Well, I’m here! It’s already been 6 days, though it feels like much longer (in a good way). It would take too long to share everything, so I’ll just highlight a few points. Also there are pictures on the Photos page. I promise to take more, but it’s not smart to take your phone out on the street and I’ve just been busy.
Flights – I got quite lucky by having a kind check-in woman at the airport. I planned to check three bags (two of which were free) and had a weight limit of 50 pounds each. Two suitcases were at 51.5 lbs each and the third bag was at 49.5 lbs (all classroom stuff in the third). Luckily, she didn’t make me pay excess weight fees! However, she did forget to give me the baggage coupon that I needed to get reimbursed… Anyways, I was fortunate enough to travel with two other new teachers so we were able to get to know one another and figure things out together.
Arriving to Bucaramanga airport – We got in at about 10:30pm (11:30pm EST) and after leaving for the airport by 5:30am EST, I was already exhausted. (Yes, this is even though I slept throughout every plane ride. It’s all I do on planes.) Luckily all our bags made it through and there were three waving people ready to pick us up–John is the Director of the school, Maria (MDR for short) is the HR person that helped arrange everything for us and answered a bunch of my questions, and Sheldon is the Middle School/High School principal. They are all fantastic people and SO WELCOMING!
Guns – On the way out to our little mini-bus that took us to our different apartments, there were two men dressed in army clothes and with giant guns. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore
House – I live in a complex which has a security guard at the front gate, which is a good feeling. There are lots of connected houses in one part where we live and then also some apartment buildings in a separate area. The house is way bigger than I expected…3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, another room on the top floor where they put two desks (could be another bedroom), a maid’s room, and a nice little balcony. Another girl named Jennica who will teach 5th grade lives there with me. It’s older than any of the apartments where the other teachers are though, so we have already had a lot of stress dealing with some problems. Let me explain…
- Toilets: two of the three toilets didn’t work when we moved in. They sent a plumber to fix them, but guess what? They stopped working again, so now I don’t know what will happen.
- Lights: a bunch of lights were out and when we told them, the repair men literally took the lightbulbs that were working, put them in the spots where they were burnt out, and left the rest empty. We still need to go get some bulbs.
- Shower: Looking back, this actually was quite a funny story, but at the moment not so much. Jennica was showering at about 10pm one night and came in to tell me she couldn’t get the shower to turn off. I go in and notice that not only can neither of us turn it off because something was wrong with the knobs, but it also was shooting water at a terrible angle and it was going onto the floor. This is the second night we were here and we didn’t have any internet or phones. We had no idea what to do. We went up to the porteros (gate guards) and explained the situation with a lot of fumbling around in Spanish and asking them to speak more slowly. These porteros are super young and they pretty much were just laughing at us, not in an unkind way though. So the portero follows us and ends up turning off our water completely by opening a mini-manhole type thing in front of our house and turning off a knob inside it. That stopped the water, but then we couldn’t use the toilets or even brush our teeth!
- Bugs: I noticed the first night when I was in the kitchen that there were these little tiny bugs, like mini ants crawling on the countertop. I got a rag and wiped them up. Over the next few days, there have gotten to be WAY more. MDR from school told us they were termites, but then the elementary school principal (Dan) told us they were actually just ants. He said they were normal here in Colombia and there’s only so much you can do, but I don’t think that’s too accurate since NONE of the other teachers are having issues with them. I think part of the problem is that it’s an old house and we’re on the bottom floor. We’ve already had to throw away some food because they eat through plastic and get into everything. Dan told us to try cotton balls soaked in boric acid (borax?), sugar, and hot water, and then I’ve put down some solid combos of sugar/boric acid to kill the larva. We are hoping this helps. Also the school said they will get someone to fumigate the house, but things in Colombia take way longer to get done…something I learned quite quickly.
- Internet: This actually is not something I can complain about because none of the other teachers have internet at home yet. Apparently the router was still here from the teachers last year, though, so we were trying to get it working. The IT guy from school, Andres, came and fixed it one morning for us, but by the time we got home from school, it wasn’t working. He went back to the house the next day with Jennica and got it working. Apparently one of the cables was broken. So hopefully we will have this until we get our Colombian IDs and get our own service.
