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When we respect everybody around us, we are in peace with everybody around us.

Don Miguel Ruiz

Two years in Colombia

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Today, May 31, marks 2 years in Colombia, 2 years in Barranquilla. What has this experience been like so far? Is this new life what I expected? If not, how is it different from what I expected?

Before I came here, when I was just going through the TEFL courses to get certified as an EFL teacher, I had no expectations. I had no idea what to expect from a life in a different country, doing a job I had no experience doing. So I came here with no expectations. And I think that is a good thing. If I had expected certain things to happen certain ways, and they didn't work out according to those expectations, then I would be highly disappointed. As it is, I am not disappointed in my choice of a new career. I love teaching english. The people who want to learn know that by doing so they can improve their life situation, and thus their family's situation as well. I feel very good about helping people do just that.

First things first - it hasn't been easy. And those of you who have read my previous blogs since I started this will know that. I haven't hidden anything. When I had problems I wrote about them. And it's still not easy. Trying to earn a living as a teacher of english as a foreign language is rewarding, inwardly, but not monetarily. There is barely enough money to survive, but that's not the point. The point is to help people improve their lives. I knew right from the start that I would not get rich doing this. But at the same time it would be nice to get some support, and there has been two people who have helped me a couple times, thank you very much, I greatly appreciate that help.

Being so far from home can be lonely. I do miss my sons, David and Austin, my brothers and other relatives. Communication is only through email because snail mail is very expensive here. There is no postal service in Colombia. There used to be, but some years ago the postal service went bankrupt. Now all postal services are handled by private couriers. I had a US government check that I couldn't cash here, at any bank, because it was a foreign check. I couldn't mail it back to the states because of the cost, which was about half the value of the check. And I didn't have the spare cash on hand to pay that much for mailing it. The check expired. Oh well, so it goes, nothing I can do about it. I sent a message to the government office that issued the check and never got a reply. Then sent a second message, and again, never got a reply. I'm not surprised. I do wonder why the bother putting contact links on government web sites, though.

What else do I miss? I miss having a car. I miss having a bicycle. I am reliant on public transportation, which is very good here, but means I do not have the freedom of mobility as people in the US and other more developed countries. I miss authentice Chinese food. We have Chinese restaurants here, many of them, but they are a mixture of Chinese/Colombian, not authentic Chinese food. From Tucson I miss the Thai restaurant that I really liked, and the Peruvian restaurant with the people who worked there, all Peruvian. And the Greek restaurant, it also is very good. And all the Mexican restaurants. Here there are a couple Mexican restaurants. I have been to one of them, it has a reputation as the best Mexican restaurant in Barranquilla. But it was terrible. I posted a really bad review of it on it's Facebook page, and last time I checked it had a couple "likes" on my review. I miss catfish. We have really good fish here, just no catfish. Here the bass is very good and very popular. It's always fresh from the river. I very much miss my instruments - saxophones, electric guitars, bass guitars, acoustic guitars, amplifiers, the mandolin and violin, the wood Buffet clarinet, such a sweet sound, the 8 track digital recorder, the mics and all the other music related stuff I had accumulated over the years. And there was a lot of it. Especially the tenor sax I bought from Kenny G., a 1962 Selmer Mk VI. And that Breedlove accoustic guitar, what a sound! Best guitar Guitar Center had for sale. Yes, I do miss all those things, but at the end of the day, what is really important? My stuff? My things? Or helping a person improve their life? The answer is, of course, the later.

I have a dream, a desire, to have actual english classes here at home, but so far that is not possible as I have no money to actually buy what is needed to start them. I started a profile on a fund raising site, but that has resulted in nothing at all. I know that if I can get 10 people in one class, 3 days a week, I can actually make enough money to feel a little comfortable. With the half-dozen private students it is just barely enough to get by. But again, the money is not important, as long as I can pay rent and electricity and buy enough food to survive, and so far that is how it is. The people really love the lessons. We have a lot of fun together in the lessons. But always in the back of my mind is that nagging concern about the next months rent. Why? Because people are unreliable, undependable, no matter how much they want to learn the language. They still have reasons to cancel classes. Sometimes for up to a month at a time. Sometimes it's almost once a week. But okay, so I do what I can and I survive.

I do love living in Colombia, the lifestyle here on the Caribbean coast is very laid-back. The people are very friendly, and will go out of their way to help you. They love music! I don't mean they love to listen to music when they can. Every holiday, no matter how insignificant, is a party. There are many holidays here, and most people don't even know what many of them are, they just know it is a holiday, therefore it is time to party. The music often goes all night long, literally, all night. During Carnaval it is like that almost every day and night for a couple weeks. Birthdays are a big party that usually starts well into the evening, 9pm, and last until 2 am or so. And not just adult birthdays, but the kids birthdays are often long night parties as well. Especially quinceañeras (the young lady's sweet 15 party). They will fill the street with tables and chairs, hire a DJ who bring out big stacks of speakers and the party goes on and on.

