Hello!  Hope those of you in England are preparing yourself for the worst winter in 100 years…!   Offer still stands to visit – although weather in Bogota at the moment is not much better.  Last weekend, in typical English style, we had a BBQ for a friend’s birthday and despite the pretty heavy rain, we persevered with umbrellas.  Every day starts promisingly but erupts into storm at about 2pm.  And bizarrely, people love talking about the weather here too!  There is something quite comforting in the conversations I’ve had about Bogota’s ‘four seasons in one day’ which are distinctly reminiscent of many an hour I’ve spent discussing the weather back in England!

I am now the proud owner of a years working visa, which despite confusion about my nationality (being born in Australia but being British is apparently totally unheard of in Colombia…), the process was very efficient and easy as it can all be done in the country now.  So with that, a bank account and bits of actual paid work, I’m feeling much more settled and almost Colombian…!  I only found out recently that ‘mona’, what everyone in the street calls/shouts at me, is not the female form of ‘mono’ (monkey) but means ‘blonde’!  Far less rude than I thought!

Since last writing I’ve been exploring the city and have come across a few unlikely gems.  Architect Salmona has designed several buildings in Bogota including a section of the national university and a huge library in the middle of the Parque Simon Bolivar (every other street, plaza and park is named after the infamous Latin American liberator).  His buildings are normally circular and contain lots of water, whether in ponds, moats or fountains, which makes for really modern, beautiful and relaxing spaces.  Despite Bogotanos obsession with huge American-style shopping malls, there still remain a few undisturbed corners of the city such as Usaquen which used to be a village until it was swallowed up by the ever expanding city.  The quirky artisanal market with old men playing banjos is a pleasant surprise amidst the sometimes overwhelming nature of city life in Bogota.

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I also made a trip to the barrio of San Luis, a poor neighborhood far up one of the nearby mountains with a spectacular view of the city.  I am hoping to do some work with a foundation called Healing Colombia who have several projects in this neighborhood including a mentoring program for teenage girls, most of whom have children at a very young age and all of whom are victims of gender based violence.  Colombian ‘machismo’ remains ever present and threatening not only in the poorer areas of the city but across the country.  When discussing the phenomenon with a Colombian friend he said, ‘it’s the women’s fault, they let the men get away with discriminating behaviour’.  Although shocked at this, I realised he was right.  The ‘women-serve-the-men’ culture still pervades the country, so the empowerment of women has to come hand in hand with education for the men.  Gender based violence is still very much seen as a ‘women’s issue’, a recent example of this being the owner of a famous restaurant stating that the rape of a girl in the vicinity was essentially the girl’s fault as she was wearing a short skirt.  This caused a huge backlash with many people boycotting the restaurant.  However it is a sentiment which is unfortunately echoed by men across the country.

A few weeks ago the women of Colombia hijacked the one of the main streets in Bogota, marching for ‘Women and Peace’ to the Plaza Bolivar in the centre.  It was a fantastically inspirational event with representatives of women from across the country demanding recognition of their rights and representation in the peace talks in Havana and well as the reconciliation process which will follow.  Have a look at the blog I wrote about it for more information. 

http://spititoutblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/soy-mujer-y-la-paz-es-mia-i-am-a-woman-and-peace-is-mine/

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A few days ago the ‘campesinos’ (farmers) from all over the country marched a similar route, demanding that president Santos keeps his promise to protect the agricultural sector in the face of multi-nationals paying farmers pittance for their produce.  Representatives from the coffee, rice, sugar, maize and many other sectors united outside the Ministry of Agriculture threatening more strike action in the coming year if their demands aren’t listened to.  Colombia has such a vibrant and  active civil society, I only hope the government listens to their demands and reacts in the way a progressive democracy, that it proclaims to be, should. (Blog on this subject to follow!)

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A couple of weeks ago I met the editor of an English paper out here called The City Paper in the hope of being able to do some writing for them.  It is a free paper is aimed at expats and people wanting to come to Colombia but also for Colombians who are learning English as the country which previously has been notoriously poor at learning foreign languages is now attempting to be bilingual.  I sent him an article which he liked and following that he asked me to interview a coffee entrepreneur for another article which was really interesting.  The latest edition was published on Wednesday with my two articles in but I haven’t got a copy yet – I will post some photos when I do.  Here is the website which should be updated with the latest edition soon.

http://thecitypaperbogota.com/

I have also started teaching English which so far I’m really enjoying!  I have a range of students, from executives who already have a good grasp of the language but just want conversation to practice, to groups taking a more structured ‘business English’ course, to lower level groups.  It is a lot of work but I’m enjoying coming up with interesting things to discuss in the lessons and luckily there is a huge demand for native teachers so I have lots of work which will hopefully be enough to keep me going financially.  One of my students is head of HR for a huge bakery company and insists on me trying their products each lesson – I’m not complaining!  In the meantime I’ve been doing bits and pieces for CPDH – my boss has been away for a week so hoping to do more in the coming weeks as my Spanish improves!  Still haven’t got used to ‘Colombian time’ – as always I turn up 15 minutes early to everything and the average Colombian will arrive at least 15 minutes late…with the exception of the boss of another English teaching organisation who arrived an hour late for my interview! 

I have had an eclectic time over the past few weeks, ranging from a big thanksgiving dinner in our flat last week followed by a great night of salsa, to stumbling upon an experimental poetry evening full of hipsters who wouldn’t be at all out of place in Shoreditch, reading ‘poetry’ whilst hitting various pots and pans.  One girl warbled an apparently Russian song, dancing around clutching a ball of fairy lights inside a tent.  I thought perhaps it was the language barrier that was preventing me from understanding a really deep, powerful metaphor but I was assured by Lorena that she didn’t have a clue what was going on either!  Human rights film festival starts this week and there are lots of other interesting Christmas exhibitions going on which I’m hoping to go to. 

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Bogota is covered with pretty amazing street art – they’re really proud of it!

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The title of this blog refers to an event I witnessed in the center of town quite recently which I feel nicely sums up Bogota’s idiosyncrasies.  A resourceful and entrepreneurial man had set up about ten upturned plastic bowls with numbers on them and invited the passersby to place their bets physically on top of one of the bowls.  As people crowded around, seemingly out of nowhere appeared five guinea pigs which the man placed in a group shivering with nerves about ten feet from the bowls.  Once all bets had been placed, one by one the man would gently push each guinea pig who, with rousing support from the crowd ran into one of the upturned bowls to manic cheering from the successful bidders.  A bizarre, yet incredibly lucrative event which left me questioning my choice of career and wondering whether there would be a market for guinea pig racing in the UK.  Thoughts and comments most welcome.

Christmas celebrations are well underway here with fireworks most evenings and Christmas decorations smothering every inch of the shops, plazas and people’s homes.  I’m hoping to go to Cali for New Year – salsa capital of South America if not the world (perhaps slightly overestimating my salsa ability) but not sure where I’ll be for Christmas yet.  Wherever it is I’ll be sure to force mince pies and carols on whichever poor Colombians happen to be with me!

 

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