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Soccer Will Do That To You

November 15, 2011

Some torrential rain, a traffic jam, and a shared love of  soccer is all it took to make me fall back in love… with Colombia.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been in what I’ll call a “cultural  funk”. For those of you who have done a couple tours of field work, studying or
working abroad you know what I’m talking about.

First you have a honeymoon period for about 3 weeks where you view your  adopted country with gooey eyes, like a new lover, it can do nothing  wrong.  Then slowly something starts  creeping in and oh, it’s the memory of your last love, your home country, and homesickness  sets in (Stage 2). This period usually lasts about a week or so and during this time  it’s not like you have lost any love for your adopted country; it’s just that  all you can think about is the hole in your heart for everything that is “home”.  You muddle along with no real purpose until  you find your way into the next stage (Stage 3) , crankiness.

This is the most dangerous of stages, when all of the things you first found adorable about your adopted country and its people,  now drive you crazy. You go back to seeing everything from your own cultural  perspective and forget everything you’ve learned about being open to other  cultures.  Everything just drives you crazy and you want to sit at home and watch TV and not talk to anyone. So this is where I’ve
been the past couple weeks.

Whenever I ask a question to a colleague here, they give me an impish look and find every way imaginable to avoid giving an answer. I used
to find this charming, but this week, oh.. this week I wanted to rip my hair out. Just give me some information! Just tell me what time the meetings start,  or what I have to do there, or what hotel they are in, or even what CITY they are in (true story from this week).  The
fact that everyone is hours late for everything  hadn’t bothered me until now, but this week, sitting in my hotel room  ready to go, not being able to check out the towns I was in, but not being able  to get to the meetings on my own either, all I wanted was one day where I could
control my own schedule.  At lunchtime, I  just wanted to know why the guy beside me got 2 potatoes and an avocado with
his lunch while I had one measly potato and no avocado. The nonsense of it all was once  intriguing, but now I just wanted some good old North American reasonableness.  And my visit to the southern city of Cali this weekend, that’s  another post all on its own but from the Lonely Planet’s “Cali is not an  immediately likeable city” to rave reviews I received from friends I wasn’t sure  what to think. Now if I had of been in Stage 1 (let’s call that “country lust”), I  probably would have thought the run-down, desolateness of the place was  charming but instead all I could see were the bars on all the windows and  doorways and at the risk of sounding like Jeff Foxworthy’s “If X….You might be  a redneck”, all I could think of was my friends’ rave reviews of the city as  justifications of why it really isn’t SO awful and kept saying to myself, “If your  city is so dangerous you need bars across the doorways of open stores…it might be a craphole”  (I mean the stores are open but you can’t go in,  you need to tell the storekeeper on the other side of the bars what you want).  Now I realize this is a bit harsh and culturally insensitive, but this is what  happens in Stage 3. No one can do anything right, and everything about your  home country is perfect. It’s a dangerous time but if you hang in there, it’s  well worth it and you’ll come out much better on the other end, maybe you’ll  never find that original lust you once had but you’ll find your way to a deeper,  long-lasting love for your country, and this is where the magic really starts…

So finally this afternoon, I started to emerge from Stage 3 into  the comfort of a long-term relationship; I left work a bit early because it was
one of these particularly rainy days in Bogota.  The weather in Bogota is quite the trickster  and although I should know better by now, sometimes I still fall for its tricks.  I will wake up to a beautiful,  sun-filled, clear-sky and leave the house without a raincoat, knowing full well  it will pour rain later that day. But sometimes I just can’t do it, I just can’t  head out in rain gear on a beautiful day. I say to myself, “it just can’t be  possible that this beautiful day will end with gray skies and a downpour” but  sure enough, as unbelievable as it is, later that day I find myself stuck
downtown in the pouring rain.

On these days,  about the time our roof starts leaking and it’s actually raining in our office,  is about the time I decide to head out and figure out how to get home. The  streets in the old town quickly become flooded, traffic grinds to a halt, and transport
is next to impossible to find.  So  although I was tricked by the weather again today at least I knew enough to  head out before rush hour.  I quickly
found a cab and we made our way to join the rest of the cars sitting on the main  avenue, the Septima.  As unimaginable as
it is, that’s when the magic started.  We  only moved about 2 blocks in 20 minutes, we were stuck in the middle of intersections with  traffic trying to go both directions, and horns were honking all around us…so  what brought the magic to this scenario?


We were smack in the middle of  a game between Colombia and Argentina and so although we couldn’t move, we  could listen to the lively play-by-play on national radio, as were the  occupants of all of the cars around us.  We chit-chatted about the plays and then, all of the sudden  GOOOOOLLLLLLL and the sound was deafening….every vehicle on the Avenue erupted  in drawn-out honking and everyone pumping their arms in their respective cars, the  radio station cut from announcing to high-energy salsa and my driver Aridelfo  and I couldn’t stop laughing….and that moment was all it took to bring me back  to my love affair, with Colombia.

Now I’m back home, safe from the torrential downpour and am settling  in for a cross-cultural but cozy night at home, I just finished watching the
rest of the game and sadly, Argentina won 2-1, next I’m onto my North American comfort, an episode of the Kardashians. Cozy in my new
Colombian-Canadian uniform; I’ve adopted 3 pieces of jewelry from the Embera  women that I now wear everyday, along with a truckload of LuluLemon, and an old  red shirt my mom found somewhere that says “Canadian Chicks Rule”.

I think Colombia and I have something really  special.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2011 10:45 am

    awesome allison! i loved this post. so glad you’re settling in. and at least the rain isn’t snow…colombia has that on canada!

  2. November 17, 2011 1:00 pm

    Thanks Sarah! But you know me and snow : ) In my opinion Canadian snow versus Colombian rain is definitely a 1-0 win for Canada : ) Thanks for reading and for the comments!!

  3. alanna permalink
    December 3, 2011 8:41 am

    Just spent the last 20 minutes reading through the posts I had missed – this one was particularly warming! Glad to hear that things are going well for you there now that you are out of Stage Three! I had a chuckle because that is EXACTLY what it is like! I am also impressed with the reactions that you are getting from the women in Columbia – I hope that as your time there progresses, you can see the changes unfolding in those women!

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