Sunday, March 30, 2014

Behind The Scenes

I had the pleasure of meeting a very interesting lady here in Cali through one of those friend of a friend kind of connections. We had an interesting conversation on race and sexism in Colombia and it was enlightening hearing what she had to say on both issues.

On the outside everything may appear harmonious but it is not always the case especially when you get to a certain class. The lady; I will leave her name out for privacy, is a well educated black professional and was telling me about her experiences with racism and how she deals with it in her professional and social life. She is well accomplished and has a lot of experience in her field of work but she has to deal with people (including her current boss) who dismiss her accomplishments and claim that she only got to where she is because of affirmative action.

Her cousin who is also well accomplished goes through the same crap and so do a lot of black professionals she knows. She was explaining how black people have been given these stereotypical roles and if they don't fit into those roles then it becomes a problem. Not only does she have to deal with racism but she also has to deal with sexism from men of all races. Indeed that's a lot to deal with but it's a reality that can't be ignored. She gave me some pretty grim examples.

Not all is doom and gloom though because despite the obstacles she has encountered in her life she has really made it for herself, she actually just got awarded a Fulbright scholarship to the US and will be flying out soon to continue with her studies, I wish her all the best.

Of course every population has it's good and bad apples so you can't judge a whole population by some of the bad apples you encounter but on the other hand you can't also ignore some of the hard issues that a lot of people have to deal with, issues that society would prefer to sweep under the rug.

It was an afternoon well spent and I was glad that I got to meet her and I hope we get to hang out more. On a lighter note, she did take me to check out some amazing sites and I got to take some pretty pictures. Hopefully the images will lighten the mood. Enjoy!

We went to this colorful market that had all kinds of food, trinkets and fruits. It was nice to walk around just enjoying the view. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the market.

We walked around this cool neighborhood called San Antonio. The view of the city was amazing and the hilly terrain made for a good work out. The neighborhood has a bohemian feel to it and we came across some pretty cool handicrafts and artsy stores that had the cutest clothes.

We went to Cali's oldest church "Iglesia de San Antonio." It is avery pretty church that sits atop a hill and the view of the city is amazing from the surrounding area.

We ended up at this small park "Gato de Tejada which was pretty and had different representations of cats. It seems like a nice place to just chill and relax.

That's it folks. Every place has it's issues but that shouldn't take away from the beauty that's to be found.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I have noticed a certain trend with dudes over here. So once they realize I am not Colombian they will always ask these questions in the order given:
where are you from? how long are you visiting Cali? do you have a boyfriend?

Aiiiii! Noooo! seems to be a very common phrase, I have heard it from both men and women and it always cracks me up.

We have a neighbor that always blasts salsa at all hours of the day. The music is good though but I can see how it could get on someone's nerve. I have learned to sleep and wake up to loud salsa so I am oblivious to the noise.

I have seen all kinds of butts on display here. A lot of the girls wear tight jeans or shorts that leave nothing to the imagination and they are proud to flaunt what they've got. I have to say I am less conscious about my butt here because big butts are celebrated hehehehe

I find it so cute when Gabby, Fernanda's daughter comes to my room and says "permiso" before entering. She will wait for me to respond first before doing anything. Fernanda does the same thing too.

When Fernanda and her cousin talk about dudes it cracks me up. When they see a cute guy they make the funniest expressions. Usually it's "Uiiiiiii! Papasito! Aiiii! then they look at each other say, "Aii! mami" you have to hear them to appreciate how it sounds. Hilarious!

I find it cute when I go to the local store and the cashier refers to me as Señora. Spanish words just sound so beautiful.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cali Nightlife

I finally got the opportunity to check out Cali nightlife and I loved it! My clubbing days are long gone but when it comes to salsa I make an exception. I can listen and dance to salsa the whole night without getting bored or tired.

Fernanda invited some of her friends and we went to this club near our apartment, the music was great and the ambience was pretty good. Being in that club reminded me of the reason why I chose to come to Cali, salsa is big in this city and you can see the passion people have for it in the way they dance and the way they sing along to each song that comes on. I swear one song came on that everyone seemed to love so much that some even took out instruments they had entered the club with and started playing along to the song. It was very interesting but unfortunately I did not get a chance to take a photo of the scene.

