Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

The famed feria de Cali is coming to a close and has been quite the party. Enjoy a little more classic salsa caleña (really, I just can't get enough). I'm off to Bogota tomorrow for a nice trip with Julie and will be back in Cali the week of the 11th to get settled back into every day life, organizing, preparing for classes and activities, and yes - writing! A very happy new year to you all!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Photos from algunas haciendas vallecaucanas

A couple photos from my day trip to some sugar cane haciendas north of Cali a while back with a friend of mine and her amazing grandfather. Enjoy!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feliz Navidad!

Wishing everyone a lovely Christmas from Youngstown, Ohio!

My holiday stint back in the States has been full of family and friends, making me ever more appreciative of the amazing people I am blessed to have in my life. I'm headed back to Cali this weekend and cannot wait to be back in the hot city of salsa again. You can be assured that I will be writing some big posts in the next couple of weeks before I start back up with my projects, classes, and activities in Cali to keep you up to date on all that's gone on since my last major post in Ecuador. Hope everyone is enjoying a time to take a step back, appreciate, and evaluate. I heard a new Christmas song this year that I really loved. First recorded by Stevie Wonder back in the 60's, I prefer the Jack Johnson version. Give it a listen!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cali Pachanguero / Cali Alumbrado Navideño

Ok, so here's just ONE more salsa for you - Cali Pachanguero. Rough translation of the song: Cali is the place to be and you know you wish you were caleño!

Also, some photos of the Alumbrado Navideño when Cali gets dressed up for Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Nice Salsita

Asi no! Just a little something to remind me of Cali now that I'm back in the States for a bit!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

P.S. Cali - I missed you

After being back in this city a mere twenty four hours I have realized on numerous occasions how much I have missed her. I've missed the constant music pumping into the streets, calls from friends ready for a night on the town, beautiful people...everywhere, beautiful mountains casting their unceasing gaze upon the city, dancing salsa and merengue until four in the morning, and the cool mountain breezes that come as sunset is at hand, dissapating the hot heat of the tropics. I like you Cali. I have to run off again for a while, but I promise I'll be back.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Quick Breather Back in Cali

After an extremely long day of travel involving three taxis, a late bus, an airplane that was right on time and which I barely caught, and the compact car (miraculously packed with seven people and our luggage) of a nice Colombian I met in the ridiculously long line for migration and customs at one in the morning, I made it back to Cali. I left Julie´s house in Trujillo at 8:30 in the morning...and arrived back at my place at Cali at 2:30 the next morning. Phew! I´m feeling exhausted again just reading about it.

Ecuador post-Quito was wonderful and spending a week in Trujillo with Julie and Gabriela was positively delightful. I will give you all the details when time permits, but that may be a while as I am headed back to the States for a whirlwind two week tour involving twelve states and loads of friends and family beginning this Sunday, then heading back to Cali to catch the end of the feria and then jetting off to Bogota for a bit more case I feel as if I haven´t gotten enough. The updates will come eventually. This I do promise. Hope everyone is getting into the holiday spirit! I'm fairly positive that as soon as my body feels temperatures below freezing...I'll be whistling Christmas tunes and craving a gingerbread latté just like the rest of you.

Monday, November 30, 2009


After a nice three hours of sleep post-Thanksgiving (I didn´t have that Turkey induced coma to woo me to sleep like most of you all) my friend Saskia picked me up at my apartment and we were off to the airport. By 8 am I had arrived in Quito without really having any idea what was in store for the next three days. I dropped by backpack off at my hostel, shot over to a café with an amazing courtyard and began to plan! Day one – I was going to tackle the historic downtown! Although Cali and Santiago (my two South American homes to date) have very little in common – one thing they do share is a lack of a well-preserved colonial center. Spread out for countless blocks around Quito´s exquisite Plaza Grande lie what must be a dozen churches and just as many museums. When I stepped in La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesus, I had no idea what I was in for. Until that point, I had seen some fairly formidable specimens as far as churches go, but this thing was on a whole other level. Designed in the Baroque style, everything was lined with gold – everywhere you looked. So many street corners, so many wooden doors lead you to incredible sights in Quito´s Old Town.

After my first day in Quito, I was one happy man. That first Friday night at the hostel, I did something I had never done before. I learned how to make hostel-friends solo. This week-long Ecuadorian journey before meeting up with friends in Trujillo, Peru is my first time traveling alone and I have to say that after four days in, I definitely think I like it. You can totally fun your own schedule during the day and then meet back with your hostel buds at night for story swapping, wine sipping, and general merriment. Not saying I would want to do this all the time, but it is certainly a nice change of pace. At my quiteño hostel (with an astonishing view of Old Town Quito from its fifth floor balcony) I met Swedes, Canadians, Aussies, Brits, Frenchmen, and even another North American Gringo – from Illinois! They were incredibly nice people and I am hoping to see at least one of them again as we are planning on being in Bogotá at the same time in January.

The following two days in Quito only furthered my already lofty view of the Ecuadorian capital. I discovered artist Oswaldo Guayasamin through his museum and chapel and become both fascinated and moved. An indigenous Ecuadorian painter from the latter part of the twentieth-century, Guayasamin created rather geometrical figures that express anguish, pain, repression, and misery. Sounds uplifting, right? In his largest project, the chapel of man, Guayasamin created a modernist style building set high over Quito filled with his work and several striking quotes. ¨Yo lloré cuando no tenía zapatos hasta que vi un niño sin pies.¨ That is the quote that stuck with me the most. ¨I cried when I didn´t have shoes until I saw a child without feet.¨ The entire structure and all that is held within it is meant to pay homage, to recognize, the suffering of the indigenous poor not only in Ecuador, but in all of Latin America. Quito is a city which at least by my three-day observation, is majority indigenous. Women often wear traditional clothing and I more than once heard Quechua being spoken on the bus. These are the people I saw nearly everywhere. Only on my one excursion to a wealthy suburb did the look suddenly lighten – it is the same old story, changing I think, but slowly.

