Brandon’s partner, Jason, arranged an amazing three (or is it four?) day birthday celebration. It started off Saturday night with a chivas–a Colombian party bus. There were lights, music, balloons and lots of dancing.
The rest of the group went out to a nightclub, but I wimped out and went home before midnight. Such a great night and a new way to explore Colombian culture.
Just can’t say how very relieved I am to be here in Colombia. Feels like I’ve been unsettled for the last year. Maybe two. It’s like I’ve come (almost) home. Sure, there’s lots I don’t know about the culture and I’m horrible at the language, but it feels like that’s going to work out if I just stick with it. It’s like finally being able to exhale. I hope this continues.
Without a doubt, this has been the best start in a country yet. The school seems pretty solid. They have very fair teaching materials and facilities. They don’t supervise much, nor is there a lot of paperwork. They schedule me and I’m on my own. The school is living up to their promises, but they didn’t really make many. At this point, I would have been afraid to depend on any school. They didn’t pick me up at the airport. I didn’t expect them to help with communications or exchanging money. I found a place to live without them, though they helped arrange temporary housing. I like this city and the Colombian culture. I’m close to the services I need and can walk to school. I can easily eat on the street, but I also can get supplies to cook. The other teachers are fantastic. My roommate is great. The apartment is basic, but functional—kitchen, laundry area and we’ve been told they are getting us a larger fridge. I like my students. The public transportation is buses and taxis. I’m still figuring out the first, but they seem to cover the city and even the nearby towns. The latter are not too pricey.
But mostly, I’m just thrilled that no one has lied to me since I arrived. I’m grateful for small favors. And very grateful I bailed on Bolivia and took a chance on Colombia. It wasn’t a country on my radar, really. The name was synonymous with “danger” and drug cartels when I was growing up. Things have changed for the better.
Sunday, I got a Facebook text from Rod, a guy I met four years ago while hiking the Appalachian Trail. He, his wife, Amy (who is now my unofficial sister) and a bilingual friend, Kevin, are on a South American tour and just happened to be spending a few days in Ibague! What a thrill for me! I had the best time with the three of them. It’s so nice to spend time with folks who not only love to travel, but have a penchant for doing it frugally, as I do. They just happened to stay in the same hostel I did when I arrived, so even finding them was easy. They mostly travel by bus or on foot and eat the local cuisine, including street food. It saves a lot of money and allows you to have an authentic experience, getting an idea of how life is for the locals.
A big bonus was having Kevin along, since he could serve as interpreter. While my Spanish is getting better, I often don’t have the vocabulary to ask or understand much more than the basics. Kevin learned Spanish in The Peace Corps during the 1970’s and worked in Venezuela. (The Peace Corps no longer teachers Spanish, though they typically teach other languages to recruits. I suspect they can now find enough Spanish speakers.) Kevin still has land in Venezuela and lives part of the year there. His children live in Costa Rica. Kevin is hilarious and has more stories than I do–which is really saying something!
After Rod’s text, I grabbed a cab and went to meet them. We started with no real plan, but eventually jumped on bus #48 for a 45-minute ride north to Juntas (“junta” means “together.” It’s a town built where two rivers join.) The village is on the edge of the Parque Nacional Los Nevados, part of the Andean chain of mountains. Nevados are snowcapped mountains, which may give you an idea of how high they are. There’s a lot of rock climbing available, a ski-lift (that wasn’t working), some thermal pools (there are active volcanoes nearby!) and a mirador—a look out point—that almost anyone can climb. We also had a great lunch.
While in Juntas, Kevin—who has clearly never met a stranger in his entire life—got to talking with this young man, Jorge, who is a local guide. The guide is interested in learning English and offered to take us from his home in Villa Restrepo (still north of Ibague, just before Juntas) up the mountain to a farm where we could have lunch. His services were free, just for the opportunity to practice a little English! It was quite a climb up, but the views were amazing. Lunch was great—roast chicken with rice, fresh yogurt, a tomato and onion salad, and the best fresh squeezed lemonade you could ask for.
I can’t say how much I enjoyed my time with them.
About 6pm on Monday, I got a text from the school asking me to teach the next morning! Fortunately, I had the book for the class already, so I could prepare before I went to sleep. Class went well and I feel I’m really fitting in here.
Just a few more photos from the top of the mountain.
Orientation this morning with Alejandro went well. He used the Beginning book as an example, but it looks like a pretty well written program—good vocabulary at the end of each section, lots of workbook style activities. No separate teacher’s manual, but most of the time, they don’t add much anyway. There are three program styles: Super intensive (4hrs a day, 4 days a week), Intensive (2 hours a day, 4 days a week) and Not Intensive (4 hours each Saturday). There are 15 levels. If you complete all 15, you’re at a B1 speaking level (on the British scale). Plus the school has 5 more conversation classes available to get a student to C1. I’ll be teaching Review 3 on Saturday, which looks like something I can handle. I’ve read the first two sections so far, and my job is to finish section 2 on Saturday.
