Monday, December 26, 2011

Ibagué, Colombia (siete)

So, the last few weeks have been unusual, firstly in that I had a visitor! My friend Annie visited for just under a week at the beginning of December, which although brief was really lovely. Having been away for so long, seeing someone from back home that knows more about my family, friends and life other than just what I’ve told them was great. Although it also reminded me of what I was missing and has made me look forward to going home even more. I’m still happy to be here though, and it was nice to be able to show someone around where I live and do some sight-seeing together. We did some of the main attractions in Bogotá – Museo del Oro, Museo de Botero, Monserrate and, what was probably the highlight of the trip, a fancy meal at Andres Carne de Res D.C, with the best steak I’ve had since leaving Buenos Aires and a delicious Malbec to accompany it. We also spent a couple of days in Ibagué, where I introduced Annie to Karin and Carole, we took a trip to the museum, had a couple of meals out and saw the Christmas lights festooning Plaza Bolivar.

I was also working shorter hours the week before last, as Por Amor a Ti weren’t serving meals in the run-up to Christmas as they had a lot to sort out, so I was just holding English lessons and activities. The reason the foundation has been so busy was the annual Christmas party, held last Sunday. The children all get presents at the party, mostly clothes, so as there are only two members of staff other than me and Rey’s Mum, Doña Rosalba (who mostly does the cooking), they had to be out-and-about buying clothes for over 70 kids.

The party itself was a lot of fun; we spent the day at an out-door pool and play area with water slides, a lake and a playground among other things. We had lunch, there was a band playing Christmas songs and the kids all got given their presents. I got a tan, the first time ever for me in December. It felt pretty weird having only 6 days to go until Christmas and hanging out by the pool in a bikini, but I am definitely not complaining!

I am now officially on holiday and I spent last week in full-on relax mode. I got some English books out from the library (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Gioconda Smile by Aldous Huxley), and just read for two days straight, which was a real treat. I did my Christmas shopping, met up with Carole for coffee and ice-cream, and managed to sleep in past 9am a couple of times too. I also attended two novenas: (derived from the number 9, there are nine novenas from the 16th December until the 24th), people attend them with family, friends and neighbours, hymns and carols are sung, prayers are said and cake and sweets are served.

And then, before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve! In Colombia they celebrate Christmas, or Navidad, at the stroke of midnight on the 24th December, so we spent the day with Olga Lucia’s family, and then came back to our apartment in the afternoon for a siesta before heading back over to her Mum’s house for 10pm. There we had the final novena before opening the presents (I think traditionally presents are opened later on but we had three eager children who couldn’t wait that long), and eating the festive sweet natilla accompanied by buñuelos. We sat down for dinner at 11.50pm, which was pavo – turkey, with the meat taken out, processed with herbs and spices and put back in the skin to be boiled and roasted, from what I could see of the cooking process – which was good, especially with the fig sauce that accompanied it, plus mashed potatos with peas mixed in. Not the mountain of food that I’m accustomed to but at that hour it was just the right amount and I couldn’t have eaten more. At midnight we heard the firecrackers being let off outside and everybody wished each other a Feliz Navidad, and then after an hour or so of chatting, we headed home and I went to bed, quite content.

Yesterday was Christmas Day and after a nice chat with my family on Skype – they’d just finished eating Christmas dinner and were starting on the pudding – I again spent the day with Olga Lucia and her family, first by the pool and then back at our apartment, having left-overs for lunch, watching TV and eating natilla. To me yesterday felt more like Christmas as it was more similar to what we do at home, minus the pool!

I also packed my rucksack yesterday for mine and Carole’s trip to the Carribbean coast; we leave this evening and I’m very excited! We’ll be spending New Year’s Eve up there and I’m looking forward to seeing in 2012 with balmy temperatures and a cocktail in-hand. It’s unlikely I’ll be updating this blog before I get back so, PROSPERO AÑO NUEVO to you all, I'll see you next year!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Ibagué, Colombia (seis)

It's been a quiet couple of weeks; my friend Annie is coming to visit me tomorrow (estoy tan emocionada!) so I'm trying to save what little money I have by not leaving the house and instead trying to go to the gym regularly, attempting NaNoWriMo (it didn't go well, I only managed about 3,000 words) and watching endless TV, which doesn't really make for great blogging material.

So, as I've not been doing much, I thought I'd outline a typical day for me, here in Ibagué:

I wake up around 8am, shower, have breakfast and pack my bag for the day - a bottle of filtered tap water (I can't drink the water at my project as it makes me ill), my teaching materials, plus phone, keys, etc. I get the lift down from my flat, get buzzed out of the building by whichever security guard is on duty and walk up the road to la 4a to catch my bus. The great thing about the busetas (as they're called) here is that you can flag them down anywhere on their route, so I don't have to walk too far. I catch the number 6, boarding the buseta through the turnstile at the front and paying the standard fare of $1400, which is about 50p.

The radio is nearly always playing and I normally try to get a window seat so I can look out at the city as we drive through it. The journey takes between 20 minutes and half an hour and we pass through the centre of Ibagué, and then down into the barrio where my project is based. It's one of the poorer neighbourhoods and you can tell, from the size and state of the houses and from the potholes in the road (although to be fair that's not saying much as there are potholes everywhere in Colombia). I ding the bell at the back of the bus to request my stop (again anywhere on the route) and get out.

My project, Por Amor a Ti, is based at the family home of Rey, my manager, and his Mum, who cooks the food, plus his brother and his brother's son. Rey's sister-in-law lives nearby and occasionally helps out, and his nieces and nephew come over regularly to see Rey and their grandmother. I normally arrive at the project around 9.30am to set up the room that we use as a classroom, which is the main reception room of the house. I normally teach between 3-8 children at one time, sometimes more. I teach every day - Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the older kids and Tuesday and Thursday for the younger ones.

After class I help set up the dining room - a covered courtyard at the centre of the house, arranging tables and stools, and getting the drinks ready - fresh juice with at least a kilo of sugar mixed in that I pour into cups and hand out. We can seat about 30 kids at one time and normally have at least two and half sittings between 11.30am and 12.30pm, which is when we serve lunch. Lunch for the kids can be soup or beans, almost always served with rice and sometimes plantain or potatoes.

After we've served the kids, I get lunch, some soup generally and always rice with vegetables or stew. I take my lunch break between 12.30pm and 2pm depending on when the kids arrive, and I spend it preparing lessons or updating the site and facebook page I created for the project. Then I teach again, tidy up the classroom and head home around 4.30pm.

After work I sometimes meet up with Karin and Carole, either in town, or we'll walk to Carole's house which is about 15 blocks out from the centre. There we'll eat, chat and sometimes watch a film. We sometimes get our nails done (it's so cheap here, only $5000, which is around £1.65!) or we might go out for coffee or food. Otherwise I'll head home and watch two hours of 30 Rock, Community and Seinfeld whilst also browsing the internet and updating my tumblr, which is boring for you all to read about, but pretty fun for me! Then I'll read my book (currently Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky), update my diary and head to bed around 10pm.

And then I do it all again the next day!