Besides becoming a Guayasamin fan, I made a trip to the national museum (where amongst other thoughts, my slight obsession between links in indigenous beliefs and the Catholic Church in Latin America was heavily fueled), a street fair, a couple of fantastic views over the city from perilous church steeples and hilltop parks, and finally of course to plenty of cute and trendy cafés –surpassing those I´m accustomed to in Cali.

¨Did I do anything un-cool in Quito?¨ you might be asking. The answer would have to be yes. On Saturday afternoon, I took an excursion to the equator which was basically seeing a line with a monument on it, being told that it is about 200 meters off the actual equator, and then going to the real deal to balance eggs on nails and watch water swoosh different ways. Wasn´t exactly my idea of an awesome time, but hey, now I can say I´ve been to the equator.

So as not to end on a sour note, I will share my Quito morning ritual – that´s right, if you do something twice you can officially call it a ritual. Both Saturday and Sunday morning, I hoped out of the hotel nice and early, grabbed a newspaper, and went to sit in the main square. Both mornings I had a bench mate and both turned into solid conversation partners. We talked about dollarization, Correa, Colombian-Ecuadorian relations, minimum wage, and just la vida quiteña in general. Starting the day off with the news and a new Ecuadorian amigo always managed to make my day – along with the required café con leche.

Last night I was a little sad to leave Quito, but ready to hit up the next stops. I´m now in Guayaquil, tomorrow heading to Riobamamba, and later down to Cuenca before hitting Peru. I´ll try to keep you updated along the way! Also, pictures should be on the way soon!

Photos from Nariño

So I might of stolen these from Google images...Katie was the photographer this time around, not me.

1)Laguna de la Cocha
2)Laguna Verde
3)Santuario de la Lajas

Thanksgiving & Nariño

I must say that although this Thanksgiving was not the most traditional I´ve spent, it was one that made me truly joyful. As about fifteen of us sat down at the long table on my friend Katie´s terrace and began to pass around the spinach rice, ratatouille, orange-soy chicken (cooked by yours truly), and, yes, jellied cranberry sauce that made up our Thanksgiving meal, I felt incredibly blessed. The evening was full of laughter and story-telling, and as I sat back for a moment, I could do nothing but smile. The people at that table may not have been my blood relatives, but many were becoming part of my newly adopted caleña family.

As I briefly mentioned before, the Sunday to Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, I made a trip down to the department of Nariño with Katie and her friend Eva. Eva, I must state clearly in writing, is super-cool. After a relaxed Friday night out with Colombian friends and Saturday night rocking one of Cali´s most well-known salsa clubs with some fellow extranjeros, we departed in the wee hours of Sunday morning for Pasto. Although the nearly nine hour bus ride required a near constant grip on my arm rest due to the winding mountain roads, the spectacular views made it all quite worth-while. The Nariño landscape lays thousands of meters high in the Andes, a patchwork of contrasting dark and light greens made up of fields of potatoes and other root crops. The scenery kept me mesmerized for hours. Adding to the natural wonders were two very unique lake excursions – one to Laguna de la Cocha and the other to Laguna Verde. I´m going to let the pictures do most of the talking here. Laguna de la Cocha sits next to a small town that is some sort of Dutch, Nova Scotian, Latin American like mixture. The homes are simple and made of wood but brightly painted and gushing with flowers. Delicious trout, beautiful boat-rides, enlightened conversation – it was quite the day. Laguna Verde rests at almost 4,000 meters of elevation inside the crated of a volcano. The journey wasn´t exactly a walk in the park. We hired a cab to take us most of the way up but we still had to hike six kilometers in a rather upwardly fashion which at altitudes where portable electronic devices can be safely used on airplanes, included a lot of huffing and puffing along with some killer headaches. We had reached the 4,000 meters marker and decided to take a breather. Three steps later our moths were wide open in amazement. Inside the crater of this volcano was a bright turquoise-green lake, lined with a sulfur white coast – all in the middle of nowhere. Quite stunning.

While the natural wonders were the highlights of the trip, experiencing an entirely new Colombia in cultural terms was also quite fascinating. Sitting on the border with Ecuador, Nariño is worlds away from Cali caliente. Ethnically, the people are much more indigenous, they eat cuy (guinea pig) like it’s going out of style and Andean pipe music is the standard fare, although salsa and vallenato are certainly contenders as well. People who intrinsically share more with Northern Ecuadorians still take pride in things Colombian. It is a funny combination that turns out to be neither quintessentially Colombian nor (as I can tell so far) Ecuadorian, but something all of its own.

The one excursion I have failed to mention on our Nariño adventure was our sort of pilgrimage to El Santuario de las Lajas. Set down in a gorge with a waterfall on the opposite side, it is a wonder. The sanctuary is built directly against the cliff which forms the church´s fourth wall. According to the tale, the sanctuary was originally constructed after a mother and her young deaf-mute daughter were passing through the dangerous gorge during a storm and sought refuge in between two large slabs of the cliff. ¨La mestiza me llama¨ stated the daughter. A miracle. ¨La mestiza¨ was understood to be the Virgin Mary in one of the many forms she seems to take throughout Latin America. As one descends the path to reach the sanctuary, the rocky walls are lined with plaques from Colombian and Ecuadorian pilgrims thanking the virgin for miracles and answered prayers. There is certainly a special aura about the whole place and all three of us were very taken with it. After our initial awe had slightly subsided, we began to speak with a priest about the history of the church, possible indigenous-Catholic fusions, and the story of the Angel Rafael and Tobias, which I had never heard before but is apparently in the apocrypha. This shared experience inspired many religious and theological conversations amongst the three of us which I must say I really enjoyed and have extrapolated to my days in Quito as I continue to observe Catholic churches and cathedrals demonstrating a syncretism with Christian belief and indigenous symbolism and understanding.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Arriving back in Cali yesterday after a spectacular trip to Nariño with two awesome travel buddies, today I will busy not only packing up for my next adventure to Andean Ecuador and Northern Peru, but also cooking up some vittles for Thanksgiving! A fellow American is hosting a dinner at her house and I, along with another friend, am in charge of the chicken. That's right...the chicken. Turkey is a bit hard to come by, but I will be eating poultry and, to my utter delight, even some deliciously nostalgic jellied cranberry sauce thanks to Katie's friend visiting from L.A. who brought some down just for us.

