Sunday, June 29, 2008

Me encanto el campo

Yesterday I woke up and checked on the cow who is due to give birth either tonight or tomorrow. Then I revisited the tiny nest I found yesterday in the bushes with three little speckled eggs, two blue and one white. (No changes on either front by the way.) Then Claudia took me to the newly discovered nest outside their front door where we discovered yet another tiny baby hatchling had fallen to it’s death. Thus began the next project: finding a ladder to reach the nest, remove it (two hatchlings still intact) and reshape it a bit so that babies would no longer slip out unnoticed each time the mother flew in with food. It’s as if I am surrounded by the life-cycle this week, and for someone from Queens, (with self-admittedly minimal interest in nature-related activities) this is quite magical. I played with tiny baby rabbits the other day and we also
discovered the duck named Eddie after papa, is sitting on an egg! (Papi!) Sometimes I just sit by the window with a book and intermittently read and gaze out at all the animals, coexisting (and always always eating) and am amazed. Tiny birds flit back and forth building nests and I trace their paths with my eyes and discover more and more hidden nests tucked in among the thick wooden beams of this house. The mama and papa rabbit nibble grass beside the chicken with her tiny chick-a-dee racing after her and the two dogs, Zuca and Geronimo taunt and chase Manuel the slinky (and spoiled) black cat. Ducks are squawking, the rooster crows in the morning (I’m dead serious) and chickens are everywhere. I fall asleep to the moo’s of preggars (my nickname for the cow) and though I don’t think I could ever live like this, it’s like being transported into a Discovery channel program about farmers. Except C&G really aren’t farmers, they just live on modest farm which is tended by someone whose picture I will absolutely have to take and post, Don Enrique. Don Enrique is the kindest, gentlest and simplest man I have ever met. A campesino of few words, he dons the same adoreable (I think) one piece blue uniform every morning when he wakes at 4:30 a.m. and feeds the two horses, three cows, 5 or so chickens, 5 or so ducks and 2 dogs. Every Sunday, his day off, he walks two-hours (2 km) into town to do his shopping and what-not, as do all the campesino children every school day.

Later on yesterday, it was time to start building the “balancine” (see-saw) in the backyard from the pieces of wood we picked up in town. I watched (and maybe am guilty of taking a reading break) as Gonzalo and Don Enrique dug holes and made cement right there in the half-shell of an old barrel from stones, powder and water, using nothing but a shovel. To me, this is genius. There is no dishwasher, no internet at the moment and no heat. I am presently wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, a windbreaker, a scarf, knee-high socks, jeans, sneakers and my gloves are on the table beside me, lest I pause typing for more than an instant and catch pneumonia – and I am at the dining room table. A bit extreme, perhaps, but I am finding myself to be much like my mother in this way, frequently freezing when others are not. “The cold gets in my bones,” I tell people.

I have done nothing but relax, read, write, eat and sleep since I’ve been here. I am taking full advantage of this cushy South American landing before I embark on my own in two days to explore Peru for three weeks solo. Still no word from my teaching program in Chile as to which city (or town) I will be teaching in and what grade I will be teaching. I’m becoming accustomed to the not-knowing, it’s all quite exciting actually. I am trying my best to take in the beautiful country of Colombia. To and from our three-day vacation in the wonderfully-warm villete I was mesmerized by what I saw outside my window. The views from the winding mountain roads are filled with “campesinos,” farmers and locals who live in the country with tiny homes thatched with whatever and garages covered with plastic, endless lines of laundry give these houses most of their color and character. Everything is different. Cars drive recklessly in between lanes without signal or yellow dotted line and children who look about eight walk miles ahead of men who seem 80. Motorbikes weave in and out of traffic and all the while, the beautiful mountains with the green country side filled with cows and small, road-side “tiendas” selling arequipa, meat and beer abound. Which reminds me -- passing through one of the small towns a tiny butcher’s shop had a full gutted pig hanging outside the door, snout, arms and legs intact… 30 minutes into our drive I turn away from the window and poke my head into the front seat of Gonzalo’s new Explorer-esque jeep and smiling, tell them, “Me encanto el campo,” (I love the country).

Last night around 10:30 p.m. I rushed into Claudia’s room wearing my normal pj garb of sweats, leggings, socks sweatshirt and scarf and looked out the window. “La vaca?” I asked nervously. Then in Spanglish I tried to explain to her that while reading in my room I had heard the cow moo twice in a row (whoop de doo) … maybe she was in labor? Claudia took a flashlight and shone it out her bathroom window onto the toffee-colored cow, ready to pop, but plopped down in the grass ambivalently mooing and looking around. No, she was not in labor. Later that night, once I began paying attention I realized that she had been mooing for hours up until then, and hadn’t stopped by the time I forced myself to shut off the light. In fact, I fell asleep at 3 a.m. and preggars was still mooing. I am an idiot. I seriously know nothing about animals. Yet, I was so anxious the whole night I could not fall asleep. It was as if I were waiting for the birth of a neice or nephew. I just keep thinking that Julie will be so jealous that I am most probably going to witness the birth of a cow, and then, most likely, be scarred for life.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lovely Little Colombian Vaca