I have to say I was flattered when Fernanda and her friends said I dance pretty good. I learned salsa from some Colombians and Ecuadorians in Minnesota and the style they taught me is somewhat similar to what they dance here. I noticed in the club here their movements are more smooth (suavecito as they say) and not too fast as what I have seen in some Minnesota salsa clubs. They also don't do a lot of spins which works for me because I hate it when guys just spin you around endlessly, gives me a headache.

I managed to take a few pictures at the club so here goes..........

The scene outside the club was lively enough so you can imagine how much better it got once inside the club.

About to start our night.....

One of Fernanda's friends, he was cool and fun to dance with.

Do I look excited? I was super excited listening and dancing to great salsa music.

Not the best picture but this place was packed and I got to see some pretty amazing dancers.

That's it folks, I hope there will be many more nights of great salsa dancing.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I like that at the end of dancing the men here will say "gracias" to you then go their separate way. They have no ulterior motives and all they want to do is dance..........well, maybe some have ulterior motives but so far I haven't encountered an obnoxious dude trying to pull some weird moves.

Some pictures make my skin look like it's glowing but in reality the heat here is constantly making my skin look so shiny and oily. I hope I don't start breaking out.

Sometimes I go through ups and downs with this language barrier. I have moments when I can understand what someone is telling me and moments when I am totally clueless. It makes me feel so frustrated at times.

I miss expressing myself clearly. No one around me speaks English so sometimes I have to consult google translate for assistance when things get complicated.

Living with a local family is totally different from living by yourself in a guest house or hostel. Both have their pros and cons.

I love the school uniforms of kids here, they look so cute.

Fernanda's mum is such a sweet lady. In the afternoons we watch game shows on TV together and she does a good job of explaining things to me. I learn a lot of new words from her.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

General Observations

I have been in Cali for a few days now and there are some interesting things I have noticed around my neighborhood. I live in a residential area where tourists don't venture to and the advantage to this is that I get to observe and experience the normal day to day lives of ordinary folks. That being said, there are interesting things I have noticed around here.

A lot of the apartment buildings in my neighborhood have 2 to 3 floors and to get to the higher floors you need to climb a series of stairs. Nothing special about that right? that is until you see the stairs. C'mon how can you not feel dizzy going up these stairs? just looking at them makes me feel dizzy. The other day I saw this cute tiny dog come down one of these stairs and it was hilarious. I have to say the dog was a pro.

Speaking of apartments, all apartments and shops have metal grids for added protection. Our apartment is on the second floor and on the picture it is the one to the right with a tan wall. Notice how well guarded we are?

People have some pretty interesting hustles around here. At the airport when I first landed, my roommate (her name is Fernanda by the way) was running late and I was getting worried because I had no means of communicating with her. This older kind looking man approached me because he must have noticed I had been waiting for a while, the airport is pretty small so its easy to notice someone. He approached me and through butchered Spanish and hand signals managed to figure out that I needed a phone to call my ride. He offered me his phone and I was very grateful for his kindness until at the end of my call he asked for money. Apparently that's his hustle, he offers cell phone services at a fee. Good thing he agreed to wait until Fernanda got to the airport to pay him.

Over the weekend I needed to do laundry and Fernanda told me not to worry because the laundry guy was coming over. I did not get it at first and I thought the guy would come to pick the laundry then drop it off later after having them cleaned, wrong! The guy showed up with a washing machine and hooked it up in the laundry area. We paid him like $5 to use the machine for a few days before he came and got it. Turns out over here people do that a lot, rent a washing machine for a few days. Talk about entrepreneurship!

The drivers always seem to have the right of way on the roads, most of the time you have to run across some of the less pedestrian friendly roads while trying to avoid the oncoming vehicles and bikes. There are a lot of bikes on the road and some are just as scary as the fast moving cars.

I noticed the common food you will find in a lot of places will consist of rice, beans or meat, plantain and salad. Sometimes soup will be brought out for starters. My typical lunch minus the plantain.

