Day Trip to La Calera

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Vista de La Calera

Names of Flowers

The windows of Yes’s trapezoidal living room
display 180 degrees of Andes Mountains and pasture.
I stand beside the glass.
The mist moves so quickly over the hills,
it looks like they are fuming from some indeterminate fire.
I see my reflection superimposed over the smoke.
Am I burning? Can anything grow
from land that weeds have already raked with bad habits?
Yes cares for dogs when their owners are on vacation.
Four-legged friends scamper happily
through the grass, through the yellow flowers
I am sure are dandelions,
or Dientes de Leon, “Lion’s Teeth.”
They are the same as the white ones you blow on,
I explain with certainty to Felipe, who is doubtful.
He is sure they are two different kinds.

No one knows my real name here.
They don’t even know how to pronounce my new one:
most people call me China, which is another way to say
“Girl.” They only see the yellow petals of my newness.
Earlier, Tania and Felipe and I spread out on our bellies in a field,
counting yellow-green spiders. When we tired of talking,
we stuck long-stemmed, purple flowers in our mouths,
as if they had bloomed straight from our lips.

“Yes” is a nickname for Inés. She tells me she loves all
her dogs equally. She is a garden. I call to her,
“Yes!”
“Si!” she responds.
I ask her which bottle of wine she suggests we open next.
“Si!” she responds.
We are somewhere beyond “No.”
Everyone is a flower with their tongue out,
ready for gifts from the sky. The dew
is fond of everything, indiscriminately.
“Girl–” she says to me. “—That is how I say your name, no?”

I knew a man who once planted sunflowers
in a crack in the Minnesota ice.
I saw pictures, but never found out what became of them.
When the brown palates of seeds are too cold to make plans,
when the winter blocks out the light and the blossoms
go cross-eyed trying to figure out where to look,
are they still called, ‘Sunflowers?’
If you plant a woman in a new land,
does she become a girl? New?
Hummingbird ready? How hard
do you have to huff and puff on lions’ teeth
and clenched fists to send them back
to where they came from?
To make the idea of a better self come true?

The sound of this Girl
blows from her lips like dandelion seeds
to my side of the room beside the window.
I am somewhere
between identities planted by strangers
and mountains who couldn’t care less
what you are called;
what they, themselves, are called.

COMIDA

Hola!! I’m sorry, I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been kinda busy and/or too tired by the end of the day to write anything. I’ll try to fill y’all in:

-Monday was El Dia de La Raza, aka Colombus day. Did you know that Colombia get’s a lot of vacation days? See quote from “thevivant.com” :

Here, the top 10 countries that enjoy the most time off (days off total includes both annual leave and public holidays):

1. Russia 40 days off
2. Italy 36
2. Sweden 36
4. Finland 35
4. France 35
4. Norway 35
4. Brazil 35
8. Denmark 34
8. Spain 34
10. Colombia 33

Happy surprise for me, since some friends invited me to go to “La Calera” with them. La Calera is one of the areas up in the mountains. It’s not actually that far, but it’s VERY steep. As the bus– which cost less than $2USD– took us up the mountain, we did see some bikers huffin’ it up beside us, but that sure as hell won’t be me, I’ll tell you that much! The ex girlfriend of my friend’s dad lives and works up there, so we took a day trip to eat, drink, enjoy the beautiful scenery and take a break from the bustling city life.

-Boxing has been going well, though it’s always exhausting. Every other class we’re told to warm up by running up and down the block two times. Easy enough, right? WRONG! Each block is a city block (long) and at about a 45 degree angle! Super steep! It’s going to take some getting used to.

-Teaching is good, but I feel like I haven’t been doing a whole lot of it lately. This month is a temporary situation, which means only ONE class a day Monday through Friday. Monday was no school and Friday was the game against Chile, to qualify for the world cup (which Colombia made it to, by the way!!!) so no students showed up. I just hung out with some other teachers in the quiz room.

-I found a new place to live! The place I’m at now is only temporary, so I’ve known that I had to find somewhere new. Fortunately, I found a beautiful shared house between artists in a tranquil neighborhood not too far from the institute where I teach. I’m very excited to finally be somewhere that I can get settled. I move in about a week.

