Friday, February 29, 2008


In this country with plenty of tropical fruits, I haven't eaten many so far on this trip. So the other day I went to the new sit-down-with-waiters-cafe at the U and ordered a fruit salad - Ensalada de fruta.

The cafe is in the same building as the internet cafe and other multimedia fun stuff to do. While I was waiting for my fruit salad I looked up to see this sign:


The next message that flashed across made it clear that there was a new service to rent laptops from the internet cafe, and not that you'd be able to have your way with a human lap for a few hours. Whew!

So then I got my fruit salad. It consisted mostly of apples, strawberries, cantaloupe and a few bits of mango.

I have an apple tree in my backyard at home...


Anyways, it also came with a super tasty yogurt/honey dressing. And it WAS really nice to have some fruit. And I WAS really proud that I did the whole thing by myself, from ordering to paying the check. Which was honestly all of 3 or 4 sentences, but hey I got it!

The next day I bought myself a highlighter marker from the bookstore. Also by myself. And this was even harder, because I didn't know the word for highlighter, so I had to try and explain it.

First of all I was just looking at all the pens in the cases, so he probably knew I was looking for some kind of pen, and when he asked if he could help me I said "no se la palabra en espanol pero es un marquiador(?) para (and then I made the gesture of using it) un parto de texto"

"Marcador?" he corrected me.

"Si" I said, repeating my highlighting gesture.

He brought me to the place where they were (the one display case I hadn't looked in yet) and took one out and showed how it worked and I said "Eso!" and then "Cuanto cuesta?" (That! How much?).

"En este color?" I don't know if the other colors were different prices, but the yellow one was something like $1.50. I bought it. I didn't even give him a ridiculously large bill just to make sure it was enough, because I understood how many pesos he said.

I actually can't remember if I said parto or parte or parta for "part of the text". G informs me that if I said parto that means birth, whoops! Whatever I said, the clerk figured it out anyway, and the point is I was really proud of myself to go all alone to a store where they don't speak english and get something I want, even in my stumbling way. In classes our professors know English and can help out if we get really stuck, but in the stores it's different.

It sounds a little silly, but stuff like that makes me feel a little more comfortable, knowing that I could probably stumble my way through a lot of situations. Which is good. Because in the past G (or someone, or my CD lessons) would give me some little script for going through a common situation. But the problem is, if the other person "goes off the script" I would be totally, utterly lost. And why would they stay on the script in real life, especially if they didn't even know there was one? Now that I know enough Spanish to improvise a little, it's a lot less scary to think about wandering out into the world, or what might happen if I ever got lost. Not that I'd really have much desire or chance to go wandering, but now I don't have to be so terrified of it.

Grammar classes are still kicking my ass. I can't remember if I wrote earlier that I had a mini breakdown in class the first week where I ended up crying because the teacher asked me to provide an example of a sentence in the imperfect subjunctive form, and I had no idea, not one clue of how to start. Hearing that pretty much all my in-laws and some of the professors at the U don't know much about the subjunctive either made me feel less stupid. With all this grammar stuff, I never learned it in English, so learning at totally new concept in a second language is pretty hard. And I didn't need to learn much grammar in English to write and speak well, so I'm letting myself off the hook a little, which, no surprise, actually makes some of the Spanish grammar easier to learn, because I'm not stressing about it as much. And while it would be nice to speak without sounding like a 6 year old, even at my level, I CAN communicate quite a lot, which is what I'm most interested in - communicating.

And then there's stuff like "Rent-A-Lap", and I just know that everything is going to be fine.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Mind Finds Answers While I Sleep

(A poem-ish expression of sorts relating to my experiences in the twice weekly "Club de Conversacion". Half the time we talk in English and half the time we talk in Spanish so everyone can practice the language they are learning. We meet with a new group every time, so the questions they ask are pretty much always the similar getting-to-know-you type ones.)

My mind finds answers while I sleep
and I wake up the next morning
knowing how to reply to the questions the brown-eyed boys and the bronze-skinned girls asked me the day before
But Lord only knows if I'll ever see them again, and by that time they won't care
If they even did at the moment they asked me

Do you like my city? Do you like the food? Why did you come? What do you think of the people? Why are you learning Spanish? What was your impression of my country before you came here? What do you think about your president? Do you like it cold or hot?