We didn’t quite finish the orientation this morning, so I’ll come again tomorrow at 11am, before the noon teachers’ meeting. I did get to meet Katherine, an east coast Canadian who has been here 3 years. I’m taking over the Review 3 class from her and she showed me what she covered and gave me an idea of what needed to be done to finish the unit. I really like her and hope we can be great friends. She even likes to hike. We had coffee and a short conversation, but she’s funny and great to be around. I’ve also met Anna, from Kentucky, who was very helpful. She exchanged emails with me before I came.
When I got home, I tried to talk to Hector again about the rent. I had great difficulty, partially because someone is always around. While nice, this place costs half my salary. It became clear that he thought this was a permanent arrangement. It’s not. I can’t afford it. I thought that was clear yesterday, but I guess not. Maybe he looks at me and sees “una americana rica” who doesn’t care about money. Not so. I don’t want to pay for a full month because I’ll probably not stay that long. I won’t see the money back if I pay.
Also, I’m simply not that comfortable here. Hector has people over all the time. Many are pretty young boys. Two came from his bedroom and were wearing pajamas. I don’t really need to know the details, just leave it at he has a lot of people over. AND he has to come to my door with all of them (or, I suspect, show off my room if I’m not here). I can’t lock my bedroom door, so I feel exposed. This is still just a shared house and it’s Hector’s house, not mine. It’s expensive for the lack of privacy. Someone stayed over last night and was walking around after midnight. There was some loud music. I had a difficult time sleeping.
And the amenities aren’t exactly posh: The shower, kitchen and laundry have no hot water. There’s no air conditioning. These are common conditions in Colombia, but I’m paying a premium. Windows need to be open all the time. We are on a very busy corner, so the traffic noise is substantial. And there’s not even screens on the windows. For the same price, I could find an apartment alone.
And one more thing made me really uncomfortable. I got admonished for not making my bed this morning. I’m trying to talk money, and he forces me to watch a 5-minute video on why you should make your bed. He made me watch the beginning three times, I assume to make a point. It’s none of his business whether or not I make my bed!
I tried last night, then again twice this morning (between appointments at the school), to talk to Hector about money. He conveniently doesn’t understand when he doesn’t want to. When I came back from meeting Katherine, I insisted that we talk. He finally called Astrid at the school to interpret. She was a great help. Yes, he thought this was a permanent situation, despite the conversation yesterday in front of Astrid where we all agreed it was temporary. He offered to drop the monthly rent if I wanted to stay. I really don’t. So we agreed to a weekly rate and I paid for just one week. He says he will help me find something more economical. From what the other teachers have said, he may not be the world’s best landlord, so I’ll also keep looking on my own, too. Hope something works out soon.
What still surprises me is how very uncomfortable I am with discussing money—in any language. It really upset me, though the conversation went well. Imagine how it would have been if it had gone badly? I actually had to lie down after we talked. You’d think I’d be more comfortable by this age.
I’m having trouble sleeping. Some of it is the high humidity and lack of air movement. (Does no one own a fan?) Some is the traffic noise. Mostly I’m just not that comfortable here. Hector is nice, but invasive. Last night he fixed spaghetti for is both (which was sweet, though I hadn’t agreed to it and was sort of ordered to the table. It was pretty good food, but he spent the dinner correcting my Spanish and explaining why I should stay here with him and not move out. He also had to tell me why I shouldn’t walk around in bare feet. I get the bed dirty, he said. Sweep the floors, I thought.
Another whirlwind day. This morning, I found the spaghetti still sitting out on the counter. He tried to get me to take it for lunch today. Not a chance.
It was raining heavily this morning. Hector was up early, walking around in his boxers. Not my idea of a great morning. I didn’t want to stay cooped up in the house anyway, so went for a walk about 8:00a to orient myself to the neighborhood. I didn’t really have anything to do until 11 when I was finishing my orientation with Alejandro. I walked, had an arepa on the street. Yum! Took a few photos. Nice, leisurely morning.
After orientation, there was a teachers’ meeting where I got to meet the other teachers. I really like the group—it was a very welcoming feeling. I think I’m going to fit in here, maybe better than in any other place I’ve been. The teachers are great. I already like Anna and Katherine, but also met Brandon (here with his partner Jason, Canadian), Hannah, Karen and Kelvin.
And Kelvin is about to be my new roommate! Turns out we were looking at the same apartment. It’s a little pricey for one person, so we rented it together. We move in tomorrow.
Kelvin is very handsome, buff, perfect smile, from California, late 20’s or maybe 30, and has great Spanish. The place is semi-furnished—fridge, beds, curtains, but not much more. Not even sure if there’s a sofa. He has lived here in Ibague for over a year and has a lot of kitchen and household items already. I have nothing. I’ve told him that after we move in, we can make a list of what we need, and I’ll be responsible for supplying most of it, since he’s bringing so much to the place already. Today he took me to the mall where I bought pillows and towels—things I know I’ll need right away. I think I’m lucky with how this worked out. If I were 25 years younger, I would swoon over Kelvin. It’s hard to stomach that he probably thinks of me as “that harmless, old woman.” I just hope he doesn’t come to regret living with an old lady.
So tonight, I’m going to start packing. Will also try to work on a lesson plan for Saturday morning. Looks like there’s no classes for me this coming week, but the week after there should be.