Monday, January 24, 2011

Becoming a Bogotano

A teacher once told me, “We are all the authors of the stories of our lives.”

If my time in Colombia holds true to this maxim, then WorldTeach orientation was but a prologue—the real adventure is about to begin.

I contemplated this reality as I sat on the van to Bogotá, watching the other volunteers be dropped off one-by-one at their respective host family homes. This time there would be no returning to the pupí sanctuary of Santa Cruz at the end of the day.

I’m not gonna lie. I was initially apprehensive when I found out I would be living with a host family—I had heard many a host family horror story that I’d rather not repeat.

My Musical Host Parents Maisa and Jorge!
When I watched the final accompanying volunteer get dropped off at her host family home, I found myself in the back of the van, utterly alone. It was then that it hit me how alone I really was. About to move in with a host family in southern Bogotá, I would be the only gringo for miles.

There can be no courage without fear, I told myself as I often do, and no reward without risk.

The van continued to hurdle southward. My eyes burned from the thick smog that pervaded the air. Bogotanos would laugh and throw darts at California’s pansy clean air laws. Global warming and mondongo soup are way more macho.

Every Gringo's worst nightmare
The van traveled so far south that we were barely in Bogotá anymore. Densely-packed buildings gave way to rolling, green hills and clusters of poor-looking homes dotted the landscape. The driver stopped twice to ask for directions, once at a gas station and again outside a random tienda. 

Finally, the van arrived at the gated apartment complex that would be my home for the year’s duration. I knew next to nothing about my host family, save for that it consisted of a teacher, her husband and 9-year old daughter.

Mariania's Thank You Note

After living here for a few days now, all I have to say is that I’ve won the host family lottery. My host mom and dad, Maisa and Jorge are pretty much the epitome of what anyone would want in a host family. They both speak English very well (although they make me speak Spanish with them more often than not) and are really into music. Maisa is the music teacher at the school I will be teaching at and Jorge plays pretty much every instrument known to man. They are exposing me to authentic Colombian music and they said they would teach me how to play guitar, piano and some Colombian flute thing I can’t remember the name of.

One of the biggest fears every expat living with a host family has is that the food is going to suck. This fear was immediately extinguished when Jorge told me on the first day that he comes from a long line of cooks and that cooking is one of his passions. After stuffing my face with delicious arepas, Colombian style eggs and much more, I am more than satisfied in the food department.

One of the things I was most excited about my host family assignment was that I would have a little host sister. Coming from a family of nothing but boys (even the dog is a dude), I was overjoyed at the thought of having a sister. My host sister, Mariana is eight years old, loves Hannah Montana and is totally awesome (despite the fact that she loves Hannah Montana). She doesn’t speak English, so I am forced to speak to her in Spanish (which is good for me). 

Me and Jorge
As a host brother gift, I gave her a journal with some pens I bought in Cota. I was worried she wouldn’t like it, but it just so happens she loves to write and the journal has hardly left her side since she received it. She wrote me a thank you note on one of the journal’s pages and gave it to me. Mariana often tries to tell me chistes (jokes) in Spanish, which go way beyond my bilingual comprehension abilities, so I usually just nod my head and laugh so as not to reveal my gringo-ness.

My room
Mariana suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a degenerative neuromuscular disease that forces her to use a wheel chair to get around. I am trying to learn how to help take apart and reassemble her wheel chair so I can help her get in and out of the car when we go places. The fact that the wheel chair doesn’t seem to faze her is truly inspiring. We are having a birthday fiesta for her this weekend and I am stoked.

My host family has made me feel truly welcome and with them at my back, I am ready to take control of the narrative of my Colombian life.

In other words, I say to Life; bring it.

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