That's it folks, just observing a lot and trying to soak in everything. I still haven't found my footing here yet but hopefully I will in good time.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Everyday there is a dancing show in the shower as I try to adjust to the cold water. Fernanda was saying that because of the heat most people don't really need hot water so in most homes they have either warm or cold showers. I have to tell you each day I use the shower is a challenge I have to overcome.

Being a single parent can be tough.

I am still trying to adjust to the currency over here and I find myself always trying to convert prices to  dollars.

Neighbors here play loud music that can be heard through the walls but no one ever seems fazed.

Google translate has really come in handy, it's not perfect but it's better than nothing.

Finally seeing the benefits of whatsapp after procrastinating on uploading it for so long on my phone.

There are many stray dogs on the streets and for the most part they are harmless. These dogs are bad arse by the way, you should see how they skillfully cross the roads avoiding bikes and cars.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Country Living

I am beginning to notice how each day of the week seems to be the same because I am not working. When I was working I could definitely tell the difference because I was always looking forward to the weekend. Now, everyday is like a weekend for me and all I look forward to is what activity I have planned for the day as opposed to how many days are left before getting to Friday or Saturday. I love it!

My first weekend in Cali was full of meeting my roommate's family and just hanging out. We were supposed to go out but everyone was tired so we just ended up listening to music in the house and dancing. It was a lot of fun actually and anyway, I have many weekends here so I am in no rush to experience the famous night life of Cali.

Today (Monday) happened to be a holiday so we (Roommate, her daughter, cousin and I) decided to get out of the city and go to the country because they wanted to show me a bit of life outside the city. They have an aunt who lives in a farmhouse at a place called Santander and they thought it would be cool to pass by her place and introduce me to country living plus they also wanted to introduce me to the aunt.

Santander, the place they took me to was really pretty and tranquil. It's one of those places ideal for weekend getaways away from the hectic pace of city life. Picture green landscape, all kinds of farm animals and spread out farm houses.

Trust me, I was nervous as hell carrying this baby goat don't let the smile fool you.

She is a natural with the animals.

Sure feels good to lay on one of these when tired and in need of a "chill" moment.

We left Santander and went to another little city for some lunch. Here is the whole gang minus my roommate who was busy taking the picture.

My roommate, her cousin and I.

That's it folks. Everything is going well and I am enjoying my stay here as my roommate takes the pleasure of showing me around the city and places that she loves.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Country life is not for me at all. A weekend is more than enough for me and I am talking visiting on a Friday and leaving on a Sunday.........morning! does that sound harsh?

Every time I see a mosquito I freak out a little because a good friend of mine recently got malaria while on vacation and almost died. In the evening there were plenty of mosquitoes in Santander and even though we used repellant spray I could not help thinking, "damn! what if one of these suckers infects me with malaria?"

Money belts seem to be big here, I see a lot of people (both men and women) with money belts strapped to their waists.

The Mohawk is alive and well over here. I see so many men with all variations of mohawk hairstyles.

I regret donating my shorts before I left the states. I don't know what possessed me to think I would not need them because I sure do. I will just buy a pair here.

Drivers in Cali don't honk senselessly like those in Panama city. Today while taking a walk with my roommate it struck me how quiet the cars were.

Going back to the basics, I have been watching cartoons with my roommate's daughter and they actually help with my Spanish.

Speaking of my roommate's daughter, she says I am her favorite aunt. How sweet is that???? yesterday I noticed her busy concentrating on the computer and when I checked she was trying to translate "Te quiero J" to English so that she could show me.

A lot of men here wear tight or well fitting pants. I have yet to see baggy or loose clothes.

I wonder how menopausal women going through hot flashes survive with this heat.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cali, Colombia

I know this is a delayed post but for those who were wondering, yes I did arrive in Cali (city in Colombia not California) 3 days ago and I am safe and sound. It's just been a little hectic settling down and getting time to blog. Okay who I'm I kidding, settling down has actually been made very easy by my roommate and her family it's the heat that has slowed me down and made me feel a bit lazy and not motivated to do much. Guilty as charged!