It's a test of sorts I think
to see if they can accept this outsider
I hope, I think I pass

Your city is very different from my little town, but I love it. I'm vegetarian. ("ahhhh!" they all exclaim in a mixture of understanding, wonder and incredulousness) but I love your patacones, arepas y arroz con coco. I came because my husband was born here and I want to learn his language. The people are AMAZING - happy, relaxed, with huge generous hearts and you know how to have fun. I want to be able to speak to my in-laws and my future children. Before I came here all I knew was this was the country of coffee and drugs, and I thought you ate tacos and salsa like Mexicans, but know I know differently. (I don't tell them I *hate* to talk about politics, but I do make a disgusted and embarrassed face at the sound of my president's name.) The ice and snow is pretty to look at but horrible to drive in, and I hate putting on and taking off all the cold weather clothes, so whenever I feel a little hot here I remember how cold it is back home right now and I'm happy.

My questions feel foolish and simple - Do you have siblings? What are you studying? Do you like English? Have you lived here your whole life? What do you do for fun? Do you have pets?

Many of them are studying things I don't understand, like mechanical engineering, and they are only taking English because it's required. Only a few have ever left their country and they know places like Miami and New York. For fun it's usually dancing, movies, TV or sometimes the internet. Siblings and pets vary, as to be expected, but most don't have more than 3 brothers and sisters. Sometimes I think they look embarrassed to admit they haven't traveled and they don't really like to study English much, but that could just be my interpretation.

It's hard, but little by little the answers and questions come out of my mouth easier.

I can't remember their names (there is always at least one Jose), but now when I walk through the campus, there are a few more faces I recognize. And some of them meet my glance and smile or wave, and those are the ones that let me know, at least for them, I passed the test.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This is Where I Go to School

This is Where I Go to School
Originally uploaded by hum97
Pretty, no? I can't even imagine how cold and snowy it is back home, it's like a completely different reality. There are flowers, flowering trees, palm trees and apparently iguanas all over campus, though I've yet to see an iguana. :-)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Me In Front of Una Frutera

Me In Front of Una Frutera
Originally uploaded by hum97
For the second half of classes on Fridays we have cultural activities. This Friday we took a mini City Tour and our Professora treated us to Tuti Fruti, a big cup of tasty juicy fruit salad. That would be why I'm so happy. :D

This frutera is across the street from the church where Luis Javier and Magaly got married, and the people running it were very friendly and happy to answer all our questions.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Eso es!! Eso es!!"

I'm giving you my half of a instant messenger conversation I had with G on Wednesday. His responses were things like "wow, cool, that's great." :)

OH! Today was DANCE!
Me encanta mi profesora de danza.

oof, she's sooo funny!

young and very energetic, she reminds me a tiny bit of Jenna and Lucia

when we were dancing and doing it right she would say "Eso es!! Eso es!!"

and when we started doing something too "gringo", like moving our shoulders or flinging around our legs, she would give us a LOOK, and be like "ah ah aahhh!"

and she was trying to teach us the rythmns

today we did salsa, merenge and REGGAETON!

and she would mix them around and say "que ritmo (?) es?"

and if we got it wrong she would make a sad face and kind of collapse like 'oh, I failed at teaching!'

soo funny

and other times when we were doing a good job she would say something about "why am I here? you already know how to dance!"

she was asking me how I dance with you reggaeton (sp?) and I told her you didn't like it

and she said her husband (boyfriend? I forget) was the same way

and she also asked me if you would get grouchy if I went out dancing with her and the other students in a club
and I said I didn't think so

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"I Would Say Van Gogh is Emo"

Probably the best thing I heard all day. In conversation club. Totally made my day, so true.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oh Man...

So classes officially started today. There's only 4 of us and I've definitely had the least formal training of all of them. Luckily 2 are from the states, so when one of us doesn't get something, another one is likely to be able to help them out. The other girl is from China! She studied Spanish for 2 years there and has been here for several months, maybe 7 or 9 already, so she speaks and writes very well! The one guy is from Florida and has been studying for 14 years through school but says he still can't speak it, but he did really well, and he has more chances of hearing Spanish spoken in Florida than I do in Iowa. The girl from Louisiana's mother is from Barranquilla, so she's been coming here for the summers pretty much her whole life. She speaks really well but says her grammar is bad.

