I have now been in Colombia for one full week, although it seems as if I have been here much longer, most likely because until today my days have been full with activities from dawn well past dusk. The first five days of my stay were spent in Bogotá for orientation. 12 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants and half a dozen or so Fulbright student researchers met at the Fulbright Colombia Comission´s house to participate in seminars covering a myriad of topics concerning the next year of our lives. Daniel Garcia Peña, an incredibly well known and respected Colombian academic and journalist, spoke to us for the better part of an afternoon about Colombian history and U.S.-Colombian relations. Several employees from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia spoke to us about issues of security as well as teaching English and researching abroad. A few former Fulbrighters who are still in Colombia provided a greatly informative Q & A, and finally Ricardo Romero, an energetic and intriguing English professor from La Universidad Nacional in Bogotá, gave a great lectyure about English teaching in Colombia, methodology, and techniques; however, simply observing Mr. Romero´s style of lecturing and engaging discussions was even more helpful than the content of his speech itself.
The previous list sums up the bulk of our orientation in terms of academics, but there was much more to enjoy. My fellow Fulbrighters are a pretty amazing group of people ranging in age from 21 to 35 and hailing from universities across the country. After only a couple of days, we were already cracking each other up (at one point during an especially jolly lunch I literally had to excuse myself from the table I was laughing so hard), sharing ideas and life experiences, and of course discussing Colombian history and politics. As a side note, a lot is happening right now in the world of Colombian politics. President Uribe and his fellow uribistas (Uribe trancends traditional Conservative and Liberal two party politics that have dominated Colombia´s rather violent political history, although he certainly lies quite far to the right of center) are attempting to transorm the Colombian constitution, yet again to allow him to run for President after already serving two four year terms. Although Uribe still enjoys incredibly popularity ratings, political processes, which I won´t go into now, seem to have nearly put a halt on this possible third term; however, it is still too early to tell. In addition to this issue, Uribe has traveled all over the continent for the past few days attempting to explain the possibility he has been discussing with the United States concerning the U.S. use of several additional Colombian military bases for the war on drugs (and on terror, as the two become increasingly linked in rhetoric). The concern of others, voiced most strongly by not only Chavez and Correa, but Kirchner as well, is that the increased U.S. presence may be aimed at more than just fighting drugs and would potentially destabalize the region. On top of all that, one adds the tenuous back and forth diplomatic relationship between Colombia´s Urivo and Venezuela´s Chavez and you´ve got a real show on your hands. One final point of interest that Mister Peña pointed out in his discussion with us during orientation is that despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Uribe and Chavez have much in common when it comes to the ways in which they govern and their ideological allegieance to Simón Bolívar, making them perhaps not quite as different as we all assume.
Pardon the fact that that sidenote turned into the majority of the paragraph. My relationahips with my fellow Fulbrighters has certainly not been all business. One evening we all attended a dinner at the elegant penthouse suite of Mr. Bian Nichols, the second in command at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá (which, by the way, is the second largest U.S. Embassy in the world). The guest list included not only the U.S. Fulbrighers but the Fulbright Colombia Commission staff, several State Department representatives, and Colombians who were about to pursue Fulbright study grants in the United States. I must say I had no idea that orientation was going to be so swanky and this was only the highlight of several receptions, lunches, and dinners in which we took part. I will admit that it did make me feel just a little important! On our final night in Bogotá, after a full day city tour culminating with a gorgeous cable car ride up to Monserrate with a beautiful view of sprawling Bogotá on one side and the lush Andes Mountains on the other, several of us decided to have a night out on the town. We danced the night away around Parque 93 to all sorts of music including, of course, my first introduction to Colombian salsa. Not to toot my own horn, but let´s just say people were impressed with the way this little gringo could move!
I could say more about Bogotá, but Iam going to stop there. The fellow Fulbrighters Imet as well as the incredible staff at the comission will all provide a wonderful resource for discussions as well as a network of friends around the entirety of Colombia with whom I can crash whenever I happen to make it to their city! Friday, I hopped on a plane bound for Cali. After a whopping 35 minutes in the air, we had arrived. The temperature had increased about 20 degrees, the mountains had become smaller and greener, salsa was constantly in the air, and the people were a beautiful mixture of black, brown, and white. This city is the place I will temporarily call home for the next ten months. Today, I started my exploration of this dynamic city seemingly full of contrasts, but I will leave its description for next time. At the present, I´ve got a salsa date with my first friend in Cali, a fellow language teaching assistant from the Northwest of France! Keep in touch and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I´ll write again soon as things get under way here in Cali. I will be figuring out my English teaching schedule, improving my salsa skills (as well as my Español) and begining my social justice work the internally displaced peoples. All the best to friends and family in the States or wherever in the world you may be ...I miss you!
P.S. As for pictures, I have yet to take any great shots. There is nowhere I have been where I will not be again, so do not fret. I am trying to wait until I become well accustomed to the area before whipping out my camera and screaming tourist just to be on the safe side.
P.P.S. Also, Fulbright would like me to add that this blog is not an official Fulbright Fellowship site. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author, a 2009-2010 Fulbright Grantee.