I am here in the lovely country of Colombia and it feels like I just left. The parasite that I contracted right before I left here (and dealt with at home two days after I arrived in the U.S.), has decided to revisit. It is an awful, miserable thing to be chained to the nearest bathroom, but alas, better here with my cousin Claudia and her husband Gonzalo to force chalky-tasting medicine down my throat, then in Peru (in who-knows-what-city) alone. Ah, what a gift in disguise.
So I arrived in the Bogota airport, much like the last time, except minus two people (to help me carry my ridiculously heavy and excessive luggage). The Bogota airport is so humorous to me because unlike any airport I’ve ever flown into, the entire gaggle of people waiting to greet passengers must wait outside. One steps through Customs and the security luggage-check area to find a sea of people, faces smushed against the glass wall to the outside, fighting to get a peek at those on the other side. It really is like something out of a movie. Last year about this time, when Tanya, Julie and I stepped into the chamber before the sliding glass doors to the outside, we were petrified of being trampled and also of never being found. I had never met Claudia at that point and so I resorted to carefully ambling through the doors. I pushed through the outstretched arms and screams of over-excited families and friends trapped behind railings (guarded by policemen dressed like Colombian army generals), and meekly called her name. Thankfully a man (Gonzalo) snatched the three of us up pretty quickly and I turned to him and chirped, “Claudia?”
This time was different because I was alone, struggling with my monstrous luggage and was able to spot my cousins first, squinting through the crowd with allergy-ridden eyes. I found them and basically slept for the next 24 hours, fighting off what I have come to discover is most likely an “amoeba,” which, believe it or not, does not leave the body when fought with sleep or starvation (I’ve barely been able to eat). I’m totally fine by the way.
Today is Claudia’s birthday and so yesterday we drove down the mountain about an hour from Subachoque (the tiny pueblo where they live, an hour outside of Bogota, where it is freeeeezing) to the slightly larger and much hotter pueblocito of villete. We are staying at a nice hotel with a swimming pool where there is no lifeguard and children run, scream, play tag and splash with abandon. There is a king size bed in Claudia’s room and two twin beds in mine and I am still convincing those two that it is probably best if I take the king size for myself (and my symptoms). I only walked around the town today for a bit (en route to purchase my pink “strawberry” medicines) but I saw three things of interest in that time:
1. I stood outside the drogueria fighting back nausea (while Claudia and Gonzalo chit-chatted with the pharmacist) and stared open-mouthed as a woman plopped down on one of those very common motorbikes. Behind her, her husband (I’m guessing here) propped a child -- who looked no more than one-year-old -- on his feet (he could not stand alone) and climbed on behind him with one arm on the child’s waist. Both parents had helmets, the baby did not (do they even make them that size?) Off they sped!
Sidenote: After recounting this story to Claudia she told me of a mother and child who were walking in Subachoque and asked by a passing motorist if they wanted a lift. The mother climbed on with her baby wrapped in a blanket in her arms and when she reached her destination, the baby was no longer in the blanket.
2. A mother breastfeeding her baby in the Plaza Central of villete. No trace of modesty (a blanket, less boobage, etc.). Freedom!
3. Walking down the street a flock of tiny birds clamored to the sidewalk (eating something) and minus about four brown ones, they were all bright bright yellow. They were canaries, but the scene was so out of place for me. I’ve only seen pigeons, seagulls and some black bird (hawks maybe?...Bree help me out here) do that! Dare I say it was … magical?

Other than that, this vacation has been very relaxing and quite lovely with time spent in deep almost-Spanish conversations with my cousins, reading by the pool and writing in my coveted chocolate brown, suede-bound journal Will gave me for graduation. Life is beautiful except for the tummy rumbles.

Que Bonita es Esta Vida

I never got to actually study abroad. Well, I shouldn’t say “got to,” because the opportunity was always there for me to choose (like all things in life), but instead I found myself wrapped up in the commitment of a year-round dance team. And then, just when I had finally figured everything out, when I realized that making time for several months abroad was critical to my learning and growing into the type of person I wanted to become, Thomas became sick. Most of you know what followed that. My date to leave the country for an independent study in Ayacucho had been slated for Feb 10th 2007. It was supposed to last 4 months. Thomas died Feb 7th 2007. You couldn’t have dragged me out of the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania if you tried. So I made a new plan. I invited my sister along and Julie hopped on the bandwagon. My only option was the one-month program by that time, and that started in June. I happily switched and had the trip of a lifetime. I made friends abroad who were from the U.S. (specially you Anna) as well as friends in other countries. Oh yeah, and I met a cousin who I had no idea existed and toured the home-city and country of my father (Bogota, Colombia). I have been very blessed with these opportunities and experiences and they changed me invariably and left me thirsty for more. To see cultures and geography that most people never see is an opportunity to discover more than just oneself – now I know what I am missing wherever I go, and by the same token, I am more thankful for what I am not (and never have been) missing. The decision to return to South America was three-fold: to perfect the Spanish language and market myself as bilingual on my resume, to revisit my volunteer site from last summer in Ayacucho and mostly, to take the trip that I have always meant to take – my semester abroad. This has always been part of my life-plan and I am not at all overwhelmed by the fact that it is finally here. I am simply ready for it to begin, ready to transform my mind into a sponge and soak up every last bit of this country and language before I return to the States with a greater sense of what I can do without my posse (I’m sorry ‘Circle’) and a badass resume.