Monday, August 17, 2009

Festival & A Fish Fry

¨Are you going to Petronio tonight?¨ This had been the constant question on seemingly everyone´s lips for a good five days. The first few times I heard this question in passing it seemed to me as if everyone was planning on making a late night gas station run. My little American ears were hearing ´petróleo´ rather than ´Petronio´. Petronio, however, was what the Colombians were talking about, meaning the 13th annual Festival of Music from Colombia´s Pacific coast. With each passing night, the crowd at the Plaza de Torros became larger and livlier until it go to the point where we couldn´t even get into the stadium and had to watch on a jumbotron set up outside! Despite the masses, or perhaps attracted by them, I found myself walkingn orth to the plaza each and every night with various groups of Colombians that either Dave, Servane, or I had managed to befriend in our first week here in Cali. The music was a mixture of traditional Pacific rhythms with strong African roots and some more modern interpretations thrown in from time to time, often reminiscent of a sort of Spanish speaking Wyclef Jean. The music was incredible and had everyone inside and outside the stadium waving their white pañuelos and grooving to the beat. That was the fun of it really, the commmunal spirit of expressing enjoyment and appreciation of the music through dance. In addition to all the music and dancing, the festival provided two other gems of the Pacific: food and drink. The stands around the stadium were whipping out sancocho de mariscos (delicious seafood soup), empanadas filled with shrimp or beef, arroz con leche (akin to rice pudding), guayaba tarts and plenty of other scrumptious treats of which sadly I cannot recall the names. There was biche for all, the traditional liquer of the Pacific coast region, which I found a bit too strong for my liking unless made into arrechón by adding condensed milk, cinnamon, and a plethora of other spices - that hit the spot! What I will remember most from the festival however, more than evern the music itself, is the way the people enjoyed themselves. Impromptu drumming and dancing would pop up during the few breaks in the programmed musical line up that spread like wildfire, everyone dancing with their hands in the air and a smile on their face. It only deepened my utter fascination and appreciation of Afro-Latino culture and society and made me want to delve in deeper and find out more. The whole event was especially impactful remembering that much of this music and culture was coming out of the very region that is hurting most in modern day Colombia, caught up in violence it did nothing to create.

In addition to all the fun had at the festival this weekend, I spent a day out fishing with Juan. Juan is a 24 year old student in the foreign language department who also works in the office at the language institute and teaches beginning English classes. He, his wife, and little 5 month old daughter Ana Sofia took the other language assistants and I just outside of town to a lake stocked with delicious fish. I caught a black tilapia and Dave and Juan each caught a white tilapia. Not to boast, but I did in fact catch the biggest fish! We cleaned up our catch, brought them back to Juan´s house, and fried them up, head and all, along with some rice and plantains. Let me just say that I don´t think I have ever eaten such tasty and flavorful tilapia in all my life. Washed down with a few Club Colombias (what I believe I have decided is the best domestic beer), the day was a huge success. Juan has been so hospitable and kind and is absolutely hillarious, sort of a teenager trapped in a 24 year old body. He loves to pull out his English slang he learned when living in Miami and says ´bro´after about every third sentence in Spanish. I am going to go to church with him and his family this weekend which I´m hoping I will enjoy!

That pretty much gives you the highlights of the weekend. Today is yet another Colombian holiday, so I´ve been doing quite a good job of chilling out, reading, and writing. I can really feel the rhythm of life slowing down here and, although it takes some getting used to, I have to say I like it. We´ll see if I can make that last as my weekly schedule begins to fill up more and more. Other things I am enjoying in everyday life here include the amount of time spent outside in this awesome weather and the plethora of street food available at every corner from delicious sugar cane juice to obleas - two crispy wafers with caramel squished in between which I could literally eat one of these after every meal. All the best to all of you and a big feliz cumpleaños to my brother Jeff!

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