A Birthday Wish for Colombia

Today, on Colombia’s birthday (205 years old), I went for a walk to see how Colombians celebrate. I knew there was a parade somewhere and I’m pretty sure that I heard the flyover, but mostly, I noticed that almost all the buildings were flying the flag. I went out to a favorite eatery and as I pondered my cafe latte, I wished Colombia a happy birthday. Google had Colombia as a their design today, but in the headlines, it’s another country starting with a “C” that has grabbed the spotlight (also, I’ve noted that my blog readership had dropped now that I blog mostly about Colombia — which makes me realize the power of 170 million Bangladeshis, with smartphones!). Speaking of things starting with the letter “c,” my birthday wish for Colombia (other than people learn to spell her name correctly) is that she will loosen the fetters of her reputation for cocaine and kidnapping. Instead, I hope that people will think of Colombia when they enjoy their coffee, or nibble on organic chocolate, or cruise into Cartagena. Or come seeking the legend.

Coffee beans on the bush.
Coffee beans on the bush.

One year later, I thought I’d comment on my post about stereotypes about Colombia:

1. Aren’t you worried about getting kidnapped? (I wouldn’t go to Colombia if kidnapping was a guarantee. Duh!)

Answer: Still not worried. I stay in my bathtub, blubbering at my rubber ducky.

2. It’s dangerous. You will get mugged. Or worse. (Bogota, with seven million inhabitants, has all the usual dangers of a large city so I think my chances are equal those if I lived in New York or Bangkok).

Answer: Yes, it is. Hardworking Colombians get killed for the price of their cell phone. But, again, are you going to stay in your bathtub? No. I wander around during the day, going on epic 100-block walks. I don’t wander around at night. At night, I admire the reflection in my bathtub. 

3. Will you become a drug dealer? Or an emerald smuggler? (Why would you ask me that? Is it a conversation starter?)

Answer: Again, why would you DARE ask me if I really was one? And, frankly, I’d completely forgotten about the emeralds. I guess the Wizard will disown me now.

4. I hear that plastic surgery is really cheap and of high quality there. Are you going to get plastic surgery? (Thanks for the suggestion?).

Answer: Yes, it is. I’ve heard that a tummy tuck is about 4,000 dollars. Now, if you want danger, cheap plastic surgery is the way to go. But why would you scrimp when doing surgery?

5. Colombian women are the hottest in the world. You will get divorced there. (Colombia ranks first in bird bio-diversity…)

Answer: Some are. Some get plastic surgery (not the birds). The Colombians certainly seem to be careful about their appearance. Not all women wear high heels here in “cold” Bogota. But, the jeans are super-uber tight. Like shellac-tight (I just made up that term but you can imagine how tight a car is with its paintjob). The men do not wear tight jeans. No equality here. 

6. You will get married there. (If I go to a wedding, I’ll blog about it for sure!)

Answer: Not yet. It’s hard to meet anyone when cowering in my bathtub.

7. Oh, you’ll be having a lot of romantic assignations (Okay, they put it more crassly.)

Answer: See number six (and one) above. Plus, something about beeswax…

8. You will enjoy the steamy hot weather (Not in Bogota. The daily average temperature is 48-68 F, or 9-20 C)

Answer: Not hot in Bogota. Average is 65 F or 14 C. I love it.

9. Hope you like salsa because there will be lots of it. Any opportunity and Colombians start dancing! (Yup, bring on the vallenato, cumbia, hard salsa, salsa romantica, porro, and so on. More later.)

Answer: I do love salsa, both the dance and the dip. So far, the funniest salsa (or was it something else?) experience I’ve had was an awful experience at a club watching a drunk client get escorted back and forth from her chair to the bathroom. Otherwise, the most salsa I’ve done is the two-step on my slippery waxed floors. 

10. You will never want to leave. (The Colombian public relations slogan says, “the only danger is wanting to stay” so maybe they are right?)

Answer: I don’t have a bathtub.

Kidnapped! 10 Stereotypes About Colombia

The ramparts of Cartagena.
The ramparts of Cartagena.

When I tell people that I’m moving to Colombia, I usually get one of two reactions. Excitement. Or excitement. Excitement about how lovely Colombia and Colombians are. Or, usually, excitement about the possible dangers. Here are the ten most common assumptions I hear about Colombia.

1. Aren’t you worried about getting kidnapped? (I wouldn’t go to Colombia if kidnapping was a guarantee. Duh!)

2. It’s dangerous. You will get mugged. Or worse. (Bogota, with seven million inhabitants, has all the usual dangers of a large city so I think my chances are equal those if I lived in New York or Bangkok)

3. Will you become a drug dealer? Or an emerald smuggler? (Why would you ask me that? Is it a conversation starter?)

4. I hear that plastic surgery is really cheap and of high quality there. Are you going to get plastic surgery? (Thanks for the suggestion?)

5. Colombian women are the hottest in the world. You will get divorced there. (Colombia ranks first in bird bio-diversity…)

6. You will get married there. (If I go to a wedding, I’ll blog about it for sure!)

7. Oh, you’ll be having a lot of romantic assignations (Okay, they put it more crassly.)

8. You will enjoy the steamy hot weather (Not in Bogota. The daily average temperature is 48-68 F, or 9-20 C)

9. Hope you like salsa because there will be lots of it. Any opportunity and Colombians start dancing! (Yup, bring on the vallenato, cumbia, hard salsa, salsa romantica, porro, and so on. More later.)

10. You will never want to leave. (The Colombian public relations slogan says, “the only danger is wanting to stay” so maybe they are right?)

Colombians and Colombia have been through violent times, but according to recent articles, times are changing in Colombia. Medellin, previously infamous, is cited as a model success story of urbanization; Cartagena is a popular tourist destination; most of the world’s cut flowers are grown in Colombia; and the culinary scene is growing. Even with all of this, people still equate Colombia with cocaine, kidnapping, and coffee.

Speaking of coffee, apparently most Colombians drink instant coffee, like Nescafe. With Starbucks’s launch, this week, of their first cafe in Colombia, it will be interesting to see how they change the cafe culture. Will Juan Valdez match the mighty marketing machine that is Starbucks? I will try them both in between my forays into new fruits.

Hidden Museum in the City of Free Museums

A non-stereotypical photo of a gaucho.
A non-stereotypical photo of a gaucho.

One of the things I enjoy about Washington, DC, is that almost all the museums are free. Most of the big museums are part of the Smithsonian but there are lots of smaller unknown museums like the one at the Organization of American States. Located near where Virginia Avenue meets Constitution Avenue, this small building has a great garden and some pretty tiles, plus a rotating exhibit. I went to see the photo exhibit about identity. Although the exhibit was Argentinian, a discussion of stereotypes is relevant to all nationalities, including Bangladesh and Colombia. My mental image of Bangladesh before I lived there was one of cyclones and floods. Colombia suffers from other stereotypes.

Every little girl and boy has their own knife for the barbecue.
Every little girl and boy has their own knife for the barbecue.

My photos are taken from the photo catalog because I did not have my camera with me. But, flash photography is allowed in the temporary exhibit. I was just amazed that they were giving away the color catalog for free. Not all the photos in the photo exhibit were of people but I thought they were the best. I’ll write more about art and photography in a later post. Certainly once I have been to the famous gold museum in Bogota. For now, these photographs allowed for a little armchair travel.

The cover shows a typical delivery "truck" in Argentina.
The cover shows a typical delivery “truck” in Argentina.