And then there's me, who magically tested intermediate by being a good guesser, a good test taker, and I really do understand quite a lot if the person speaks slowly but more importantly clearly. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not stupid, just not as experienced, and that I have the capacity to get to where they are if I apply myself. With only 4 in the program this time, there's not a lower level that I can go join, but at the same time, it's better that there's so few. If I was this far behind in a class of 20, I'd probably be super lost for sure.

And, one of the periods on our schedule is dance! Twice a week for an hour! At least I'll probably get a chance to rest my brain a little then, and move my body, which will be fabulous.

Oh, on a totally happy note, I'm super proud of my radio show I sent in for this week! All women from Colombia! 100.1 FM in Fairfield, online. Tuesday morning at 9 AM CST. If you hear it let me know what you think!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

That's a Freakin Lot of Flowers!

That's a Freakin Lot of Flowers!
Originally uploaded by hum97
I don't think any of us, G, his mom, and certainly not me, were expecting my Valentine's present to be this big. I thought I was going to be lucky to get a couple flowers. I think G gave his mom a price he would have spent on me at home and she got what she could with that. She said it looked smaller in the picture.

The thing is roses are cheap because they grow them here, plus it's not Valentine's day in Colombia, so they prices aren't jacked up either. But oh my sheesh, I've never in my life gotten anything so big. I think there are 25 roses... And the heart is the perfect size for hugging - cuz I also didn't realize how much I would miss G, even after just one week. Thank the heavens for the internet and video chats!!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Geography Lesson

Geography Lesson

For those of you who have no idea where I am, Barranquilla is there with the green arrow. Once you get to Miami it's only about a 2 hours and 20 minute flight, and it's in the same time zone as the East Coast in the US.

It's fairly hot and humid year round - think Iowa summer, but with a lots of big breezes coming in off the ocean to keep things pretty bearable.

Oh, and see how far away it is from Mexico? It's a totally different country, totally different food. I've yet to be served hot salsa or any spicy dish, though I HAVE had a lot of rice and beans. And I hear the food from the coast is different from the food from the mountains. Just like we have Chicago style and New York style pizza, and the culture in the US is different from the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. Of course there are many similarities between the English speaking countries and the Spanish speaking countries, but thinking that all food south of Texas is tacos is both a huge and common mistake.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My New Favorite Word: Rompecabezas

So, just like in English when you learn a new vocabulary word and suddenly start seeing it everywhere, I've been running into words over and over here in Barranquilla as well. Some of them are pretty common and I'm still trying to get the meaning properly fixed in my head - like vuelta, which literally means to turn; circuit; bend; curve; reverse, but they usually use the phrase "hacer unas vueltas" which the closest concept I can figure in English is to "do errands", but it's a little more all inclusive than just practical stuff, because during the vuelta you could also have lunch or visit friends for example, and I wouldn't categorize that under errands...

The other word that I'm finally starting to get is bastante. It means enough or a lot, and they use it A LOT. Seems fairly easy, but the problem is I got it stuck in my head that it means "already", based on the contexts I heard it in. Now I when I hear it I have to stop and think "it means a lot" and then re-hear the sentence in my mind and that way it's slowly getting re-trained.

One thing we couldn't find in my little dictionary at all was the word for basil. It came up because they brought me to a a vegetarian restaurant that had a pesto-like sauce on some gluten but it didn't have any basil in it. Cilantro, and parsley I think... but by the time you get the garlic and olive oil and some green leaves, it tastes pretty similar. Since it wasn't in the dictionary I tried explaining it, small green leaves, an herb, you can use it dry or fresh, and I must have gotten much of the point across because we went through we went through oregano, parsley, spinach, cilantro, etc. Finally when we got to a computer G's sister looked up basil on Google images, and we asked G over instant messenger and he said he'd had to look it up when he got to the states: Albahaca. Whew!

The other time Google images saved the day was with the food "yama". Which they described as a hard, orange vegetable. It was chopped up in rice, and I thought it was a yam, because it was the same color. So I was asking them if it was like a potato, and they said no no. That WAS in the dictionary - pumpkin, and they also finally they showed me a piece of it raw, and it really was like a pumpkin!!! But I still wanted to show them MY yam, so they'd know I wasn't crazy. So google images to the rescue!

