Monday, August 17, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers (Read: New Friends)

The Kindness of Strangers (read: new friends)
People here are extraordinarily friendly. This weekend some of my new Colombian colleagues invited me to a battle of the bands local rock concert, a jazz club, and a barbecue.

The battle of the bands called the Miche Rock Festival, was outside in a place called Plaza la Paz. Turns out Miche is a guy who owns a music store and happens to be a dad of one of our students. Right when we entered my colleague got us VIP passes. It had several different rock genres. Some I liked – the reggae/ska band with horns, and the female led band that did a cover of Message in a Bottle by the Police, and some I did not – the growling death metal band. For me, being in South America for my first time, it was just as entertaining watching the crowd. As I’ve seen everywhere in Colombia, there was high security (read: uniformed people with guns), but in some places, like Mexico and Indonesia, this has scared me. Here it makes me actually feel safer.

Here is something I’ve never seen at any rock concert: people who were up in the front would just sit down on the ground. Other people were head-banging around them, but they were calmly sitting on the ground. We ran into another colleague who had brought her 5 year-old son. He was sitting up in front listening and drumming with a water bottle to the music. The mosh pit was also entertaining, being more like a friendly circle of people skipping and running, instead of people bashing into each other. After many bands finished their last song there was the chant of, "Otra! Otra!" (encore) When I liked the band I joined right in the chanting.

The jazz club was somewhere we never would have found from the street because it was literally underground. The band played traditional Latin jazz standards, think Buena Vista Social Club minus the singers. I preferred it to the rock bands.

A little aside: Being a vegetarian in Colombia is not that easy. I do eat fish and thought for sure with Barranquilla’s proximity to the coast there would be plenty of fish – not so. However, there is a large Arabic and supposedly also Indian community here. I’ve seen lots of Arabic (mainly Lebanese) restaurants and I’m looking forward to trying them.

Yesterday I was invited to a barbecue at my co-teacher’s house. She has a beautiful little modern house just outside Barranquilla. I feared there wouldn’t be much food besides meat – no veggies burgers here I’m sorry to say. My fears were confirmed. No salad, no fruit, and on the grill only meat. Because I was hungry I did eat a little bit of sausage, but I just can’t handle the other meats. There were boiled potatoes and yucca with this delicious sauce called suero. It’s kind of like crème fresh, only a bit more sour, but not as much as sour cream.

After the yucca and potatoes and a few tragos of some type of anise liquor made from sugar cane (I think it was called aguardiente) it was time for dancing, and dance we did. There was merengue, ranchera, reggatón, classics in English like Staying Alive and I Will Survive, and the typical music here called vallenato, which has Latin singing, rhythm, plus accordion. It sounds like drinking music to me.

We danced until about 1:30 and laughed a lot too. Everyone here wants to make sure that everyone is having a good time – the hospitality is extraordinary. I’m certain that a good time was had by all, although I’m sure today some folks will be a bit guayabo, which I just learned is the word here for hungover.

Thankfully I am not guayabo, as it is my first day of teaching tomorrow. As of now I have 17 students in my homeroom and my teaching partner has 18. This makes my grand total of students 35 in two classes – I would’ve had this many in one class if I had stayed teaching in Gresham this year. Suffice it to say, I think I have made the right choice.


  1. I just want to know what you do about food. Seems like there are not many choices. Is there frijoles, tortillas, and rice? This could be a great vegetarian meal to have.

  2. Not many frijoles, no tortillas, but there is rice.