My flight to Cali was surprisingly uneventful considering the fact that I was traveling on a one way ticket and was expecting drama at the airport. I had heard that Colombia might want to see a departure ticket to ensure that I don't over stay my visit to the country. The guy at immigration just asked me why I was visiting Cali and I said I was visiting as a tourist and also wanted to learn Spanish. He flipped through my passport then stamped it and said "Bienvenida." That was it, I had just been welcomed to my new city.

My first impression of Cali when I got outside the airport was that it was hot as my roommate had told me but not as hot as Panama City, thank God!!! Cali has a big Afro Colombian population that it makes it easy for me to fit right in until I open my mouth.

My roommate is amazing and so is her family. I got to know her through a mutual friend who suggested that I connect with her if I was ever visiting Colombia. The first time I visited Colombia we never got to meet because I had not planned on visiting her city so I sort of forgot about her connection until I decided I wanted to go back to Colombia a second time.

We were in contacted through online chats and Skype and even though she doesn't speak English and I don't speak Spanish, we still managed to communicate thanks to google translate. Isn't technology amazing? On Skype I would really struggle through the conversation but she would encourage me because she wanted me to learn Spanish and was patient enough to help me.

She lives close to a lot of her extended family members so I have been introduced to many aunts and cousins. They are all so friendly and sweet and have taken me in as part of the family. They even say I look like I could be related to them. My roommate has the sweetest daughter who is 9 years old and has really taken to me, she is very affectionate and is always holding my hand when we are walking outside. In the house she will sometimes come and sit next to me and lay her head on my shoulder as we watch TV.

As for the language barrier, let's just say if I don't know Spanish by the end of my stay here then I would say I am super slow because no one and I mean no one at all around me speaks English, I am talking full on immersion here folks. The Spanish classes I have taken in the past have helped but I still have some way to go before I can express myself clearly. My roommate and her family are patient and kind enough to speak very slowly to me and use signals to help me understand what they are saying. The daughter is actually a very great teacher because she will talk slowly then give me examples of what she means by motioning or acting out the meaning. Sometimes when I get confused  about what someone is telling me I will helplessly look at the daughter and she will jump right in and help. Folks, I am in good hands here and without further ado here are some pictures that I have managed to take.

My new family in cali Colombia.

First day in Cali we took a walk around the neighborhood and my roommate bought me this fruit that looks like a tomato but tastes like a somewhat bitter sweet potato. I know my description is full of contractions but that's the only way I can describe the fruit......I think it is a fruit. Anyway, you put salt and honey on it for taste. It's not my favorite but people seem to really like it since it's all over the neighborhood.

Can you guess what these are?

Milk! and here I was searching for it in the refrigerators. How long does milk last without being refrigerated anyway?

Salsa in the living room with my roommate's friend. I am in Cali after all, the salsa capital of the world. Whenever my roommate mentions that I love salsa, music will be put on and people want to see how I dance.

It's so hot in Cali that during the day a lot of people leave their doors open for fresh air. There is no AC so you can imagine how it feels like when the doors and windows are closed. Torture! See the open door behind me? I was feeling so hot and flustered but still managed to crack a smile when my roommate's daughter took this picture.

Just chilling and feeling relieved in front of our apartment's door step. We live on the second floor and down below us is another neighbor.

That's it folks, believe me there is a lot to write about so watch out for future posts.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Living in Cali reminds me so much of growing up in my old neighborhood in Kenya. The lively neighborhoods with kids playing, teenagers hanging out on the streets talking to friends, music blaring from the local neighborhood bars and the familiarity that people have with one another. When walking with my roommate she says hi to so many people that I joke she is like the president.

It's funny but when I visited Cartagena and Panama City I noticed how people left their doors open so when passing my their houses you would see a normal family just living their lives and I would wonder why they kept their doors open. Now I am living in Cali and I see why keeping doors open is a necessity. We live on the second floor so at least we have our privacy but everywhere we have gone around the neighborhood, people have their doors open but hang something like a curtain for privacy. We were at my roommate's aunt's house and a football just bounced in the living room from one of the games kids outside were playing. The kid just excused himself and came to grab the ball.

