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These are the People in Your Neighbourhood: A Little Bit about my Life in Bogota

December 14, 2011

As always, there is a lot going on in Bogota these days. One of the major events this past week was the country-wide march in support of the release of FARC hostages, some of whom have been held captive by the guerrillas for many years.   Here in Bogota, the main streets were closed and people marched all day, carrying Colombian flags, wearing t-shirts that said “Colombian I am” and chanting “No Mas FARC” (no more FARC).

After several weeks of rains, the rivers and streets finally hit their breaking points last week and a state of emergency was declared here in Bogota (Colombian News Updates on Floods in Cundinamarca Province).  The Bogota river was flooded and thousands of residents in the south of the city were unable to return to their homes.

Wednesday night was the turning point in these crazy rains, it was the night of the “velitas” or little candles, when residents put candles in their windows and along their porches and people head out into the streets to see them (Dia de las Velitas).  The following day is a an official holiday celebrating the Inmaculada Conception (the immaculate conception of Jesus)(Feast of the Immaculate Conception).  It also marks the beginning of Christmas festivities.

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot since moving to Bogota is that for a big city it really knows how to do “Neighbourhood”.  Not to slag my adopted city of Toronto, as I came to love my neighbourhood there and all of its waterfront festivals and concerts.  But this is a bit different, instead of feeling like we’re trying to “bring back Neighbourhood” or working to have a neighbourhood feel, it’s just there.  I’ve only been here for 3 months and already there have been several occasions when the neighbourhood has been alive with people. Our street is called El Parkway (pronounced in a manner that does not in any way resemble “Parkway”), and as its name suggests, we have a park that runs the length of our street.  This is where the action happens.  On Halloween I went out with my roommate Clara and we handed out treats to the little ones who were participating in various activities along the park. On Sundays the neighbourhood is particularly alive. Many streets in Bogota are closed off to vehicular traffic every Sunday for the “ciclovia”; when bikers, walkers, joggers, and roller-bladers get to take over the usually busy streets.

Last Wednesday night the neighbourhood was at its best with the velitas. The parkway was full of people, dogs, and life in general. There were people selling hot drinks, snacks and of course, candles.  There were little candles lining the entire length of the park and watching revelers light the candles was beautiful.  Standing at one end of the park and looking down was almost magical. In the middle of the park there was a Brazilian music band that was drumming and dancing.  The drumming was very moving.  I don’t know why but something about the dancing, togetherness, and constant beat was very emotional, almost overwhelming.  The band invited us to join them and we walked behind them the length of the park, gaining neighbours as we went.

Las Velitas

Lighting Candles Along El Parkway, Bogota

Singing Carols in our Neighbourhood, night of las Velitas

Lanterns Lit along El Parkway

Drumming and Dancing in our neighbourhood, December 7th, 2011

Drumming in the Neighbourhood, El Parkway

Heading up the Parkway with the Drummers

Maybe it was thanks to all of this sunny, positive energy, maybe not, but the next morning we woke up to what would be 4 straight days of sunshine, something I had yet to experience in Bogota.

There is a huge artisanal market in Bogota at the moment, said to be the most important in Latin America (Expoartesanias 2011). I took advantage of the holiday Thursday and spent the day there.  There were 8 buildings of handiwork, workshops, and traditional food. I had planned to attend workshops all day but there was just too much shopping to do.  There was an entire building of products from the various indigenous groups in Colombia, which is obviously where I spent my time and made more than a few purchases. I participated in one music and dance workshop where I learned some traditional dancing from the Llanos region to the east of here (Llanos Region).

Traditional Music and Dancing from the Llanos Region, workshop at Expoartesanias.

Another part of Bogota life I’ve had the chance to experience here is great house parties.  My first house party in Bogota was during my first weekend in Bogota, which also happened to be my birthday.  My roommates were very sweet and made sure I had a special day filled with friends even though I’d only been here one week.  We headed out to lunch with some of their friends and then to a concert. However, after waiting for 3 hours for the concert to start we gave up and decided to look for somewhere where the action had already started.  We were wandering along the streets of the Candelaria when all of the sudden there was a friendly blond lady hanging out a door waving to us.  She was a friend of one of the girls in our group and said she was having a party and invited us in.  From the outside you would never have known there was such a beautiful house inside but once through the doors it was architectural and design heaven.  It was an old fashioned South American house built around an open centre area with rooms lining the side, like the description of the family home in the House of Spirits, or for those of you who were with me in Monsieur Robichaud’s grade 8 class, the Argentinian farmhouse in Fierro, l’ete des secrets. The rooms were beautiful and she had them decorated with art and other treasures from Tibet, South America, and everywhere else. It was part house-part museum and exactly how I picture our house when I finally *settle* in somewhere.  The cozy kitchen was already filled with people, dancing, and warmth.  They made us feel right at home and brought us bring us drinks and food right away.  When they found out it was my birthday everyone started singing Happy Birthday in English and our host brought me a piece of Spanish Tortilla with a candle in it.  We then spent hours dancing to wonderful latin music in their kitchen.

Impromptu Birthday Cake: Spanish Tortilla at my first house party in Bogota.

My second Bogota house party was this Saturday. It did not disappoint.  This time was a bit different and served as my introduction to the gay community in Bogota. It was the big-pink-fabulous birthday party of our upstairs neighbour Miguel.  We were all asked to wear pink (this was not a problem for me).  They had decorated the entire flat in pink; pink boas, pink glitter, even the kitchen cupboards had been painted pink for the occasion! Drink choices were all pink. The cake was pink. There were also non-pink snack options, including hot dogs served by hired servers.  Pretty much everyone had complied with the pink wardrobe requirement. One of my favourites was a man in a pink I’m Free To Be Me t-shirt. The whole night was fabulous, lots of dancing and music and new friends.  All-in all it was a heartwarming, inclusive, and very fabulous night in our neighbourhood and  although it’s not yet New Year’s Eve I have resolved that when I get home, I will definitely throw more parties; pink or otherwise.

My roommate Lucas and I ready for the Pink Party

Early in the Dancing, Pink Party

Dance Floor at the Pink Party

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kevin McPhee permalink
    December 14, 2011 12:23 pm

    Looks like lots of fun Allison. I wish my visits were longer.

  2. Melissa Kruger permalink
    December 14, 2011 3:14 pm

    Love your blog Allison!

  3. December 15, 2011 5:27 am

    Me too! I always look forward to your posts.

  4. Annie permalink
    December 18, 2011 11:47 am

    Love it! Thanks for another great update 🙂

  5. EGT permalink
    December 31, 2011 6:57 pm

    Hi Allison, I loved this blog about an authentic neighborhood feel opposed to trying to create one, also the shopping sounded fun 🙂 Great blog! Can’t wait to hear about your hiking trip 🙂

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