Tag Archives: visit

Update part 2: Parents and GLOW

Crumleys in Colombia!

My parents finally came to visit! They set aside three weeks to come and follow me around my PCV life, going to classes with me, meeting all my pueblo friends, and even tagging along to girls’ camp. It was both surreal and exciting to have my parents–my biggest support during my service, always available via Facetime or Skype to listen to my successes and challenges and to give me toilet-plunging advice–finally in Colombia. Getting to merge my two worlds for a few weeks was both stressful and rewarding, stressful because of the 24/7, two-way translating, and rewarding because it gave me a chance to see my host country through fresh eyes.

In spite of Spirit Airlines, they made it to Cartagena (only a day late and baggage-less.) They flew in and we made it into the city just in time for sunset over the historic walled city, making the cathedral domes glow. As

My parents in my pueblo!
My parents in my pueblo!

we walked around the enchanted city, we saw a wedding procession with cumbia drums, and watched a mapale presentation in the park. My parents tried their first arepa con queso, then jugo de mango. 

When they AND their baggage both finally arrived in Puerto Colombia, I got to introduce them to my Colombian life. I took them to visit each of my favorite families, meeting the kids I’ve watched grow and hearing the stories the grandpas love to tell over and over again.

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My mamas, L to R: Rocio, Linda and Mildred
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My dads, Frank and Don (missing Mario, in Argentina!)
As my American parents were coming in to town, my Colombian mama was moving out, going to Argentina to be with her husband. Before she left, we had a goodbye dinner with all my “parents” present: my American parents (theonesthatbirthedme), my Colombian mama (missing my Argentine papa!) and my Colombian papa and Ecuadorian mama, all at one table! This kid felt pretty loved, all of them sharing stories and conspiring to get me married (this is a dangerous combination.) Family, in all forms and definitions, is one of the things that makes life most worth living.

I was able to introduce my parents to all aspects of my Peace Corps life, including classes at my school; my weekend class in Barranquilla; each of the families I’m closest to here in my town; the Peace Corps staff; other volunteers; my favorite Colombian foods.

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Mom getting to know some of my students
At my school, they sat in on a few of Ines’ and my 10th and 11th grade classes. That week, we were working on reading comprehension and test taking skills, but before class started, I introduced my parents and made the students ask questions in English. The best part was when they taught my dad some of the local slang–he was a hit!

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That finca life

The last few days of their visit, I took my parents to visit two different fincas, or farms in the hills near my town, farms owned by family members of my friends. There, we took advantage of the laid-back, simple lifestyle of drinking fresh mango juice, helping to cook over the fire, and sitting around telling stories in the darkness when the solar panel electricity runs out. Some of the most special memories in Colombia happen in these moments, away from the complicated mixture of society and instead captured one savored story at a time.

Their visit was well-timed in terms of my cultural integration cycle (the PC gives us this scarily-accurate graph of a PCV’s adaptability phases) and I felt privileged to be able to introduce my parents to the Colombia that I know so well now. It’s nice to be a “local”, to understand most jokes and know how to get around. Seeing my parents interact with my host gente made me proud of the people and places I’ve grown to love. This really is an incredible place, filled with great people, and seeing it through my parents’ eyes was just the perspective I needed.

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Happy to introduce my parents to the enchanting Cartagena de la India
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I’m an (unlucky) fisherwoman–and a poet!

Today, I took a break from lesson plans and meandered down to the pier. The 4 pm sun was strong as I stopped by the vegetable store to inquire about avocados (I’m gaining something of a reputation as an avocado eater). Lucky for me, they not only had ripe avocados but also fresh spinach! I think I confuse the vegetable men with my enthusiasm for green things, but they cheerfully bagged my purchases and said, “see you later, my queen!”

I took the quickest route–in front of the catedral–then cut to the back street to avoid the tourist hunters in the main plaza. Today, I just wasn’t in the mood to explain that a) I live here and b) I’m too poor for your chicken dinner this month. On the back street, I heard the waves as I passed behind the restaurant row. Between the plastic tables, I caught a glimpse of the old muelle. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the muelle used to be the longest, busiest pier in South America; today, it’s four stubborn slabs of broken concrete and steel, a shadow of the glorious railroad days and tourists’ pocketbooks that used to come from all over to witness the bustle. Now a days, the old men call it “the four piers of Puerto Colombia,” a sad joke before they take another pull on their frosty Aguila Lights.

I made a beeline for Amelia’s jewelry stand of woven bracelets and shell necklaces that tinkle in the gusty breeze. She’s always here, clenching a needle in her teeth as she threads shells onto fishing wire. I met Amelia a few weeks ago when I decided I was going to introduce myself to all the artisans on the pier so that they’d stop trying to sell me stuff. This afternoon, she lit up when she saw me, laying out a piece of heavy cloth for me to sit on. We tried to exchange New Year’s stories, but the vallenato music at the adjacent restaurant was too loud and she had customers. I left my avocado with her and headed for the muelle.

December is the month of breezes and “cooler” temperatures (around 80-85 degrees), and the strong winds almost blew me over as I walked out over the waves. On the right side, the open sea was choppy and high as it crashed into the cement; on the left side, the leftover wave fragments are still for a moment before recollecting themselves and rushing towards the rocky beach. In this still spot, Ramiro was fishing.

Apparently, Ramiro and I are neighbors, but I didn’t recognize him when I started chatting with him about the wind conditions. He recognized me, though. He started to tell me stories about when the muelle was whole and an island guarded the puerto. He used to work the international ships that came to Puerto Colombia and to the mouth of the Magdalena River–English, Spanish and American liners. Nowadays, he’s pensioned and fishes for fun, although I can’t imagine any exercise in patience to be enjoyable. He laughed when I said I had bad luck for fishing–then handed me the line. “Just for a minute, while I rig the other one!” he promised.

I got into proper fishing position: back to the wind, eyes squinting at the setting sun. Every passerby stopped to look at me, look at the fishing line, and look at the dying fish next to me.

La gringa pescadera! The white girl fisherman!” they murmured.

“His name is ‘Lunch’,” I shrugged back, deciding not to tell anyone that it wasn’t my catch to claim.

I watched the light turn pink on the foaming waves and  Ramiro sang in a sweet baritone voice, a ballad he wrote to the muelle for its 100th birthday. He sang about the view from the island; the tourists who used to come; the storms that broke it and its abandonment by the rest of Colombia.

For some reason, Ramiro decided that I’m a “beautiful artist”, and he talked about the music and the art and the beauty of the death of the muelle. He marveled at my travels and I realized that right here, on this hard piece of history, even those who stay in one place can understand the heart of a gypsy.

Epilogue:

And then I went home and wrote a little poem, but it’s kind of in two languages, or Spanglish, or something:

El mar es mi hogar

pero falto las aletas o alas

para escapar de las olas

y me quedo en el muelle

contra el viento con ellas

The waves argue amongst themselves

against the wind

I lack feathers or fins to

fly over or under them

so I stay at the surface,

fighting the wind together with the waves.