It may be a while before I am able to sit down and recap some of my latest travels, but know that I am seeing some beautiful spots and having the privilege to know exciting new cultures and ways of life. My upcoming trip ends me up in Trujillo where my good friend Julie Breck from Northwestern is spending the year as well as a Peruvian friend, Gabriela Espejo whom I met during my time in Quebec last summer! I'm so looking forward to seeing them.

Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving full of family and friends!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yo No Sé Mañana

This salsa tune has managed to lodge its way into my head and stay there for the past week with no sign of leaving. Give it a listen!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cardinal Directions

In the past week, I have successfully propelled myself to each extreme this mountain-sided city will allow. From the wealthy high rise apartments on the north side and the grand old haciendas still further north to one of the poorest neighborhoods on Cali´s extreme eastern edge, and the sparkling private universities to the South, I´ve enjoyed unique and memorable experiences. Starting in the North and moving East, South, and finally to the center, I will share with you a bit of what I have had the privilege to discover.

Santa Rita is nestled up towards the Western Cordillera below the poorer neighborhood of Terrón Colorado (where I teach on Wednesdays) and above the Cali zoo. Public buses don´t come here and rent is over twice as much as I pay in my upper-middle class neighborhood of Pampalinda. A new friend I´ve made, half caleña and half Dutch, lives on the fourth floor of one of these high rise apartments and enjoys ever comfort one could imagine plus a stellar rooftop bar and Jacuzzi. Not to bad if I do say so myself. On Saturday, this new friend Saskia was nice enough to take a couple of other friends and I up to her grandfather’s house in Palmira to have a look around some colonial haciendas. Saskia´s grandfather, I would come to find out, was one the mayor of Palmira, this town just north of Cali which today has turned into a sort of distant suburb. Thanks to abuelito, we were allowed access to numerous haciendas, primarily producing sugar cane, which are not open the the public. Saskia´s grandfather had much more pizzazz than you average 84 year old, much as my own grandparents, and was a wealth of information on both the history and agriculture of the department in we live, Valle de Cauca. One of the highlights of our mini-tour was the home where Jorge Isaacs (arguably the second most famous Colombian author after Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a vallecaucano himself) grew up and where his most famous novel, María, takes place. We went to another home with a crumbling yet gorgeous colonial chapel at its side and trees so big it would take four people to wrap their arms around just one of them. I as truly transported back to another time - a time long forgotten in industrial Cali. This was an era of European immigrants overseeing African slaves to produce sugar in one of the most fertile valleys on earth. The photos on the walls of some of the hacienda houses brought me back to a time I have studied much in school, but never come near to experiencing so clearly. Urban colonial centers are one thing, but agriculture and mining, rural activities, were the heart of colonial Latin American economies. It was awesome to be able to experience these places first hand.

Moving ninety degrees clockwise on our compass, we look due East, far from the Western Cordillera to which my neighborhood so tightly clings - 117 blocks away to be precise. This eastern edge of Cali actually contains around half its population. The barrio is called Agua Blanca. When I first arrived I heard vague references to this place somewhere out there, far away where a majority black population lived in poverty. I had heard that it was dangerous. I had heard that things were improving. I didn´t really know anything about it and wasn´t about to just head out and find out for myself. If you´ll recall, nearly a month ago now I met a woman named Yaneth who, diagnosed with HIV twelve years ago, has now started an organization called LILA Mujer to aid women in and around Cali who are suffering from HIV and AIDS, providing physical, mental, and emotional support. Yaneth lives in Agua Blanca and invited me to her daughter’s (after whom her organization is named) birthday party Tuesday evening. With Yaneth by my side, I felt safe enough, and accompanied her on her pre-part errands, shopping for cake and decorations. Being born and raised in this same barrio, Yaneth literally knew every fifth person we passed on the street. Always sure to make me feel safe and protected with her hand on my shoulder and frequent side hugs, I felt a little bit like I was part of the community. Materially, the place was a far cry from my evening in Santa Rita. Besides the principle street, the roads are generally unpaved. The buildings are a mish-mash of concrete, tin roofs, and open square windows. It doesn´t look like much, but it´s what they´ve got. Yaneth, I believe, could now move up and out of Agua Blanca, but she doesn´t want to. She´s not going to. Construction was recently finished on the new LILA Mujer center and it is quite impressive - nice brick, strong black gates, two stories. It remains unfurnished due to financial issues, but her dream is one step closer to becoming reality. Here, women will be able to receive mental and emotional support as well as a place to stay and child care if they are visiting from other cities for medical treatment or a doctor´s visit in Cali. As we turned the corner to catch our first glance of the building, Yaneth´s face was beaming as I have to imagine it always does each and every time she sees it. The evening birthday party was lovely - a dozen of us eating, chatting, feeling like family. I felt so welcomed and at home. As Yaneth and I continue to get to know each other, we are still figuring out how I can best help her organization. One thing I told her I would try to do is raise money. The lack of financial resources is often the most debilitating force against an organization such as hers. The women from the center have made some really nice bracelets which Yaneth would like to try to sell abroad, so that is my first mission - to find her some North American organizations to connect with in this effort. As Yaneth and I discussed, 2 or 3 dollars is not all that much for us, but to LILA, those four-thousand or six-thousand pesos could go a very long way. If you know of an organization that might be interested in selling some bracelets (simple, woven with beads) please let me know and I will give you more details on her organization. Next semester, I am also going to try to set up an English workshop for the women and their children which Yaneth told me they would greatly appreciate. I will be sure to keep you posted with any new developments on this front!