In the US we have read articles in magazines and newspapers about the demise of the "nuclear family" in the USA. And that is very true of the culture there. Here in Colombia, and in other Latin American countries, the nuclear family is still part of the culture. Here it is common for families to stay together always, until a son or daughter gets married. It is only then that they will move away from the family. Though typically they will not settle too far away. So even in their 20's, 30's and older, they stay at home with the parents. Here the children take care of the parents when they get old. In the US the culture is "put him/her in a home where they will get the care they need". Not here. Families stay together, take care of each other, throughout life. It is very different from the culture of North America.

There has been mention of the fact that I do not use the term "American" in any of my writings. Yes, that is true, I don't. I believe the nationality "American" is a misnomer. I believe using the word American to refer to people in one country is wrong. Here the Latin Americans do not know the letters USA refer to the United States. To them USA is a word, usa, which in English is translated "uses". And the nationality of the EE.UU. (the USA to Latin Americans) is estadounidense. When someone asks me where I am from I say Estados Unidos, I am estadounidense. I do not say American, as most Latin Americans get offended by that. They are Americans also. Living in a country other than the country you were born in is a very enriching experience. It opens you eyes, your mind, to many new ideas, new ways of looking at things. Spending ones entire life in one country gives you only one point of view. Gives you a tunnel vision, if you will. I think everyone should spend some time, some months, in a country other than the one they were born in. I believe the world would be a much more peacefull place if that could happen. People would see things from another persons point of view.

So what's ahead for me? What do I see in my future? I don't look to far ahead, I don't plan too far ahead, because I know, from personal experience, that life is short, we don't know when it is our turn to leave this world. We can make all the plans we want, but if tomorrow is your turn to go home to heaven, or wherever you believe you go in the afterlife, then all the plans are for naught. And, if one makes big plans for the future, saves big amounts of money for some future event, and something catastrophic happens, all those plans and savings go away in a hurry, and you are left with much disappointment. I don't like that, to me it is just setting myself up for disappointment, so why would I do that? Live for today, and maybe the near future, enjoy what you have, now, because tomorrow you may not have it to enjoy. How long will I be here in Colombia? I don't know. Right now, at the time of writing this, my thoughts are that this is my home, in Colombia. But I cannot tell what the future holds for me. As an english teacher I can go pretty much anywhere and teach, money allowing of course, and I have none, so this is where I am. Here in Barranquilla, always? I don't know. I would like to go to Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali, and a few other cities. I've only been to Santa Marta and Puerto Colombia. Would I want to stay in one of those other cities? Maybe. I have been told the climate of Bogotá is like a year-round spring in New York, so I don't think I would like to live there. Cali, though, looks quite nice, generally around 5 degrees cooler day and night, year round, than Barranquilla. And Cali has a much deeper music culture than Barranquilla. Granted, Barranquilla spawned such well-known greats as Shakira, Joe Arroyo and many years ago, Pacho Galan, and the TV actress/fashion model Sofia Vergara, oh, and Miss World this year. So, very little musical culture here. Very little culture of any kind here, actually. There is a very nice museum, the Museo del Caribe.

I am still working on the english learning website. It's just very slow work. Would be much faster if I just copied other web sites and plagiarized everything, but I won't do that. My site is going to be all original. So I am writing the lessons from scratch. It's not easy. Also finding images, coming up with quiz questions, putting it all into web page format for the site, keeping it all in the correct order for a new learner to move from one subject to the next, and on and on. I tend to work on a few lessons in a few days, then take some time off from it. Then back on it for a few days, and so on. But I am making progress. I also get distracted by other tasks, such as lessons and tests for my current students. And another project - putting together a book that will have all the grammar subjects tested in the CEFR A1, A2, and B1 levels. That will include the grammar information on all the topics necessary and a 10-question quiz on every topic. I have maybe three-quarters of the topics completed in rough format, right now 59 pages. But it will give a person everything they need in regards to grammar for the CEFR level tests, whichever tests they may choose to take. But grammar is only one part of the tests, they also cover reading, writing, comprehension and speaking. Those parts will be left for later after I get caught up with what I am currently working on. Only real problem with these projects is there is no pay involved, no support of any kind, for doing them. They are my free time projects, which is why they are so long in being completed.

Girlfriend? No girlfriend now. There was a gal for eleven months. She moved to Monteria. A city about a 6 1/2 hour drive southwest of Barranquilla. It would be nice to find a woman, and some day that will happen. I'm not too actively searching right now though, too much to do.

So in the end of it all, I love what I am doing now. Seeing a person improve from speaking next to no English to conversational english, the smile on their face as they remember and speak more freely, that is worth all hard work, the lack of money for anything than living expenses. If that is the way it has to be, so be it, I will continue to do this as long as I am able to.

That's about all for now, till next time, take care!


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