Salsa music is everywhere that I don't get the same excitement that I used to get in Minnesota when I would happen to hear salsa being played at a club. Here, salsa is played: at people's houses, in cars parked on the streets, in grocery stores..........everywhere you can think of. I have become used to it pretty quick.

I love how people call each other mami or papi as a form of endearment. It just sounds so cute.

I will not lie to you, immersion is hard! yes it is the best way to learn a language but trust me, it is a struggle. Sometimes I just zone out during a conversation because my mind gets tired of trying to translate everything in English. I am glad though that everyone so far has been patient and has really tried to help me.

My roommate and her family are very open and social. If I could express myself clearly in Spanish it would be fun conversing with them because they seem pretty cool. I was watching TV with my roommate's daughter, the grandma and the grand aunt and a presenter was talking about strippers. The daughter asked what a stripper was and you should have seen the grandma and grand aunt trying to explain and using motions to make her understand what strippers do. It was hilarious!

I need to find a way to stop auto correct on my laptop but with my laziness sometimes I haven't got round to changing the necessary setting. When I re-read what I have written I have to correct a few words which is just extra work. If you notice a weird word that doesn't belong or make sense in a sentense blame my auto correct:) and the heat as well........seriously! I am in slow motion mode over here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Goodbye Panama

It's time to move on to my next destination, Colombia. These two weeks seem to have gone by so fast I can not believe it. It feels like I have been in Panama for such a long time but that could be because I have been busy with different activities and have developed a routine that has given my days some structure.

Today was my last day in class and I felt a little sad because I will miss some of the teachers that I had bonded with and I will miss seeing the friendly familiar faces at school. One thing I will not miss though is having 4 hours of Spanish every morning, that was brutal! never again.

I will miss this pretty path that was really cool to walk along. It's a long pathway and in the evening there would be lot's of people walking, running or biking along it, it was very lively.

I will miss the park near where I live. In the evening and at night the park would come alive with a flurry of activities. It felt good to walk through it in the evening without the brutal heat from the sun. During the day the park was never as busy.

Part of the Panama Canal. It was interesting learning the history of the canal and seeing this great feat of human engineering. I know the picture doesn't look impressive, it only captures a small part of the canal.

I will miss the colorful artifact markets that were always so bright and vibrant. I loved some of the work by the indigenous Panamanians.

Interesting how one minute you can be at a site of historic ruins that date back hundreds of years then the next be in a concrete jungle full of skyscrapers.

I will miss coming to my room every Mon, Wed and Fri after class to find it cleaned up and neat thanks to the cleaning lady at the guest house.

This bread is to die for! I love it. It's wheat bread with raisins and has a sweet taste, this was my breakfast everyday and sometimes also my evening snack. I got hooked to it.

I have said my goodbyes and taken a final walk around my neighborhood. I am now packing in preparation for my trip tomorrow although right now as I write this I am actually taking a break, seriously I hate packing but I am listening to some good Bachata to calm my nerves.

Speaking of Bachata, I will miss my Dominican buddies. Every evening I would pass by their work place and hang out. Thanks to them I got to check out places I never would have known off, I got to really appreciate Bachata and sample some Dominican food (they invited me for lunch at their aunt's place this past weekend).

This song will always remind me of them and Panama.........good memories.

That's it folks! time for another adventure in a different place.........follow me:)

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I have come to realize that I hate goodbyes. The thought of possibly never seeing something or someone familiar is a bit depressing.

I better have lost some weight with all the running around I have been doing plus the healthy diet I have been observing for the most part. Actually yesterday I tried on one of my favorite pants and it fit very well, better than before when I had to squeeze into it. Yay!

I love the abundance of fresh fruits in this city. Everyday I make sure to eat fruits and I have so far settled on mangoes and papayas for additional fibre.

For the most part people here appear to be friendly but the language barrier kind of puts a damper on things. In a few months I hope I will be able to look back at the language barrier now and laugh.

I love people watching here especially observing men's reaction to a beautiful woman passing by. Some almost break their necks in the process of checking out the woman and they don't even hide it. I am talking a 180 degree turn in a bid to get a second glance at the woman.

