Cali: La Sucursal del Cielo
Roughly translated: Heaven’s Branch Location. Cute, huh?
Every caleño (Cali native) I meet first asks me if I like Cali (answer: Yes, I love Cali, it’s a beautiful city, Bogotá was too big for me, etc…). This is inevitably followed by the question of how I like the heat (answer: Oh, the city I am from is too cold for me, so I like it here, etc…).
But the heat, man. I have thought of about a hundred clever quips about this heat, none of which are appropriate for a blog with a mixed audience, so I shall refrain. I also am currently living alone in a hotel, so I don’t even have a roommate to take a picture of me staring despairingly at the non-functioning air conditioner. Point is, it’s hot.
You can’t really beat the scenery, though.
It’s not just the weather that’s warm, but also the people. Caleños are probably the most hospitable people I have ever met. Before I came, many of my American friends and family nervously/jokingly expressed a hope that I wouldn’t get kidnapped in Colombia (as I mentioned in my first post). Well, friends and family, I actually have been kidnapped, twice actually. My kidnapper is my Colombian coworker who has taken it upon herself to adopt me and make sure I eat enough. The first time, I thought she was going to take me to see a neighborhood I might want to live in, before taking me back to my hotel. This turned into a two-hour city tour, followed by dinner, during which she expressed great concern that I wasn’t eating enough. The next day, I decided to stay after work to take advantage of a dance class that is free to employees. My kidnapper swung around after class to whisk me off in her car once again. Again, I just thought I was getting a ride home, but instead we went to her apartment, where she fed me Chinese food and we watched her favorite telenovela. I should probably state that she speaks no English, so all of our conversations are in Spanish. I may have been informed of all of these plans and agreed to them in advance without realizing it.
Similarly, yesterday I had lunch with a Colombian friend at his grandparents’ house. His grandmother was dismayed that I wasn’t eating enough, and she did not let me leave without taking home an extra piece of cake for later. Before I came to Colombia, I don’t think anyone ever accused me of not eating enough (quite the opposite, really). Let the record show that I’m good, thanks, and at the rate I am going, I don’t expect to be hungry at any point for the next five months. (Also, Colombian ladies, thank you for feeding me, I really do appreciate it!)
Oh yeah, the teaching part. That is why I’m here, after all! I am working at SENA, which is basically a free vocational education for young Colombians. The aprendices at my center are learning how to manufacture plastics (I think…honestly I am not really clear on this). I have three “fichas,” or groups of students, and I see each group twice a week for three or four hours. The classes are long but fun. Most of the students are eager to learn English and excited to have a gringa for a teacher. They are also surprised and impressed when they find out that I know about Colombian things, for example, Ras Tas Tas. (this is a song-dance phenomenon that has exploded in Cali…for more information, check out youtube). I have only been teaching for one week, but I’ve enjoyed it so far.
Many people have been asking how my Spanish is. I don’t really know how to answer that question. I have entire relationships with people (like my friendly kidnapper) in Spanish. With that said, I don’t always know what’s going on. I spend a lot of time employing the age-old trick of smile-and-nod. I get laughed at by old people and small children. But I just keep smiling and nodding.
I have a lot of down time during the day in between classes, so when I’m not working or planning, I occasionally try to further my own education with some Spanish reading. After I finished my six-month-long Harry Potter en español project, my dad said to me one day, “…Maybe you should try reading a book written for adults.” Well, fine.
I will not pretend to understand more than, maybe, 30% of it…but I press on.
Next on the agenda: learn to dance like a caleña. I know it will surprise no one to learn that I was told by a Colombiano that “for a foreigner, you move well.” High praise indeed. Stage one of making my life into “Dirty Dancing: Cali Nights” is in progress. Stay tuned for more!