Classroom – While the school is very nice, the classrooms are older. As the director told us, he’d rather the money go towards quality teachers, technology, and curriculum development. I’m perfectly okay with that! The only places that have air conditioning in the whole school are the administrative office, teacher’s lounge, and library. I have two fans in my classroom, but I can already tell it’s going to be HOT. Whoever the teacher was before me was an absolute mess. I spent 3 afternoons this week just cleaning out the supply closet and more. I still have the desk and a bookshelf full of random teacher materials to go through. However, it’s starting to come together and now I need to decorate with my scarce materials. I found some fabric today in Bucaramanga, so I’ll cover my bulletin boards with that. The walls are brick, so very little sticks to them. I’m wishing that I had brought more command hooks!!! So far, I’ve hung parts of my calendar with the small ones and then used masking tape for other parts. The issue here is the humidity. I’ll see if it’s all still up when I go in on Monday.
Driving here – …is terrifying. Pedestrians are the LAST to have the right of way. Little yellow taxis beep beep all over town, while the motos fly in and out of cars and onto sidewalks sometimes. When there’s a stop sign, Colombian drivers seem to think it’s a yield…maybe….and maybe not even that, more like a green light! You have to be extremely careful when walking, even more so because the sidewalks are tiny and often have holes or giant concrete grates may have gaping open sections (no caution signs to warn you here!). It’s an adventure every time you’re walking or in one of the taxis.
Money – They use Colombian pesos here. $1=1,874 pesos, but whenever I see the price, it’s easiest just to divide in half and take off the zeros. It’s definitely challenging me in my Spanish numbers! Like earlier, my boric acid was 5,550 pesos (about $3). My dinner with three other people was nearly 100,000 pesos. Trying to figure out each of our bills and get the right amount of cash/change to each of us was a challenge that took probably 10 minutes. All the money is very pretty though. 🙂
Food – As the Bucaramangueses say, this is a meat culture. I’ve literally had more meat in the past week than I had had in the past month in the states. Very few veggies and tons of fruit here. I’m craving vegetables HARD. Like a spinach salad now. (Never thought I’d hear those words come out of my mouth.) There are lots of fruits I’ve never heard of or seen before, too. My roommate and I had quite the experience trying to figure out some of the fruits that were in our fridge when we arrived. (The school had bought us some basic food necessities that were already at our house when we arrived!). Luckily, there was a “Juice Breakfast” orientation at school for us new teachers. The chef of the school (literally a chef; he used to work for a restaurant) made many different juices for us right in front of us, while the ES principal translated, so that we’d know what to do with all the fruits we find in the store. They are all made with water and/or milk, some have sugar added because of their sourness, and blended. Then you use a mesh strainer to strain out the seeds that typically got blended up (certain ones that have smaller seeds). The fruits that we tried to eat whole or by scooping out the flesh made way more sense in juice form. Now it’s just trying to keep all the names straight! A few you could look up are: maricuya, guanábana, guayaba, pitaya, lulo, and mora.
The heat – It’s perfect when you’re outside or in an area with nice open areas for breezes to pass through. But in our house and if you’re walking around too much, it is quite warm. It’s not so much the temperature as it is the humidity. I’ve only been able to wear my hair down once and it didn’t last long. I didn’t really sleep my first few nights at all. We each have a fan in our bedroom, so I keep it blowing on me all night long.
Heels – Similar to Spain, all the women wear heels! Here they are more wedges or chunky though, instead of stilettos. Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be joining that trend. 🙂 Only when I start learning salsa! Several other people are also interested and so I’m hoping we can get on that soon.
Spanish – While I’ve received a few compliments on my spanish, it’s typically when I’m talking. I have the hardest time understanding what other people say! I’ve been told Colombian spanish is typically the clearest, but it’s still a challenge when it’s so fast. It also depends on who is talking. Taxi drivers, for example, are way harder to understand for me. I had a nice conversation today with our neighbor lady (who poked her head around our connected balconies and terrified me) and a custodial lady at the school helping me move furniture around in my room. I’m hoping everything will start to make more sense soon!
There’s so much more to say, but I’ll leave it at that. I’m happy to say my iMessage and Facebook is working when I’m on wifi (at school and temporarily at home). Also, once I get my Colombian number, I’ll have WhatsApp so download it! We can’t get our own internet service or cell phones until we get our cédula, which is our Colombian ID. It usually takes a few weeks and since my visa process got messed up, it will be even longer.
Hope that answers people’s burning initial questions about life here. 🙂 Anything else you want to know, post a comment below!
See Photos by going to the reddish menu circle at the top right or by clicking here.