It's funny how some men express their admiration on the streets. You can pass by a group of men or have a guy pass you on the street and say: Aii! amor, corazon, linda, hermosa. I just smile and move on, it does sound kind of cute though don't you think?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Funny Thing Called Friendship

I met Jeannie on my first night in Panama. The lady who works at the guest house that I am staying at was showing me around and took me upstairs to where the shared kitchen and social area were. Seated on the couch was Jeannie using her laptop.

Jeannie got up and introduced herself then asked if I would be interested in joining her for a tour of the city the following day. That first night was hard for me and I was in a horrible mood. I was missing all that was familiar to me, the weather was hot and humid, my room was tiny and stuffy and on top of that everything that could have gone wrong during my trip went wrong.

My flight from Minneapolis got delayed and once I got to DC for a connecting flight I realized I had arrived at a different airport than the one I was supposed to depart from. It was a mistake I had made during booking, I wasn't paying attention to the airport details. Anyway, I managed to get a taxi to the right airport which was about 45 minutes away. Thankfully I got there on time but $80 poorer.

At the airport in Panama I encountered a very rude fellow passenger who used some offensive racial reference toward me. I don't like to remember the encounter because it makes me very mad. As if things couldn't get any worse It took me a while before locating the driver from the school. A good samaritan at the airport offered me her phone so I was able to call the driver and meet up with him.

When I met Jeannie that first night, her friendly demeanor helped put me at ease even though I was still feeling moody and out of it. I just wanted to go back home.

Jeannie and I became fast friends. We toured the city together, went for lunches together, met up frequently after class, she was my photographer and humored me in whatever craziness I threw her way. Unknowingly Jeannie had played a part in enabling Panama to grow on me.

This post is dedicated to Jeannie. I am glad I met you and I am grateful for your kindness. The funny thing about friendship is that it's the unexpected people who end up surprising you.

PS: This is the message I got from my mum on my birthday and I thought how appropriate for this post. "Age is just a number, it is the wisdom that comes with every year that counts. That wisdom shows in the way you deal with people of all walks of life...the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the disabled and people of all races. When you have mastered all these traits then you are wise..."

We decided to swap hats for this photo.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Year Older In Panama

Today is my birthday and I am glad that I was able to maintain my personal tradition. I have to say that I had a pretty good day, Jeannie my friend surprised me with lunch at this really good Panamanian restaurant that we frequent then later on treated me to some really good ice cream. I thought it was really sweet of her to do that and I did not expect it at all. We spent the day together in Casco Antiguo, the historic district of Panama and had a really good time despite the brutal heat (my poor skin).

March 2014 - 34th birthday in Panama

These are some of the pictures I took during the day at Casco Antiguo.

I came to the realization that I already got the best birthday gift I could ever ask for, the fact that I chose to leave everything behind and take a leap of faith in doing what I have always wanted to do, that in itself is the best gift I could ever have asked for. I am grateful that my dreams have come true and that I did this for myself. I am very content.

I am in love with life:)

Random Thought of The Day:

I am beginning to notice a certain dress code in women around Panama City, tight pants that leave nothing to the imagination and small tops with push up bras. Actually some of these push ups are extreme that I often wonder how the women breath, it just looks so uncomfortable.

Speaking of dress codes, women here seem to love showing off their curves and I can not even count the number of shapely behinds and voluptuous tops that I have seen being proudly displayed. Even I have taken double takes on more than one occasion. Did I ever mention how the mannequins on display at shops even have certain body parts enhanced?

I find it so cute when my Spanish teacher calls me Amor or Cariño in class then gives me a hug at the end of class for a job well done. How cute!

Drivers in Panama City are very aggressive and scary. Whenever I seat in the front when taking a taxi I am always holding my breath because of how close I think we are to an accident. They seem so unfazed and some even laugh at my nerves. Today I actually got so scared that I grabbed the arm of a taxi driver, he just laughed it off.

It's funny and kind of weird watching some American shows that have been translated to Spanish on
TV especially cartoons. Imagine Butt or Homer Simpson speaking Spanish.