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Machismo Curtails Drug Sales

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Before I arrived to Colombia in 2010, I watched a lot of “Locked Up Abroad” on Nat Geo. Ninety percent of the episodes were about foreign drug mules getting caught by Colombian authorities. I had to stop watching the shows because the idea of going to a Latin American jail scared the mierda out of me. Drugs. Cocaine. Trafficking. Narcos. Mules. Was I going to be the next sap? I would have liked to have thought that I knew how to handle myself in Latin America. After all, I had already lived in Ecuador, Chile, and Paraguay. However, at least on television, even the brightest of foreigners seemed to be lured in by the drug industry.

Seven years later, the good news is I have never been offered any kind of drug in Cartagena and I have only seen the outside of the women’s jail. It is hard to miss being that it is right next to Plaza San Diego, a great place to eat and buy local handicrafts. My male friends indicate that machismo is the reason for my drug naivety. They all have been offere…

Coming Out of Hiding

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I am finally coming out of hiding. I have not written in more than 4 years on this blog despite the fact that I still live in Cartagena. Working at a bilingual private school and getting married muffled my voice so only I could hear it. Thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for years, but I usually saved the water downed versions as examples for my students' writing assignments. I always wanted them to be able to express themselves as well as possible, so they would be heard. I learned a great amount from those students who truly tried to communicate and reach another human being.

Despite all the entertaining garbage I wade through on my phone,  I  still believe that a well-written, heartfelt article can float to the top, be remembered, and provide a lesson.  An article can refocus someone and provide an impetus of change. Right now on the Colombian news feeds, Trump is throwing paper towels to people in need. Yes, it is vulgar, but instead of screaming at the screen and …

Teaching to Win

Teaching is the most humane activity I know. To deny knowledge is to be selfish and greedy. Every day, I see ignorance among a people that do not yearn to know the truth. They experience it daily: corruption mixed with savage capitalism. All they want is to know is how to play so, they cannot just survive, but also enjoy the peace of mind of getting paid and paying bills on time. These simple pleasures I have always enjoyed only because I was educated and groomed to play a game my family already knew how to win.

Today, I visited a community center, Granitos de Paz, in the one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Cartagena called Oyala. It is not in the outskirts of town, but almost in the geographical center of the city. There are a mix of wood shacks and cement homes, asphalt and dirt streets, and open storm sewers filled with stagnant water and garbage. Homes have high cement barriers at the doors because in the rainy season, the whole area will flood. The children at the community…

Giving Gracias

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are the top ten things I am thankful for while living in Cartagena…

10. Skin Cancer- Even though my skin is turning into leather and white spots are forming on my skin, I still love the happiness and energy the sun gives me. 

9. My Students- Despite their erratic work ethic, they always have a smile on their faces and never complain if I forget something or have to cancel class. 

8.The Ex-Pats- There is a good group of Peace Corps Volunteers, language teachers, and FBI´s most wanted that create a lively, intellectual and not- so- wholesome atmosphere. 

7. The Lunch Ladies – Every day, I eat lunch at the university and barely indicate what I want to eat. They know that I am laying off the rice and beef soup, prefer lentils to beans and to forget the fish on Fridays.  

6. Personal Body Guards-  Outside my house there are some great men that I know would help me in an emergency or robbery. They are the doormen of my building, self-employed parking lot atten…

All I Ever Wanted to Be Was A Peace Corps Volunteer: Dedicated to Margarita Sorock

Everyone, Colombian and American, always asks me if I like Cartagena and how long am I going to stay. It seems surprising to both sides that I like it here. When the heat mixes with sewer gases and I have just finished fighting with a taxi driver, I find it surprising too. But then, a few minutes later, when I see the Caribbean and its fishermen straight out of Hemingway´s Old Man and the Sea, floating along a wall the Spanish built 300 years ago, I remember why I am here. However, it is not because of the beauty of the city or sea. Beauty does not replace family, friends, or culture. It does not hide crime, poverty, or corruption.  I am here because all I have ever wanted to be is a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Magarita Sorock, a volunteer in Colombia in the 1960s and current resident of Cartagena, stated this at a party. Her audience was current and former PCVs, a motley crew drinking beers and talking about American politics and the conditions of the schools they worked in; a scenario tha…

Patience Will Drive You Nuts

Cartagena has taught me that patience is cultural. What drives me crazy as an American doesn’t seem to make Cartageneros blink. What makes them restless is completely normal to me.  As I patiently wait in line, the locals are pushing and yelling unless there is an armed guard. If there is a red light or a very short traffic jam, drivers and passengers are beeping their horns and insulting anyone within earshot. At a corner store, if I don’t speak up and push a grandmother out the way to pay, she will do it to me. When it comes to food, traffic and money, it’s survival of the fittest. Waiting is for the weak. 

As lines make Cartageneros crazy, waiting in any and every other way drives me up the wall, across the ceiling, and back down the other wall. However, I never show it. I would never have any Colombian friends if I did. One day, I waited for 2.5 hours in front of supermarket waiting for each member of the group to show up. No one seemed to mind. Waiting for friends and family is no…

No English. No Service. No Customers.

As I was walking in the historic center of Cartagena, I found a frantic woman asking me if I spoke English and if I could help her find her hotel. She was an American about 60 years old, completely baffled by the confusing colonial streets. She said she approached several police officers and vendors, but no one spoke English so she really started to panic. Eventually, we found her little hotel. Her family was waiting for her with very grateful looks on their worried faces. They wanted to give me money and take me out to dinner for my troubles. I refused, but it got me thinking of why this situation even occurred.

It was the fact that English has not been taught to the people. Cartagena's developers want the city to become an international destination. They are from the larger more metropolitan cities, Bogota and Medellin, and have smoothed talked international investors.  There are already beautiful boutique hotels and excellent restaurants. Shopping is improving. Currently, the I…