NOW, AS PROMISED, A POST ABOUT FOOD! I’ve been meaning to get to this, but walking around taking pictures of common street food is kind of like wearing a neon vest that says “TOURIST” on the back. I could have taken more photos, but I think what I’ve got should be sufficient enough to give y’all an idea of what we eat here…

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This is a sign for Ajiaco Santafereño or Ajiaco Bogotano, a hearty stew made with a cream base, three different kinds of potatoes native to the region, corn, onions and capers. SO GOOD!!!!!!!!! It often comes with a plate on the side with rice and avocado.

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This is a typical scene of weekend venders in La Candelaria neighborhood. The orange drink is fresh-squeezed orange juice and the red drink is called Salpicon de Frutas, which is kind of like a fruit cocktail/fruit punch. It varies from vender to vender, but they are usually made from a base of strawberries and or melon with orange, mango, papaya and or pineapple. It’s very sweet and very yummy!
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Uh…. yeah…. I wouldn’t want to fail to show off a good chip display. De Todito is a popular brand, which means “Of Everything.” Last night I bought a bag of chips of that brand, not knowing what to expect. It came with regular chips, plantain chips and these bacon flavored crispy things. Maybe chicharrones? Not sure. Delicious!!
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Corn-based everything is very popular here. On weekends, it’s common to see just straight up, grilled corn.
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Another display of fruits and juices in La Plaza Bolivar.
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This
little girl is selling Obleas, a popular thing to see sold on the street. It’s kind of like a sugar-rush sandwich. The main part is these thin, circular, wafer-like cookies. Between two of them, you usually put arequipe (dulce de leche) and sprinkles. I haven’t had one yet. It looks like diabetes-to-go, if you ask me…_DSC0029b

Here, venders are selling starfruit (the yellow one) and to be honest I’m not sure what that other one is….
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Starfruit and coconuts
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Click
on the photo to enlarge it and read my little translations!!_DSC0083
Plantain
chips
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This is THE most common kind of window display (except for the fact that empanadas, a very common fast food, is MIA). Top shelf: bunuelos. What are they? Mostly just fried balls of dough, though sometimes they have cheese or arequipe (dulce de leche) inside. Middle shelf: far left- I’m noooot sure. More fried goodness. Next over: flaky triangular things. I think it’s going to be called Pastel de ____. Like Pastel de Queso or Pastel de Carne. In the middle are arepas (ah-rape-ahs.) Now before you go chuckling at the name, keep in mind these things are FREAKIN DELICIOUS. AND EVERYWHERE. Yesterday I think I ate three. This particular one has cheese inside, which many do, but some are plain. Some you can buy on the street with ham and or hamburger meat inside. SO GOOD! Next over: more fried stuff. Far right: actually I think those are empanadas. Three words: deep, fried, heaven. They’re usually filled with carne (beef) or pollo (chicken). Not spicy unless you add your own sauce. Bottom row: more bunuelos, it looks like.
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Sure
, Dunkin Donuts can find its way to Bogota, but not Minneapolis. What a weird world we live in… (But hey. Arequipe filled donuts? WIN.)_DSC0127
Comparatively, McDonald’s is SUPER expensive here! Especially when you can get something good if not better for much less! For example, there’s a café around the corner from my house. I can get chicken, rice, potatoes, plantains and salad and
fresh fruit juice and an entrée of fresh soup for 6.500 pesos (under $4USD) when a crappy burger, fries and a soda cost 9.800 pesos (around $5USD). While McDonald’s itself isn’t that popular, I’m constantly seeing people walk around with ice cream cones from there. I’ve seen some McDonad’s Postres around, which means McDonald’s that only sell dessert.
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Another image of a juice vender, on the same block as the institute I teach at.

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Finally, here’s a photo I took with my cell phone of a sign advertising the kind of juices available inside. Translations: Mora – Raspberry;Lulo – Lulo (a citric fruit that makes the BEST juice ever. Kind of like lemonade and pineapple?); Guanabana – Guava ; Naranja – Orange; Maracuya – passion fruit; pina – pineapple; fresa – strawberry; and then I’m not sure about the last part.