Swooping another ninety degrees from East to South, one encounters the most expensive private universities in Cali. On Friday, I attended the third and final part of a seminar series entitled Lo Local y Lo Global at ICESI where I have been making some academic contacts over the past few months. This specific session of the seminar, by far my favorite, concerned itself with NGO´s and international cooperation´s influence and effects on Colombian human rights and peace. As a gringo in Colombia, this was right up my alley. Hearing both Colombian academics and those working directly in the field weigh in on this topic was very productive for me in terms of gaining a better understanding of how international NGO´s (mainly North American and European) can both positively and negatively affect areas they are trying to help. To hear the frustrations and concerns of those who work for Colombian NGO´s towards their international partners gave me a needed perspective. I also came to a better understanding of how communities, domestic NGO´s, international NGO´s and governments at all levels interact. It was the view of the panelists that for any movement to be successful it must have its roots in the base community, aided by the ideas and funding of NGO´s. One panelist pointed out specific areas in which international NGO´s have pushed their agendas for the good of the community, such as environmental issues and gender equality, but there are other cases where perhaps the international NGO should keep its mouth shut and its pocket book open. there are fine lines with no certain right or wrong, but it was very productive to hear the opinions of those active in the middle of things here in Colombia.

In the center of all this, I have continued teaching and now find myself in my final week. Exams are being proctored and review sessions are full. Somehow, I have come to the end of yet another semester. Great adventures lie ahead with new, exciting places to explore, interesting and intriguing people to meet, and informative and captivating books to keep me thinking and entertained. Hold on tight, it´s going to be a whirlwind of a trip.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Salento & La CEP: Tranquil Getaway & Schooltime Grins

Although only a four hour bus ride, Salento is worlds away from Cali. Salento is small, tranquil, cool, breezy, and relaxed. Gorgeous green mountains catch your eye in every direction, topped by fog and clouds and sprouting with tall wax palms, Colombia’s national tree. This is coffee country. If this incredibly diverse nation with jungle, beaches, snow capped mountains and fertile valleys has a center – it might just be here. Pardon the stereotypical allusion, but this is where Juan Valdez would live almost without a doubt. I spent two lovely days horseback riding, sipping coffee in adorable cafés, window shopping for artisan crafts, eating divine trout, and sharing a few canecas of aguardiente with Oliver and Katie, my fellow foreign travel mates. Paisa country (the land populated by those originally hailing from Medellín and surrounding Antioquia) is renowned for being industrious and hard working. Demographically, the European dominates and there is little trace of the Afro presence that gives Cali and the Pacific its vibrant personality. Tranquillity was the name of the game and that was precisely what I was looking for after a somewhat hectic week in Cali. Our arrival back at the bus terminal in Cali provided the perfect contrast with our previous locale. As we hopped into line to get a taxi on the trash lined sidewalk, a woman was madly yelling vulgarities at a police officer and had to be escorted away. The noise of the city was overwhelming and we all knew we were not in Kansas anymore. We were back home. Despite the grit and the grime, or perhaps because of it, I have learned to call Cali home. Cali is complex. Cali has countless layers. Cali es Cali y el resto es loma no más! I’m learning to understand that phrase more and more. Cali is Cali and the rest is just hills. Cali brings together diverse cultures, music, peoples, and makes them caleño. It is certainly rough around the edges, but something continues to intrigue me and pull me back.

My news from la Corporación Educativa Popular, or El Liceo de la Amistad as it is colloquially referred to, is quite good. I have been working at this private, low-income school Wednesdays from seven in the morning to one or two in the afternoon and now have a fairly good report with many of the students both young and old. I still occasionally have a group of students who don’t know me, but they are rarely too shy to come and introduce themselves. My favorite such episode was when three tenth grade girls approached me a few weeks ago and told me they had a bet going and needed to know who had won. One bet that I was Paisa, one Argentine, and the other a gringo. I found it all quite entertaining and let them continue their guessing aloud for a bit before I spilled (well, really, they had all figured it out after a few minutes of conversation...who am I kidding? My accent isn´t THAT good). In class time, I am usually working with small groups of students, pulling them out of class for an hour and reinforcing concepts already learned while focusing on speaking – almost always the most difficult part of language learning I believe. We do a pretty good job of sticking on topic, but I must admit that my favourite moments are when I just sit and chat with them, leaning about their lives, their interests, their hopes, and their dreams as well as answering their questions about the United States and the world in general. As some of my experiences in Colombia tempt my inner cynicism, these kids keep me believing in my ideals and give me much hope for the future of Cali and Colombia.

It is hard to believe, but this semester is coming to a close. A couple more weeks and then it’s off to the next chapter of Fulbright-Colombia: a good two months of travel and exploration. If all goes to plan, I will be visiting Ecuador, Peru, Los Estados Unidos, Mexico, and various parts of Colombia in the next two months on both personal excursions and official Fulbright journeys. My first three months have been a time to get settles, to realize how difficult it can be to get side projects off the ground and then sustain them, to learn about teaching, and to learn about Cali and Colombia. At times I have felt that things were not moving quickly enough, but I have accepted the fact that I have worked for the best and now have set up several new activities (classes and a research assistantship) to compliment my teaching, volunteering, and travelling come next semester. I have learned a lot about the world in these past few months and know that the learning will only continue, growing exponentially as different wires connect and realizations are made.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Short Rumination on Reality

Colombia can be dangerous. Life to many is cheap. As I open myself up more and more to local news media and hear more tragic stories of friends and their families, I find myself no longer able to deny the fact that killing is more common than I had once imagined and often quite illogical. Killing an innocent cab driver to display one´s ¨manhood¨, killing over lovers, killing over ice cream - I feel as if I have heard it all. This isn´t guerrillas and paras we´re talking about, although I´ve certainly heard plenty of stories for which they could be held responsible as well. The people who are commiting these atrocities are just civilians. I generally meander through my surroundings with my rose colored glasses securely afixed atop the bridge of my nose, but it is important, even necessary I would say, to take them off now and again. Colombia is undeniably a country soaked and marinated in a bloody history of violence and extralegal means. This is far from the onl historical legacy and certainly not one that Colombia holds alone, but it is one I find increasingly difficult and dangerous to ignore.

