(Almost) Leaving Bogotá

I have a good friend who has worked in the same school since she and I graduated from college in 2010.  This fall, she will enter her fourth year.  I admire her so much.  She is a damn good teacher.  She knows the first grade curriculum inside out.  She will tell you that she’s still beginning, which of course is true, but when I look at her, I am in awe of her mastery.

This isn’t about better or worst paths: it’s just that when I talk to her, it makes me think about how much moving I’ve done.  Since college, I’ve had five different jobs.  This fall I will be moving to New York, and 2013 – 2015 will be the first time I live in the same country for two years in a row since 2006 – 2008.

In personal and professional ways, I have loved moving.  I am so glad I’ve seen two countries up close.  As a teacher, I have refined my vision of best practice and best schools by working in very different, and in many ways dysfunctional, schools.  As a person, I’ve made deep friendships, which is both the pro and the con of all this moving.  I am so excited to go back to Chile, where I will travel for the next three weeks, staying almost exclusively with friends.  I will visit my beloved Palena and my beloved people there.  And yet, then I will leave again and once again, not know when I will return next.

As to this year in particular, there is absolutely so much to say that I will simply say this: I have a deep affection for Colombia, and particularly for Bogotá.  I don’t think Bogotá is objectively the best place in the country, but it’s where I’ve come back to for eleven months, so it feels like mine.  I’ve made rich, rich friendships, with the advantage that most of them are young professionals, both Colombian and foreign, who move and travel, so this goodbye doesn’t feel nearly as final as Palena.  And I know what’s coming next, and I am so eager for it: a Master’s in Bilingual/Bicultural Education with Dual Certification in Elementary (1-6) at Teachers College at Columbia University.

This is a hasty post as I am leaving for the airport in a few minutes, but here is my itinerary for the next few weeks:

Friday, June 28 — Sunday, June 30th: Santiago de Chile with good college friend.

Sunday, June 30th – Sunday, July 7th: my beloved Palena (a plane, boat and bus ride from Santiago).

Monday, July 8th – Tuesday, July 9th: Antofagasta, with my former Chilean colleague who now lives in the north.

Wednesday, July 10th – Friday, July 12th: San Pedro de Atacama.

Saturday, July 13th – Tuesday, July 16th: Arica, with same friend, possibly a mini-trip to Peru across the border!

Wednesday, July 17th: travel back to Santiago, and overnight to Bogotá.

Thursday, July 18th: one last day in Bogotá to cash out bank account, get my hair and nails done, and see friends.

Friday, July 19th: Travel back to Boston.


As I have been stressed with packing and buying tickets and goodbyes this week, I’ve tried to constantly remind myself of how lucky I am.  I am so fortunate to be able to travel like this, and I want to remember that, even when I am waiting at airports or shivering on a boat.  This is so special.  Seeing my Chilean people will be so sweet, as well as one more brief dose of Bogotá.  And also, how comforting it will be to return to sweet little Ipswich, Massachusetts in just over three weeks.



Esatdio El Campín, with mountains over in the east.
Esatdio El Campín, with mountains over in the east.
With my friend Carolina.
With my friend Carolina.

Last night, I completed one of my major bucket list items: I went to a Colombian soccer game.  It was such a good time.

Clearly, soccer is the biggest deal sport in Colombia (and in most of the world besides the US, right?).  At school, on days when the Colombian national team was playing, all staff and students were allowed to ditch the uniform to come in the team jersey and jeans, and I’d say about 80% of the school did so.  Last week, when the game started at 3:30(qualifying game for the World Cup), all TVs were switched to the match, and the building shook when Colombia scored.  When it was time to go to the buses at 4:00, many students and teachers were reluctant to leave the TVs.

I visited my friend in preschool the day of Colombia vs. Peru game.
I visited my friend in preschool the day of Colombia vs. Peru game.
My students play soccer at Sports Day.
My students play soccer at Sports Day.