Ah, but we still haven't gotten to my new favorite word - Rompecabezas! It means "puzzle". I saw it first on a book of puzzle games, and then on G's sister's facebook, she has a photo of her family that is broken up into little puzzle pieces you can put back together. And finally, I was researching female Colombian pop and folk singers for my radio show, and remembered there had been a Colombian girl named Melany Moloney who befriended me on MySpace a few months back. (Well, I remembered her name started with M, and then I looked her up. ;-) ) Guess what the name of her CD is? Rompecabezas! She explains: "I named the CD ROMPECABEZAS, because in Spanish the name constitutes the two words ROMPIENDO CABEZAS (translation - breaking heads) and I feel that this is the statement I am making with this multicultural CD". And that is part of why the word delights me, because I knew "cabeza" meant head, and the "rompe" part makes it sound like it's having a romp through your head. So it's a fun word to say and it gives me a visual that makes me giggle.

Melany has an Australian father and a Colombian mother, and her album (It's listed simply as Melany Moloney #1 on iTunes) has a diverse blend of rhythms and instruments - from rock to traditional Colombian instruments, and some of her songs on it have a few words in English. It definitely is a mix of cultures, and that concept echos to my experiences here so far.

It's interesting to think about communication in general. Another thing I hear A LOT is "entendiste?" - "do you understand?". And honestly that is a hard question to answer. Sometimes I DO completely and fully understand. Sometimes I don't catch any of the words at all, but more of the time, I get the essence of what is being said - I know we're going to have dinner when Made's boyfriend gets back, I know we're going to the school to find out why my classes have been postponed till next week, etc. But I couldn't repeat it back to you, or know what each and every word actually means - yet...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bailando en la Fiesta de Cumpleaños (or "Everybody is happy!")

These people know how to party! Last night I went out with G's parents to a joint birthday party of some of their friends. There was a live Papayera band and everything! It's too bad, when I uploaded the video it lost some detail, so it's hard to see the band, but that tuba player seemed to know when I was taping him because he'd dance around a lot more while he was playing if he thought he was on camera, at least you can see the glint of the instrument dancing around:

It was funny, they'd play about 4 or 5 songs, put their instruments back in the cases, sit down, drink some whiskey or something, and then after about 15 minutes get up and do it again. I really thought they were leaving several times, but looking back it makes sense that they'd protect their stuff in the cases during the breaks. I guess I'm just used to a rock band playing 2 longer sets and leaving everything set up on stage on stands and such during their break.

The Band
Papayera: a brass band with additional percussion instruments, characteristic of the towns of Colombia's Atlantic coastal region, that plays various types of dance music.(

I wasn't sure how I'd feel at the party, but it turned out I ended up dancing A LOT! Whoo hoo! That ear to ear grin on my face was fairly frequent throughout the whole night.

Once Again, Pink and Happy

One couple co-hosting the party lives in NYC and were down for his sister's birthdays, and they helped out a few times when we got really stuck on a word or two. Of course everyone is curious about me, what I'm doing, how long I'm staying, if I like it here. They love it when I dance, laugh when I shake my shoulders and marvel at my rhythm, which I guess is pretty good for a gringa, because I got lots of thumbs up and "Very good!"s

In the frequent conversations comparing the US and Barranquilla one thing describing the people here that stuck in my mind was, "Everybody is happy!"

I sure am. I woke up super happy and energized, and yet in a relaxed and lazy way where I was content to spend the day bumming around doing nothing much, uploading vids, chatting with G and A. I guess I've been needing this...

Friday, February 08, 2008

My Translator!

My Translator!
Originally uploaded by hum97
This is Kathy, Gilberto's cousin, and one of my "translators" here. Hooray! Isn't she gorgeous? She doesn't seem to sweat, like so many of the girls here... What's up with that? heh heh. Cuz me on the other hand, bright pink, crazy hair, but HAPPY.

Driving through Barranquilla

Just a little clip from the drive today - lots of taxis, lots of motorcycles, flowering trees, roadside stands, square buildings...

My Class Is In The Paper!

Today Gilberto's dad showed me an article from the paper that talked about the class I'm going to take starting Monday.