Last week four young guys assaulted and robbed me on the streets of Cali. What seemed like a mere thiry seconds later, I found myself standing in the street, frozen in shock - no more wallet, no more cell phone, no more messenger bag. What remained with me in that moment aside from the clothes on my back was the visual impression of two knives pointed at my stomach and throat, my hands clasped behind my back. The sound of screeching tires finally broke me out of my trance as a car chased the aggressors down a small side street. People came to help me, the police (corrupt as they may be...they practically offered to sell me the marijuana they had confiscated earlier that day) arrived within five minutes, and all was well. I am absolutely fine - so don´t worry about that. After the police arrived, I hopped in their van and we drove through parts of town I know I will never see again - parts of town I have been told time and time again to stay away from. Here, just a few blocks away from the robbery, the cops thought we might find our culprits. The search was unsuccessful, but I did see what I never would have seen otherwise - ¨the hole¨ of downtown. Here, trash is piled to the rooftop and people scattered about in seeming disaray. It truly seemed like something out of a nightmare. I was hard for me to take in - hard for me to believe.

According to the jokes of my friends here, the robbery was my official caleño welcome, but I am taking it more as a wake-up call to be more cautious. It also slightly deflated my naivete in a healthy way. In academic study and daily life alike, I tend to brush the violent, the curel, the difficult aside; however, that only causes more harm. There is almost always good and bad, just and injust, peaceful and violent. We all must work to create in ourselves a balanced worldview that contains each in its appropriate share for if we do not have a tight grasp on reality, how can e ever hope to reform it?

Coming soon - tales from my weekend in coffee country (pictures included) and updates on my work at La Corporación Educative Popular!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Protest at Universidad Santiago de Cali

Check out this video to catch a clip of the protest that occurred this past Tuesday.

Más de la Vida Caleña

In the past two weeks I have been both frustrated and overjoyed, disillusioned and inspired. The frustration and disillusionment came when an apartment contract fell through, a protest stopped classes for almost two days, academics failed to reply to my emails, and start dates for one set of English classes were postponed once again. Combined with moving into a new apartment and scrambling to buy beds and other necessities my stress and frustration levels (which generally remain quite low) began to rise just a bit. Luckily, as always, these moments were interspersed with glimpses of hope and finished off altogether by a weekend of natural beauty, rich culture, and new connections which assure me that my purpose persists and achievement of my personal goals lies ahead. These are the moments in life we must focus on, allowing them to propel us once again into the exciting unknown - the future.

Let me start at the end and work back towards the beginning of these past 15 days. Yesterday was bliss. I spent the late morning and early afternoon in a park overlooking the city, lying under the shade of a large tree and concluding my second of three Colombian history texts. the epilogue of Marco Palacio{s analysis of modern Colombian history was full of links between past and present - violence as a tool to determine political outcomes, the limited reach of the state, the ubiquitous nature of black market trade that began long before cocaine, persistent notions of regionalism triumphing over nationalism despite the highly centralized nature of the Colombian state, and the failures in Colombian democracy which work in tandem with political apathy in a vicious cycle. I read history as a lens for understanding the present - and to be reading the history of a place while you are living in it makes it all the more fascinating. After wrapping up my book, I headed to la loma de la cruz to meet a woman named Janet. A tall, thin woman, Janet's orange headdress immediately caught my eye, contrasting beautifully with her dark, black skin. After being introduced with a kiss and a hug, she began to tell me about herself and her organization. Janet was diagnosed as HIV positive twelve years ago and since then has become an activist for poor Colombian women with the virus, representing Colombia in international forums in South America and providing mental and physical support. I was introduced to Janet and her organization, LILA, by a French Teaching Assistant working in Bogotá and spending this past weekend here in Cali. I am incredibly grateful for the connection. Janet is full of ideas - how to raise money, how to raise awareness, how to provide services to this marginalized population. She needs connections in the Global North for funding and wants to start English workshops for the children of the women struggling with HIV. This is how Anais (my French friend) and I are hoping to help her. I am going to check out her organization further soon and hope to start helping her put more of her ideas into action - primarily the English workshops. "These kids are not going to be able to get anywhere if they don't know English," she told me. Private bilingual schools abound for the rich but are inaccessible for those living in areas such as agua blanca such as Janet and the women of LILA. This woman who suffers from a debilitating disease which sends many into depression has even more energy than I do. As we listened to music from the Pacific being performed live at the loma, she danced, swayed, and sand, smiling in every moment, pushing herself forward. Janet is an inspiration.

Moving back one more twenty-four hour block in time, I found myself in the pueblo of Pance with one of my Colombian friends who lives there, Rodrigo, and a group of foreign friends - Mexican, Swiss, French, and a fellow gringo. We hiked along the gorgeous river, creeping up into the mountains, crossing wobbly hanging wooden bridges Indiana Jones style until we arrived at the perfect spot to stop and take a dip into the crystal clear ice-cold mountain water. Quite the lovely Colombian Saturday afternoon. The nature in this place is like no where else I have ever seen.

Friday = house party. After a mere forty-eight hours in our new abode, Servane, Dave, and I thought it would be a good idea to invite some of our friends over for a house-warming bash. We don't yet have any furniture so there was plenty of space and before you knew it, the living room was full of couples dancing away to salsa and merengue. The firsty party in apt. 301 was a definite success.

Thursday classes were back in full swing after the interruption caused by the protest on Tuesday. The highlight of my day was my kid's class. Each Thursday the university entrusts me with about a dozen eight to twelve year olds with the goal of teaching them English. The class is always walking on a tight rope, fun and educational on one side, nightmarish and disorderly on the other. Within the two hours of the class it is almost certain one will fall into both. As we learned Halloween vocab and drew some pictures, I asked each of them what they were going to dress up as - a princess, a witch, a ghost - the usual. And then I got 'a guerilla from the FARC, kidnapping people for candy!' I didn't know how to react. The other students laughed at the comment but I was at the front of the classroom finding it anything but funny. I suppose it is no different then a kid in the United States wanting to be a ghetto gangsta. What it made me realize is that fighting between paras and guerillas is simply a reality these kids are growing up with. It is a fact of life. As their minds are becoming ever-more conscious of their surrounding reality, they are growing up accepting the current situation in their country as the status quo. Shortly following the guerilla comment we took a quick ten minute dance break - my favorite activity to let out some physical energy in the middle of class. I turned on the radio and low and behold High School Musical came blasting through the speakers. Every one of my students knew practically every word - in English! How Disney's High School Musical has become such a world-wide phenomenon I do not attempt to understand. I just smiled, sang along, and jumped up and down with the rest of them.