The game I went to yesterday was between two Colombian clubs, Santa Fé and Millonarios, as they qualify for the Colombian championship.  Both teams are from Bogotá, and though I have asked many people this question, there does not seem to be a big demographic trend for the fans — hinchados — of either team.  Over the year, I’ve witnessed plenty of friendly rivalry between the teams.  For example, last week someone left a Santa Fé flag in my classroom, and a student found it, which lead to chaos and cheers, for and against.  I asked my Colombian colleague if he wanted the flag, and he said, “Oh no, I am of Millonarios, but my wife is Santa Fe.”

“What about your children?” I asked.

“Millonarios!” His children are elementary-aged.

One of my student draws the Santa Fe logo and championship stars on every single piece of paper.
One of my student draws the Santa Fe logo and championship stars on every single piece of paper.

For the game yesterday, Santa Fé was “home” and Millonarios was “away” — they are both from Bogotá and play in the same stadium, but the games switch home and away.  I wore a red scarf in attempt to blend in with the crowd.

As we entered, I was struck by the high level of security.  We showed our tickets three times, and we were sorted into lines by men and women, so that we could be patted down by the police three times before arriving to our seats.  Carolina told me that if you have tickets in the cheapest section, they will even ask you to take off your shoes and socks, because there are supposedly more fights in this area.  I am glad security is taken so seriously, but I also surprised there would be so many problems, given that everyone in the stands was for the same team.  But violence and fútbol have been a problem in Colombia, as elsewhere.  When I told the woman who cleans our house that I was going to the game, she said she doesn’t like soccer because several friends of her son have been killed because of soccer.

The liveliest fans, at the south of the stadium, apparently the least expensive tickets.
The liveliest fans, at the south of the stadium, apparently the least expensive tickets.
Millonarios fans being escorted out.
Millonarios fans being escorted out.

In this last picture, you can see the small group of Millonarios fans — they were not supposed to come to this game, but a few did, though notably, without flags and banners.  Police lined up in all the aisles throughout the night, but as the game ended, the loudspeaker announced that first, the Millonarios fans would leave, and then ten minutes later, the Santa Fe fans.


The cheerleaders' uniforms said "Red Lions" (the mascot) in English!
The cheerleaders’ uniforms said “Red Lions” (the mascot) in English!

Now as to the actual game: we won, 1-0, off of one penalty kick in the first half.  I know gringos that say soccer is boring because no one ever scores, but I find almost the opposite to be true: because there are only a few goals in a game, I am glued, for fear of missing one.  I jumped in with the cheers, hugged and screamed when Santa Fé won, and enjoyed lots of explanations and commentary from my trusty guide, Carolina.  Sports are fun when you experience them in a group — last year, I got into watching the Patriots with my dad, and here, I genuinely enjoyed a soccer game.   I also realized the highest level soccer I’ve ever seen live was at my college, and I have to say, seeing this players in person was impressive.  They are so fast, so skilled, so acrobatic — after collisions and kicks and head butts in the air, they appear to bounce off the ground and keep running.  These are, clearly, professionals.  I enjoyed the whole experience even more than I had imagined.

End of the School Year

Last day -- I told them that when the bell rings, they would be fourth graders.
Last day — I told them that when the bell rings, they would be fourth graders.


It’s always a mix: pride, joy, relief, sadness, emptiness.  When I said goodbye to my kids at the end of therapeutic summer camp in 2009 and 2010, the end was intense.  After being with the children from 6 AM to 10 PM each day, through melt-downs and breakfast and swim time and bedtime, suddenly, they are gone?  My relief to be done with this superhumanly demanding job was enormous, but so too was my loss: I couldn’t help but love them, and be scared and hopeful that they would make it in the world.  I was very invested in the organization and in them as people, so my emotions were big.

At the end of the school year in my little town in Chile, I was deeply proud of what I had accomplished, showcased in several capstone moments — the performance of my 1st/2nd grade elective, the English assembly, photographs with the families of my high schoolers at their graduation.  The intensity ramped up because I didn’t know when I would ever see my students again (though now I know, I will see many of them in just a few weeks: I arrive in Palena on July 1st!).   In addition to pride and sadness to be leaving, there was also a note of “good riddance”, as I had lost faith in both the school and the NGO I worked for.