OK folks, I must be off. I’m trying to work on reading some books in Spanish, so I don’t feel like a hypocrite telling my students to practice reading in English everyday when I don’t do the same in Spanish.

Until next time!

The Hilton on Calle 73

In need of a bathroom, I enter the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.
It is a structure of high ceilings and frosted glass.
I tuck my chin into my chest, look down
at my black, scuffed-up combat boots
as they squeak on the clean, black marble floor.
Frank Sinatra “My Way” plays out of speakers
built into a fountain cascading over black stone
carved like Venetian blinds. The whole thing
radiates a corporately-chosen blue glow.
As I travel down the river of caviar,
I feel out of place.
Out of the corner of my lowered gaze, I notice her:
white tennis shoes,
pace mirroring mine.
I look up: it is a maid,
surgical mask over her face, gloves on her hands,
directing a push mop.
Directly beside me, she cleans
the floor I walk on.

Of Kittens and Buckets

Aside

OK, so I haven’t been as great about posting poems as I had hoped, but some of the poems are less than stellar, so I don’t want to bother. I HAVE, however, taken some mini photo adventures this week, so I’ll offer those, instead:

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The transmilenio stop closest to my apartment is called “Flores” because it’s a HUGE concentrated area of flower vendors.
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I went for a walk around the neighborhood and found this guy, the guard protecting the aquarium parking lot, or something. After much convincing, I got to take the photo.
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This cute couple waits for a buseta in front of a plaza in my neighborhood.
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My roommates! All 6 of them!
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Rico (AKA “Gordo”) soaks up the sun.
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Beautiful graffiti I found near my apartment. Everywhere is a treasure trove!

OK so I’m gonna run through a quick list of new things going on and then I’m going to get started with my day:
-I joining a boxing gym called “Fight Club Bogota.” I’d say that’s pretty note-worthy.
-My classes are going well and every day I get a little bit more comfortable.
-Yesterday, a friend gave me a lovely tour of a very ritzy neighborhood up on high ground over-looking the city. There were lots of deep sighs and “one day”s.
-All better from the food poisoning incident!! Learning from my mistake and being more careful about the products I buy…
-Working on looking for a new apartment after my temporary situation expires at the end of this month. It’s not my favorite process, particularly because my Colombian cell phone is lousy and it’s hard to hear the person talking on the other end, which is even harder in Spanish!!

In other news, I thought I should share some
Charming Quirks I’ve encountered thus far:
-The yogurt is very liquidy. You drink it out of a cup. It’s pretty much the consistency of cream.
-Lemons do not exist here. There are only limes, which people call “limones” because there’s only one kind. I’ll live.
-Toilet seats are not considered a necessity. Half the time you’ll find them on toilets, half the time you won’t. Come on, ladies, the balancing act isn’t THAT hard!
-The shower at my apartment does not have a drain. One must shower with a bucket between their legs and then empty out the bucket into the toilet after each shower.
That one is my favorite.

All right, kittens. Time to be productive.
Hasta luego, Winnebago.

One Saturday Night

I am not writing this to rouse concern. In fact, I considered not writing anything at all for that very reason, but it’s a decent story and I’m in the business of story telling.