Wednesday was move-in day, which also meant bed-buying day. One of our Colombian friends took us downtown to find a good deal and help us negotiate, making sure we didn’t get cheated. Previously I had passed through this part of town on the bus, but never gotten off and walked around. I was worlds away from Granada - the 'downtown' of the rich - and yet a mere fifteen minute walk away. The contrasts were striking. Designer boutiques and coffee shops were replaced by black market stores selling everything from flip flops to dinning room tables and street side food vendors selling empanadas, papas rellenas, and some sort of intestines which I kindly passed on. Here, the informal sector which one reads so much about in many articles on Latin American economies, reigned supreme. To buy a bed you went up to an attic filled with mattresses and bartered your price down rather than walking through an air-conditioned mattress store where the prices are marked and fixed. The payment was in cash and the transport provided by a three-wheeled truck. This bipolarity, this inequality, is something that defines almost every major city in Latin America. As I sit on a terrace, sipping my latte, el centro seems worlds away, and yet if I wanted to I could be there in ten minutes flat.

Tuesday morning I was teaching my conversation class, discussing the importance Colombian society places on physical appearance, imported standards of beauty, and the overabundance of plastic surgery available in Cali when the director of the language institute came into the classroom and told us all that we needed to exit campus through the side gate because there was a protest that was turning slightly violent around the main gate of the university. Some fled, quite fearful, others raced away with excitement to witness something that had never happened in the fifty-one year history of the private university. Burning buses and throwing stones are an almost regular occurrence at Univalle, the largest and best public university in Cali. At a private school like the Universidad Santiago de Cali however it is almost unheard of. I have heard various theories about who actually started the protest, but it seems that the policy being protested was the inability of students at the USC to vote for the rector of the university. I am not sure how much success the protesters will have in achieving their stated goal, but they certainly shook things up quite a bit, threw some rocks, and motivated the police to set off tear gas. We'll have to wait and see if anything more comes of it.

I'll stop with the daily replay as I realize it may be getting a bit tedious. The past two weeks have also brought a return to my work with La Fundacion Libertad y Paz as well as the Corporacion Educativa Popular which I am enjoying as well as a little movement of possible academic projects to focus on next semester, but I'll leave that for a later post. As always, I have continued to have the privilege of engaging Colombians in interesting and though provoking conversation on subjects such as racial prejudice and increased security at the possible cost of weakening democratic institutions. I'm sure there will be time to discuss these topics further in the future. For now, I continue my life as a gringo in Cali. It is certainly never dull. A friend told me the other day that I made an excellent ambassador from Gringolandia. I hope that continues to be the case as I continue la vida caleña. I'll be sure to let you know what happens next!

Photos from Nights out on the Town

Photos from Pance

More Photos from Popayán

Photos from Popayán

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In My New Apt - Finally!

I am finally all set up in my new apartment. It is so great to have my own room, decorated as a like with a nice view of the mountains. I´m quite content. The address is:

Nicholas Cheadle
Calle 3 No. 63-34 Apt. 301 Bloque 5
Pampalinda, Cali, Colombia

I´ll be awaiting your snail mail!

I feel like I have so much to blog about and will make sure to do so soon (as well as getting you all those Popayán pictures I´ve promised you). Hope all are doing well in the meantime!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Picture it – a bright, multicolored school bus sized vehicle, no doors, no Windows, wooden bench seats, colorful lights flashing, salsa and vallenato blasting, jam-packed with people in every corner, rumbling down an Andean unpaved road. The scenery is a stunningly gorgeous combination of green mountain peaks, trickling waterfalls, and bubbling streams and brooks, the variation in elevation taking your breath away at every turn. I was on that chiva Monday traveling from Aguas Tibias to Popoyán after a lovely long-weekend getaway! Although the majority of the people packed onto that chiva where just getting from point A to point B, for me it was an experience that felt quintessentially Colombian. After the hour and a a half $3.000 peso ride, I was all smiles. In that moment – sitting beside new friends, jiving to the salsa beat as best I could seeing as I barely had room to fit my two legs in front of me side by side, mouth open in awe at the Andean landscape – I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I was in Colombia – this place that a year ago I had just applied to go to, a little nervous and a bit intimidated. Now, I’m here. I’m really here and I love it.

Although the chiva was that moment of brilliance that clicked in my head screaming - ¨this is Colombia!¨, the long weekend vacay included much more. My friends and I spent Sunday wandering through the streets of colonial, white-washed Popoyán. We peeked into churches, popped into museums, and lazed in the tranquil and beautiful central plaza. At night we grooved to some salsa, meringue, bachata, and reggaeton while Monday we headed up into the mountains to wade in natural thermal pools and rush down water slides – all with incredible vistas at over 2.500 meters. All of this, mind you, was accompanied by plenty of obleas, fresh strawberries in cream, candied figs, and delicious guanabana ice cream. I just can´t get away from these Colombian sweets. Now, I´m back to work in Cali caliente, excited to see what the next week might bring. I will also be posting some photos from the weekend soon. Keep an eye out!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Simple Pleasures

The past two weeks have been rather, well, normal - by my new Colombian standards at least. My life here now has a nice rhythm of its own to follow. Tuesday through Friday ticks right along with school activities and classes (although I´m missing my primary and secondary schoolers – school is back in session in a week and I can´t wait). Friday night as my last class gets out at seven, I head to the main plaza on campus to meet up with my friends and the beat chills out a little (not like it was ever too hectic to begin with, not to worry), generally morphing into salsa or merengue before the night is up. Saturdays have been days to hang out in Cali while the last two Sundays I´ve been up at the crack of dawn to head off hiking and getting a breath of fresh air accompanied by mountain views of which I will never tire, all at a nice vallenato pace. Finally Monday arrives, chatting on Skype in the mornings while planning the week’s academic activities and catching up on my reading list in the afternoon with a rather jazzy vibe. Not to say that things aren´t going to change, but it sure is nice to finally have a routine.