Last June, I said goodbye to my Turtles, a class of first graders in Boston.  While I was extremely frustrated with and critical of the head teacher I worked with, I believed in the intentions of the school, and had enormous faith in and admiration for my supervisors.  We had an appreciation breakfast where one of my beloved administrators gave me a book with an inscription she had written.  We were exhausted and relieved for the children to leave, but on the whole, we agreed on a mission: this was a social justice project.  One of the boys I worked the closest with was chronically absent, and in the last weeks, I was acutely aware that every day could be his last — I was right, he was absent the last three days, but I had mentally prepared myself for that.  I needed to.  I had poured myself into working with him, and the end felt big.

Math basketball became a contact sport.
Last class here in Bogotá: math basketball became a contact sport.
As math basketball continues, on the board are the two reflection questions we each answered, in a circle: "My favorite part/topic/memory in math or mental math class was __" and "What I want to learn more about is ___"
As math basketball continues, on the board are the two reflection questions we each answered, in a circle: “My favorite part/topic/memory in math or mental math class was __” and “What I want to learn more about is ___”


This time: I have never felt so little.  Sure, they say that your first year is the hardest, and I’ve been through this several times before.  But the real teachers I know feel deeply each year — my father, in his third decade in the classroom, is visibly moved each June.  This year at my school here in Bogotá, I feel less because I’ve given less.  Certainly, I have given: I’ve spent more quality time thinking and preparing classes then was required of me, and I’ve tried to wring out every drop of learning for myself.  Yet my schedule included relatively little time with children, so my relationships aren’t as close.  And given that I stand so firmly against this institution and many of the individuals within it, I am unabashedly happy to be leaving. The best part of the job was probably its cushiness — days where I spent hours with friends after my work was completed.

After our last day with children on Thursday, I’ve spent days completing meaningless paperwork, and more recently, bouncing around from office to office in Bogotá to get my final payment.  I said to my parents on Sunday night, “I would much rather be going to teach tomorrow then going to stand in lines and wade through bureaucracy.”  After my last work day on Friday, I have had to come in three other unpaid days to sign paperwork, killing any ounce of nostalgia or affection I might have for the place.

Here’s what this job has taught me more than anything: I want more.  I am a teacher and I want to be challenged.  I want to be in an environment of professional educators who are working towards a common goal.  I want to give more because at my next ending,  I want to feel more.

On the Beach: A Wedding & Camping

On Saturday, a gringa friend and colleague of mine married her boyfriend.  The wedding was in Barranquilla, where he is from, so a few of us took advantage of the occasion for a Caribbean weekend getaway, adding Tuesday onto the three-day-weekend for four days of 90-degree weather, arroz con coco y patacones, sand, sun and the constant sound of crashing waves.

We flew to Barranquilla, and back from Santa Marta.
We flew to Barranquilla, and back from Santa Marta.
The newly wed couple!
The newly wed couple!
Some of us that flew in from Bogotá.
Some of us that flew in from Bogotá.
The happy recipient of the bride's bouquet, and her fiancé.
The happy recipient of the bride’s bouquet, and her fiancé.


Wearing the flower, "It's like you have two faces."
Wearing the flower, “It’s like you have two faces.”




Our practically private beach.
Our practically private beach.


Warnings at the campground: "Careful with the coconuts and ocean currents."
Warnings at the campground: “Careful with the coconuts and ocean currents.”


Our campsite (we rented tents with padding included -- so comfortable, great deal).
Our campsite (we rented tents with padding included — so comfortable, great deal).



Off for day trip to waterfall: Sylvia, Gina, Adriana, me, Jessica, Jorge.
Off for day trip to waterfall: Sylvia, Gina, Adriana, me, Jessica, Jorge.
pre-"hike" beer (it's so hot!).
pre-“hike” beer (it’s so hot!).


"Private property, please don't take the coconuts."
“Private property, please don’t take the coconuts.”

One of the benefits to living in Bogotá is that I am one hour and a half by plane away from the coast — and on my salary, it is not that expensive.  I am so grateful to be able to travel like this, and also, to have such rich friendships.  I am a bit sunburned and bug-bitten, but I am not complaining.  What a treat.


