Cali, Colombia (Part 1)

This week doesn’t feel like a week. When the day has been filled to the top of its potential, your time is slow and you like it that way. You’ve given a conscious and active effort into it and the level of thoroughness makes other days look like they only lasted an hour. How long does it take for a painter to perfect that brush stroke he needs? How can he then explain its detail and effects without others examining it closely or practicing it themselves?  I can say that in our first week Mike and I found an apartment, set up our own wifi, set up a phone, found the best ATM to take out money, discovered the best food locations for vegetarianism, found a gym, watched a soccer game with crazed fans, found a dance academy, danced on stage in front of a thousand people estranged to us, partook in a TV interview, witnessed a marathon, went inside some historic churches, saw many live performances, were given free food and welcomed in by Hindu followers, made a Mr. Smoothie facebook page, played a brand new sport with some old retired Colombians, and walked through a hippie park overlooking the city, however how can I hope to share those experiences with you truly unless you had been there too? The connection mostly isn’t with rational words, but rather just through a nod or an agreement. A hug maybe, a laugh, or a smile. Travelling, like being in love, is more perceptive, and emotional, rather than rational. It’s a rational decision to let yourself be overwhelmed and influenced and you have to be smart to take care of what you have. Yet everything in between is so much more intimate with your emotions and other senses. This is so much that it’s hard to connect with words and pictures alone. I can’t hope to explain everything to you, and the things I do explain won’t be a 100%, 90%, 80%, or even a 50% accurate representation in some cases. But here it goes anyway because I feel these travelling experiences deserve to be shared in some way or fashion. Needless to say that I hope that we can connect on some level.

Hardly anyone speaks English in Cali, so you can imagine how hard it could be to do even the simplest thing like understanding the bus pass system. As a result, every day Mike and I are learning more than 20 words a day and while still taking in the grammar. Both of these are thankfully really close to English and French, although Spanish has its originality. On top of the vocabulary and the grammar is the listening. This is the biggest obstacle right now. I’ve recognized so many times this week that speaking and listening are two different skills. From learning French in school, I was better at the latter. Now I’m experiencing the opposite, and listening, though a passive skill, is just as valuable as speaking when you’re trying to get around and find out information. Finally pronunciation. There is one simple rule for stressing specific syllables in this language and it is applied universally. Because of this, Spanish sounds like a song and can be spoken at higher speeds, hence more listening difficulties. This one rule though contributes so much to why the Spanish language sounds so seductive to an outsider. It’s probably my favourite language rule so far out of English, Thai, French, and Spanish.

On top of the language barrier, this city is still so estranged to tourism because of its past reputation. We either get stares, or smiles and free beers. We’re either frowned upon or celebrated and there’s no one standing out on the streets offering us a tour of the different cool aspects in town. Our ability to speak Spanish just beyond a beginner level and our receptivity to Colombian customs makes a big difference. As soon as we show some sign that we are here to be influenced and not to oppress, everyone is more understanding and welcoming. That’s what this is all about for me.

This is about keeping myself open to growth and to become the middle man between two strangers and cultures. To break down fear of unfamiliar that is perceived as a threat to my way of living, and to integrate it instead in order to be a better person, to make a more cooperative world, and to help make a better world. How many bombings and terrorist attacks would there be if we stopped trying to compete with each other? How much bitterness would there be if we stopped carving lines in the earth in order to further segregate ourselves? How much happier would we be if we stopped being afraid and learned from each other instead? This is the beginning. As we travel around while we teach English online to Korean business associates, I welcome the challenge and am going to drive to be strong enough to overcome it.

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