I continue to love the hours in my conversation club. We´ve been looking at some North American art and setting up a bit of an art gallery in the classroom with works from the likes of Hopper and Rothko. Many of the students have never been to an art gallery or museum and I´m hoping I might have piqued their interest a bit because there are a couple of modern and contemporary art museums in the city to visit. This upcoming week I´m showing the cute and quirky rom-com Waitress for our recently inaugurated English film club, what I´m hoping will be some nice lighter fare after Trainspotting. I am going to try to organize my clubs for the beginning week around themes from the movie and on Columbus Day and all its implications on Thursday and Friday.

I have added a couple of other teaching ventures to my schedule as well – teaching my new preacher´s wife English a couple hours a week and helping my new gringa friend with her español. It´s been good to get the experience of one-on-one tutoring as well as teaching a language that isn´t my own! Katie, the new American in town, and I have become fast friends. She works for CIAT, an international agricultural development think tank based here in Cali and I´m really interested in her work. All goes well with the amigos colombianos as well. The university has a talent show at the end of the month and although our actual talents are still being worked out, you can be sure we will all be participating.

As far as cultural diversions go, I stopped in to see the biggest Colombian tango show of the year last Wednesday and it was exhilarating. I talked enough about how I feel about Latin dancing in my last post, so let´s just keep it to I loved it and I want to be able to move like those tangueros. I´ve also been hitting up the hiking trails a bit as you can see from the pictures in my last two posts. I hit el cerro de las tres cruces hace ocho días (eight days ago here meaning a week ago. Colombian use 8 days to mean a week and 15 to mean two. Can´t say that wasn´t a little confusing at first), and Kilometro 18 yesterday. Km 18 sits, as its name connotes, 18 kilometers outside of Cali up in the cool breezes of the mountains. The two highlisghts of our day for me were, not too surprisingly, the food and the beautiful fincas with bright blooming flowers and green mountain top views for as far as the eye could see. Sevane, Katie and I went with a Colombian friend Clara and more or less munched our way along out 10 km hike. The fare included arepas de choclo with cheese in the center which is the rough equivalent of fluffy corn break, hot chocolate and coffee with cheese to dip and or melt inside the piping beverage, and a variety of juices from blackberry to lulo. You already know I´m all about the tropical fruits, the hot cocoa with cheese I´m going to have to get used to – but it was certainly interesting and really, can I dislike anything involving chocolate?

Amongst my various reading I have come to the close of my first attempt at Gabriel García Márquez en español. Over the past few weeks I read 12 Pilgrim Stories – a dozen short stories about South American and Caribbean nationals on journeys of various lengths in Europe. Although the occasional tale was light and uplifiting, the majority were quite tragic. Most involved female protagonists meeting their maker or going mad and many had a tinge of Márquez´s famous magical realism where the seemingly incredible happens amidst a story which otherwise strictly adheres to the natural laws of this world. Not to say I didn´t enjoy these more tragic tales, but as I sit here in reflection, the three stories I enjoyed the most dealt with simple pleasures – a man admiring a sleeping beauty on his transatlantic flight, barely exchanging a word but remembering her for the rest of his days – two brothers being raised in landlocked Madrid, far from their seaside Cartagena, turning their parentless apartment into an imaginary underwater getaway – a Brazilian woman living in Barcelona and teaching her dog to find her future gravestone all by itself so it can visit her after she´s gone. These stories capture for me a truth I am living. Some of the simplest things bring me great joy here in Cali – whether that be a one time encounter with a person who gripped me so I will never forget – a fantastic journey in my imagination to a place once traveled or soon to be known – getting to know someone new, coming from an entirely different place and discovering a myriad of commonalities. Every day there is something small to take, appreciate, and be thankful for.

A look to the future shows my last week without volunteering at Fundación Libertad y Paz and the Corporación Educativa Popular while figuring out how to permanently fit in some French classes I´ve started and some weekly yoga I´m going to try out this week with Katie. Next weekend the Fulbright ETA whose working in Cartagena is visiting Cali and on Sunday and Monday (puente!) and then I´m heading down to colonial white-washed Popyán! I´m quite excited about my first visitor to Cali and our long-weekend travels. Can´t wait to get some of you down here for a visit – you know you want to!

Photos from KM 18

1) Scarffing down some arepa de choclo, hot chocolate, agua de panela, and jugo de mora...mmmmm.
2) On the trail with one HUGE leaf...and Katie & Servane.
3 & 4) Some spectacular views from our trek!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Photos from Las Tres Cruces

These are some photos from my Sunday morning hike up to the top of el cerro de las tres cruces here in Cali. It was a great way to see the layout of the city and the reward of fresh banana bread and freshly squeezed juice at the top wasn´t too shabby either!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Amor y Salsa

I really love teaching. I have certainly enjoyed teaching in the past - in Santiago and Chicago - but not until here in Cali could I honestly exclaim such unabashed sentiments. Blame it on the sentimentablity of the recently celebrated Día de Amor y Amistad if you will, but it probably has more to do with my awesome students. The connection one is able to make with students in a language classroom is a special one. In my application for my current fellowship, I wrote about some of the most meaningful student-teacher relationships I had had and how the majority were with those who worked to teach me Spanish, French, and Portuguese. The best taught me much more than language. They taught me culture and now perspectives while creating an atmosphere more akin to a cafeteria table than a lecture hall. Luckily, I have some great examples to follow as I try to do for my students what has been done for me.