Re: Last Post and Related Lessons

I have removed my last post because it was a mistake.  In the days since pressing publish, I have dug deep, both within myself and in conversations with close friends.  If there is anything I want to be, it is a person who acknowledges her mistakes, takes responsibility, and learns from them in meaningful way, especially when the content at hand includes some of the most important things in my life — questions of culture, privilege, and the role and impact of writing.

I wanted to write about some of the big things I’m thinking about — like my romantic relationships — but I made a mistake by publishing those in-process, still developing thoughts in such a public format.  There is a big difference between commenting on observations to friends — often self-correcting, changing my mind, and reconsidering — and publicly publishing those observations, particularly in the format of a generalization.  I know I hurt some people, and I apologize for that.  I know good intentions are not always enough, but my intentions were to share based on my own experiences, not to speak for others, and certainly not to portray Colombian men or women in a negative way.  Colombia is a diverse and complex place and I’ve only seen a small slice of it.  My expereinces dating (two) Colombian men have by no means been primarily negative — but I know that the piece came off as judgemental and high-and-mighty to some.  That was a mistake, and I apologize.

As uncomfortable as this experience has been, it’s got me thinking deeply about my relationship to all my identities: I am white, I am from the professional/upper middle class, I am a woman, I am straight-ish/gay-ish, I am from a secular Christian-origin family, I am US citizen.  The voice I write with is rooted in all of those identities.  There is a whole lot of privilege in that mix, and also, less dominant identities.  At (nearly) 25, I have learned a lot about how these identities play out in my life, and in particular, how to work to change and even leverage the privilege I have, rather than collude with it.  But I have more learning to do.

I have a deep commitment to social justice, and I have repeatedly made choices to try to cross boundaries and to cultivate meaningful international/cultural/racial/class relationships in my life.  It is so easy to live segregated lives, and yet, it is also sometimes so uncomfortable to step out of those bounds.  I’m working on it and playing with it.  But the kind of person I want to be is one who doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable situations, but rather, embraces them as a chance to learn and grow, however messy and awkward that may be.

As a teacher, I have a professional obligation, as well as a personal commitment, to social justice.  The only way to be a an educator-activist is to be a living up to and towards social justice in my personal life as well.  In my last months here in Bogotá, I want to gather up as much learning and observing as I can, with the awareness that my expereince will by definition be incomplete, and my perspective,  though ever-expanding, will always be limited.  And yes, before I leave Colombia on June 27, I also want to get in some more serious fun.


Yesterday, I waited five hours to be seen by a doctor, and another hour in line at the pharmacy to get my prescriptions filled.

I am currently suffering from diharrea for the third time since January.  This time I don’t have a fever (as I did in April), but I am woken up in the night.  It’s miserable.  So after a week of trying to heal things naturally, I decided it was time to see a doctor and get tested for parasites.  They said last time I may have picked something up when traveling to rural areas of the coast in January.

I arrived at the clinic at 10 AM, prepared to wait an hour or two as I have on previous visits.  My first hour was almost pleasant — I settled in with my novel (to the awe of the Colombians around me — no one else was reading, not even a magazine).  The book is Pasajera en tránsito, by Yolanda Reyes, a romance set in 1980s Spain between a Colombian and an Argentine student, interesting because of the setting and the different dialects of the characters, though the writing is not high quality.

But the next four hours were rough.  I alternated between calm/resourcefulness, and anger/outrage.  I almost cried when I was told the wait was long because it was lunch hour — when there I was, very hungry, with no access to food.  I tried to be assertive and yet polite to everyone I talked to, but I don’t think I concealed my resentment when the doctor asked me if I was dehydrated — “I wasn’t dehydrated,” I responded, “Until my water bottle ran out three hours ago.”

What helps me cultivate patience in these situations more than anything is to constantly remind myself, it could be much worse.  I am not as bad off as many.  First of all, sooner or later, I will see a health professional and get the care I need. Second of all, this medical care will not be my financial ruin — while I’d rather have saved $40 than spend it on a visit, prescription and lab tests, this amount of money effects my life in no way.  I have a job that, with the doctor’s note from my visit, will not dock my pay for missing work.  Third of all, I don’t have a family that is relying on me.  A young woman next to me, visibly quite sick, told me she had to go pick up her son in a few hours.  I also remember, I have not the best, but certainly not the worst health insurance.  How much worse would this be in the poor South of Bogotá?  In rural Colombia?

