Colombia from the Hip — Pereira’s Parties!!


On Saturday, we watched a magical parade of dancers, musicians, beauty queens (of course!) and monsters go by, ending with the first Silletero parade of Pereira. The silleteros are famous in Medellin — a tradition that began when Santa Elena flower farmers used silletes (a kind of support to carrying things on your back) to commercialize their flowers in Medellin — walking up and down the city streets, throughout neighborhoods, carrying hundreds of pounds of flowers on their backs. Now, it’s a world-renown festival in Medellin. Pereira had its first silleteros in the parade last Saturday. Stunning.

Miss Pereira
Afro-Colombian Dancers and Musicians
More Dancing!

Colombia from the HIp — Let the Mayhem Begin

It’s that time of year again … Pereira’s parties. Parades, beauty queens, papayeras on every corner (loud loud brass bands), orchestras, party Chivas (big wooden buses filled with irritating drunk people and papayeras — those loud, loud, loud brass bands), and, of course, the infamous burro-teca (yes, I’ll get a photo of that). Let the mayhem begin!

Simon Velez Has a Mom, too …

Last night Cesar, Amelia and I were invited to an event in which Simon Velez, one of the world’s most prestigious architects that specializes in bamboo buildings (from Manizales ,Colombia), was given an award.

We were invited by one of my best friends who is one of Simon Velez’s best friend’s friends. (That’s how things work here, you know??) Anyway, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity because
1. I am always fascinated by artists, architects, authors … thinkers — who mold shape the way we view the world.
2. Simon Velez’s name is HUGE here in Colombia, and I figured it would be cool just to get a glimpse of him. (Kind of that gawking, rock-star thing).
3. I’m not one to pass up any kind of party invitation on general principle.

So we went, and we found ourselves seated in a small room with twenty or thirty people — a very intimate setting. There was no press. There were no frills. Amelia spent half the time we were there waving at people (because, I think she might have thought the party was for her). And after the awards ceremony — which was very short and sweet — they served us each a glass of wine.

Simon Velez struck me as being such a humble, generous person. He didn’t even give his own acceptance speech because he said words weren’t his thing, bamboo was. So he asked a friend to help him out. And when Amelia and I approached him to congratulate him, he gave us a big hug of gratitude. Absolutely gracious!

That said, it was a lovely event. Simple. Like him. And he’s a master. But what most struck me is that after everything, when everybody disbanded, his mother came up to me and gave me a hug, saying, “Thank you for coming.”

And I thought, “Simon Velez has a mom, too.” Obviously. But the thing is a mom is a mom. She’s proud of her son and happy that people came to be proud of him, too. And I realized that as much as we blow people up to be super-humans, they’re just out there, like us, with parents who wish them well, parents who are happy that people look up to and admire the children they raised. Parents who are happy their kids are happy. Period.

I hugged her back and was just as proud that she commented on how well behaved Amelia was, and I thought, “In fifty years, maybe I’ll be at an event like this, giving a perfect stranger a hug, thanking her for appreciating my daughter.”

Of course, I’ll have a glass of wine in hand!

FACTS: Who is Simon Velez? (Info from Wikipedia and last night’s event)

Vélez has designed bamboo buildings in Germany, France, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, China, Jamaica, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and India.

He recently participated in designing Crosswaters Ecolodge, the first ecotourism destination in China in the forests of Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve, in the Guangdong Province.

For Expo Hanover 2000, he designed and constructed a 2000-square-meter bamboo pavilion for ZERI (Zero Emissions Research Initiative). The structure utilized bamboo, recycled cement, copper, and a mixture of terracotta, cement and bamboo fiber panels.

In December 2009 he received The Principal Prince Claus Award for his contribution to a positive interaction between culture and development. This prestigious Dutch award, founded by the Royal Prince Claus(†), has a price of 100.000 Euro.