I have been trying to get more and more creative with conversation club, exploring some classroom theatrics, debates, and faux-news room set-ups to aid my constant movement about the classroom in keeping things lively. I substitute taught a four-hour class on Saturday morning which at first thought seemed horrifying,but turned out to be a blast. As far as the younger age bracket goes, primary and secondary schools including the foundation are on vacation for a few weeks. I did have the opportunity to visit a privately run school in the barrio of El Terrón Colorado this Friday that serves students from poor families in the neighborhood, some of whom have been displaced. The mother-daughter team I spoke with have given a combined forty plus years to developing the school and I am thrilled to start volunteering there on Wednesday mornings. In many ways, but not all, the school reminds me of the Academy Miguel Asturias in Xela, Guatemala which I visited this past March. Families give a minimal tuition, many receive scholarships, but all must give a little towards the importance of their education. The women who run the school seem to be incredibly dedicated and very well-educated, one of whom has a masters from a university in The States. I am sure that I will able to learn much from them about educatyional policy in a country like Colombia, a topic which is interesting me more and more these days. As I believe I mentioned before, I had not planned for my time here in Cali to be so devoted to education, but I like what I am doing and feel like I am stumbling smartly into the right places.

That last alliterative phrase was provided by the newest gringa in Cali named Katie who graduated college in ´06 and is working for an agricultural sustainability NGO just north of here for the upcoming year concerned with issues similar to those I learned a bit about while in Nicaragua on an ASB trip a couple spring breaks ago. We grabbed a late lunch SUnday and decided that we should be immediate friends. It is amazing what shared nationality can do when one is far from home.

And now, some slightly random thoughts from this past week...

Translating poorly written Spanish is no easy task. The level of writing I have witnessed thsu far from students has surprised me, and not in the best of ways.

At Colombian universities tuition varies according to one´s area of study with the cost of a semester studying law or medicine for example being more than triple that of education or finance. This system, combined with the fact that at most private universities money in the back equals acceptance and enrollment, creates a marked economic divide amongst students of differing majors.

In the 1930´s as the Liberal Revolution was gaining steam, 2 of every 3 students were being educated by the Catyholic church rather than the state and many were receiving no education at all.

Lacoste, Dolce & Gabana, and Armani labels are plastered in nearly every t-shirt, pair of blue jeans, and tennis shoes I see. Real? I doubt it. Brand-conscious? I´d say so.

I missed my one o´clock bus to La Fundación Libertad y Paz this week due to a demonstration downtown that was blocking bus traffic. A friend of mine, the director of the foreign language department at ICESI, could not arrive to work by car on Friday due to a cole miner´s protest which barricaded all the roads between her home and the university. Welcome back to Latin America, Nico.

Who thought that in the hyper-globalized twenty-first century I could still discover new fruits? The latest find - guanabana. Delish!

I have observed that people here have an odd habit of removing the cell phone from their ear and placing it directly infront of their mouth when speaking. I have brainstormed with many a Colombian about this phenomenon (which none find so extraordinary as I) and have come to several hypothesis, including the need to constantly check how many minutes one has been chatting to assure a hang up as close as possible to the 59 second mark in order to get one´s money´s worth from the steep cell phone prices. I´ll keep hypothesizing and let you know what else I come up with. Another quirky feature of cell phone communication in Cali is the placement of individuals at nearly every important street corner wearing green vests and equipped with several cell phones from the biggest three telecommunications companies in Colombia. You can use one of their cell phones, choosing the company of the carrier of the person you are calling for between 100 and 200 pesos a minute which is cheaper than calling from your own.

Enough of the random Caleño idiosyncrasies. On the lighter side of life, I was sure to take full advantage of the cultural line up for the week. Saturday afternoon a few friends and I went to San Antonio (the oldest part of town with the cutest most homey character of any of the caleño barrios I have yet to explore) for a street festival full of artisans, music, dancing, and theatric performances, not to mention delicious food. I of course took full advantage of the latter, munching on alfajores and dreating a nice champú de lula. You might have noticed that I invented that last verb there for I really know no other way to describe how onemust simultaneiously drink the lulo juice and eat the corn contained in a champú - an odd culinary experience, but one well worth the awkwardness. My favorie two stage shows at the festival were a couple dancing Argentine tango and a group of actors with Down Syndrome performing a delightfully comic mimed sketch. The latter gave me the idea of doing some more theatrical activities with my more youthful English classes, resurecting some skills from my theatre days.

The largest cultural even of the week by far was the fourth annual wold salsa festival. On Thursday I was able to catch an exhibition which included a group of blind salseros putting my dancing skills to shame and some youngsters moving their feet faster than my eyes could follow. Saturday was themain event with dozens of salsa groups strutting tyheir stuff at the Plaza de Torros. When we first arrived, we were sitting in the nose bleed section, but a member of the production team heard my Mexican friends talking and offered us passes to the VIP section just for being foreigners. The couple of Colombians who were accompanying us quickly became Uruguayan and we were in - really sweet! Check out these two videos of the third and first place performances. There was some truly inventive stuff, almost all incorporating that quick caleño footwork into their acts.

I also found time for two holiday celebrations- Mexican Independence Day and El Día de Amor y Amistad, Colombia´s version of Valentine´s Day. Some of my Mexican friends studying abroad at various universities around Cali hosted a party on Tuesday night with some delivious Mexican food - tostadas, quesedillas, guacamole - you name it. So so good. So much flavor - it kept my taste buds happy for days. The only slight damper on the event was the lack of electricity due to a thunderstorm, but we managed by candle light just fine. As for the Day of Love and Friendship (which I found a bit more inclusive than our gringo version of the holiday although that might have just been a more advanced scheme by a Colombian greeting card company), I received a few chocolates and such and spent Friday night with a group of Colombian friends drinking and dancing along to a live vallenato band at a bar close by called Obama´s...he´s´s crazy.

This upcoming week promises to be a bit less busy. Dave, the English English TA as we like to call him, and I are starting up our movie club this Wednesday by showing the British film Trainspotting. I need to choose an American film for the following week, so if you have any good ideas that stray from the standard Hollywood Blockbuster fare do write me an email and let me know. Next I write, I will have hopefully figured out my new aprtment situation so I can let you know my new address. Wish me luck in my search!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Photos from La Finca

1) The whole gang by El Lago Calima.
2) Our little weekend house on the finca.
3) The view from my favorite hammock.
4) Mid volley ball game.
5) A smaller group by El Lago Calima.