Español para extranjeros

La Universidad del Norte abre la convocatoria para quienes desean ingresar al programa ‘Español para extranjeros’, que iniciará el próximo lunes y se extenderá hasta el 29 de este mes. El Instituto de Idiomas de Uninorte ha liderado este programa durante los últimos nueve años, en el que han participado alrededor de 250 estudiantes extranjeros. El curso incluye cinco horas diarias de clase, recorridos por las principales empresas de Barranquilla y actividades extracurriculares como visitas a sitios de interés en Cartagena y Santa Marta.
(from the bottom of this page)

I can't really translate word for word, but it basically says that the University Del Norte is holding a class called 'Spanish for Outsiders', starting on Monday and going to the 29th of the month. The Language Institute of the university started the program last year and had 250 exchange students. The course includes 5 hours of lessons, teaches about/trips to the major businesses in Barranquilla and has field trips to sites of interest in Cartagena and Santa Marta (nearby cities).

Ok, let's see how I did, here's the Google Translator version, which isn't quite right either, but works:
The University of North opens the call for those wishing to enter the program "Spanish for Foreigners', which will begin next Monday and will be extended until 29 this month. The Institute of Languages Uninorte has led this program during the past nine years, which have involved about 250 students. The course includes five hours a day of class, travelled by major corporations in Barranquilla and extracurricular activities such as visits to sites of interest in Cartagena and Santa Marta.

Not too shabby, but it does make the point where I often miss a word or two that makes a big difference in the meaning. In this case, the biggest mistake I made was mistake nueve (nine) for nuevo (new), so I thought they started the program last year when really they've been doing it for nine. HA! That's good though, that they've been doing the program for a while now.

Carro de Mula

Carro de Mula
Originally uploaded by hum97
These guys roam the streets with a cart full of fruits and veggies, calling out their prices over a megaphone. Apparently I do a good imitation (it's rather nasal). :)

When I hear them I know I'm back here.

Today was a lazy morning, and then I went to the University with G's cousin Kathy. She's super sweet, knows English and goes to the University too, so she gave me a mini tour.

I'm not sure I understood the full story, but it seems that there are several people who want to take the Spanish class but aren't in the city yet and haven't taken the placement test, so they don't know quite how they are going to schedule things. I'm supposed to find out more tomorrow.

Speaking of not understanding quite the full story, on the plane to Barranquilla there was some thing about a guy who had a problem with his Visa and so everyone had to get off the plane with our carry on luggage for about 15 minutes while a team of uniformed people went and searched for something. I didn't quite understand what the problem was, but it didn't seem too serious, no one was panicking, just annoyed. :)

I also feel really bad because one of the things I "sacrificed" in order to fit stuff into my suitcases was a huge nerf gun toy for G's nephew. I said I'd be happy to pay to send it in exchange for being able to bring more of my stuff. But apparently he'd been told it was coming, and was really disappointed today when it wasn't here. I forgot just how exciting things are as a kid, and the look on his face made my stuff seem less important. He'll still get it, but it'll take a couple weeks... boo. What's frustrating is, I can explain "mail present because no room in suitcase" but I can't explain like "I really wanted all my stuff because it makes me feel comfortable and more at home and it will be fun for me on my vacation, and I feel really bad about not bringing the present." etc

I went out for pizza tonight with G sister, cousin and their boyfriends. Fun times, tasty!

Alright, it's rather late, I should sleep!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Cafe de Juan Valdez

Cafe de Juan Valdez
Originally uploaded by hum97
I don't usually drink coffee on planes because I'm usually trying to keep hydrated, but I couldn't pass this up in the Juan Valdez cup. :) (also see "The Challenge" where I only got 2 hours of sleep the night before)

I Made It

From the Window
Originally uploaded by hum97
Despite the snow and cancelled flights to Memphis (tornadoes) and therefore VERY close connections, I made it to my flight on Avianca and I am here in Colombia, happy, relaxed, warm, and very tired...

The Challenge

The Challenge
Originally uploaded by hum97
How to fit all this stuff into 2 big suitcases and 2 carry ons... or how to decide what not to bring... This is also why I only got about 2 hours of sleep last night.

Click through to see this on Flickr with all the notes...