Patience requires a big muscle of internal regulation.  Patience means being my own babysitter — offering myself toys (novel), games (making vocabulary lists, writing in my journal), snacks (crackers, anticipated for two, rather than five hour wait), and soothing words when I am about to loose it (This is miserable, Margaret.  It’s not right and you’re not crazy to be frustrated.  But you will be okay, you will be seen, you will leave here, and, bottom line: it could be so much worse).  If I was in the US, I certainly would have called my parents to console me, but here, I was forced to self-soothe.

Bogotá has given me plenty of work-outs for my patience muscle.  Here is the TransMilenio at rush-hour:



As I took these pictures, I remembered how anxious and overwhelmed I was the first time this happened.  Now, when I get stuck in a mob leaving the station (where it can take 10 minutes to walk 10 feet, and it is easy to loose footing and fall on people), I think mostly about how good a story this is.  And grateful that I don’t have a baby in my arms.  And, I know, this too shall pass.  (Note: my commute usually avoids the worst of TransMilenio — I only get into these mosh pits about once a week).

This week, I tried making bread at 8,612 feet (that’s 2,625 meters, or yes, 1.6 miles, the name of this blog).  Yeast requires patience in any conditions, but I’ve encountered some additional obstacles.  Back in Palena, bread-making was a science project because of the fire — on my first attempt, I let the fire die down mid-cooking time, and the beautifully fluffy rolls imploded.  Here, the challenge is the altitude, with the unexpected curve ball of a 2-hour power outage, meaning the formed rolls rose for 2 extra hours (power has gone out maybe 5 times in my 9 months here, but usually for less than 30 minutes).  But in the end, the bread was good, and I was proud of my skill and my thriftiness (I cleaned out the pantry!).  This patience  tasted just right with melted butter and the rain outside.





Seven Fruits I First Tried in Colombia

1. Maracuyá  (Passion Fruit)

Maracuyá is my favorite juice, by far.  It also shows up in desserts like cheesecake or ice cream.  Also, one of my friends makes a mean maracuyá mojito.  I’ve never seen this fruit eaten solo — always in a juice or dessert.


2. Granadilla (Google translated as passion fruit or passion flower?)

Granadilla looks a bit like maracuyá, but it is eaten plain, not as a juice.  You can either scoop out the insides (which have a texture like brains or snot, an American once commented) with a spoon or sort of slurp them out.  I am especially a fan of their seed-y ness (almost as much as pomegranates).  We get these at school with lunch a fair amount.


3. Mangustina

This fruit doesn’t show up that often — I’ve never seen it at school and not all stores have them.  Mangustina are often sold in the street in a wheelbarrow, or in small bags by men who weave among cars at traffic lights.  When my family was here, we bought some at a light and then I left them in the taxi.  The white pulp inside is sweet and a bit tangy — totally different than anything else.


4. Tomate de árbol (Tamarillo in English.  Has anyone ever heard of that?)

I know this fruit as a juice, but have never seen it eaten alone.  The juice is thick and tastes like a combination of orange cherry tomatoes and grapes.  I like it because it’s not too sweet, and it feels very potent.


5. Uchuvas (Gooseberries?)

These are made into a juice or eaten plain; at school, they often serve uchuvas with sliced strawberries.  They are very acidic and sharp, and look almost exactly like cherry tomatoes.


6. Lulo (Solanum quitoense or naranjilla — even Wikipedia has no English name)

Lulo is another juice-exclusive fruit, with a taste similar to kiwi.  The juice is light green, so I was surprised to recently learn what the fruit itself looks like.  Lulo also pairs very well with vodka or rum.


7. Guanabana (Soursop)

Guanabana is popular both as a fruit and as a juice.  As a fruit, it is served in big slimy laddle-fulls, at school and often, on the street.  I am not a fan of the texture, especially the giant black seeds that you have to tease away from the fruit and spit out; however, I think the juice (white, often blended with milk) is okay.


You can see why I am proud when I can name the juice of the day in the school cafeteria — so many new fruits!