My friend lives about 25 blocks from the Transmilenio stop “Calle 100.” He had called together a group of his friends at his apartment so I could get to know more people here. I prepared chicken, salad and plantains at home before heading out (yum!), bought some wine down the street and head on my way.
By the time I got off the Transmilenio at Calle 100, I was feeling the need to use the bathroom. But hey! I was only about 20 blocks away and then faster I walked, the faster I’d get there. About ten blocks in, my stomach was hurting worse and worse. Vomiting on the side of a major road was not what I had in store for my Saturday night. I told myself to suck it up and keep walking.
Five or so more blocks in and I had to rest at a bus stop shelter, putting pressure on my swollen belly and taking slow, deep breaths. I looked at the street sign– Carrera 63– and then down at my hand where I had written my friend’s address– Carrera 67. I was so close! I got up, walked a half a block more and then I couldn’t take the ache. I for a spot in the grass in the shadows beside a building and curled up on the ground, growing more and more feverish.
What I imagine was approximately five or ten minutes later, I heard a voice.
Estas bien?”
Not wanting to lift my head, I retorted, “SI!” curtly.
A pause.
Mira, trabajo al lado. Esta frio. Quieres ir adentro?” (Look, I work next door. It’s cold. Do you want to go inside?)
It’s not cold! I thought, burning up. Then, I realized this was probably my best chance to get to a bathroom. Finally, I looked up to find a strange silhouette standing over me, backlit by street lights. The man was wearing some sort of over-sized Mad Hatter-shaped hat. Was I delirious? I tried to get up, but was dizzy and wasn’t doing a very good job. He took my purse on one shoulder and threw my arm over his other shoulder. He asked me some questions, but I wasn’t listening. I was just trying to focus on walking.
We entered the place next door, which was a bar. Suddenly, I saw more people with hats: in the light, I could make them out as Kelly green, matching, green polos. By the Irish décor of the place, I came to the conclusion that these were not Mad Hatter hats, but Leprechaun hats acting as some sort of cruel uniform.
“Baño,” I mumble to the Leprechaun of average height walking me in. He leds me up the stairs and through a maze of tables, at which point the majority of the clientele were watching what appeared to be an extremely inebriated girl being assisted to the washroom. “Come on Eileen” was the song playing in the background.
I’ll spare you the details of the next part. Let’s just say my best conclusion is that I had gotten food poisoning from the chicken I bought at the market. I worked on… er… ridding myself of said toxics and then went back down stairs. Another Leprechaun brought me a pint of soda water with lime, which FYI is actually a really good remedy.
I should probably mention that I had no way to be in touch with my friend: his phone had been robbed the day before. Also, as I’m sitting on the red, cushioned bench downstairs, feeling a bit better, I noticed that my friend’s address had been erased from my hand, from excessive hand-washing. It was probably for the best, because I wasn’t particularly in the mood to go to the party from there, anyway. I decided to cut my losses and asked one of the employees to call me a cab. “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order plays in the background as I switch between taking off and putting on my coat, my body temperature switching between hot and freezing.
The taxi came and got me, the staff waved good-bye and I returned home for a night of recovery.
I laid in bed last night thinking about my experiences with Irish Bars over the years: “Wherever,” the bar in Buenos Aires that took a chance hiring an illegal foreigner with less-than-sparkling Spanish; “Kieran’s” in Minneapolis, the welcoming pub that treated me well and helped fund my move down south; and now “The Dublin Irish Pub” in Bogotá. Life has some funny patterns, huh?
By morning, I had pretty much gotten it all out of my system and was feeling much better.
Like I said, I don’t want people back home to worry and I hope sharing this anecdote doesn’t inadvertently do that. I also don’t want you readers to think that I simply had a stroke of good luck. This wasn’t luck: this was proof of the kindness of strangers and, truly, there are reminders all around us. I hope this story acts as a testimony to the remarkable quality of humanity, even if the same can’t be said about its raw meat.

Have faith, live life, help others.

XOXO,
Xena

11.000 Pesos

I have 11.000 pesos in my wallet and there is a man
with no body beneath his knees
sitting on the ground in the middle of the bike lane.
“Sitting” is not quite the word, his left palm
flat on the cracked pavement in front of him
like a baby in position
but too tired to crawl.
There is trash spilled from the side of the road–
torn open by some dog or man searching for a bone–
spread all around him.
His right palm and chin are faced up.
He does not ask for money,
his body language alone requesting help.
He makes eye contact with everyone he can.
He is full grown
but his hands are so small.

On the crowded Transmilenio,
a man boards the bus asking for the people’s attention.
He says he is sorry, that he knows this is bothersome
but he has no other alternative.
He lost his job and cannot find another one.
It’s not fair to his child that he cannot feed him.
Any little bit would be a great help, he says.
He is not selling anything like many do.
He is not even selling his story with gusto or dramatics.
He is selling his pride.
He is not selling anything.

We, change-bearing passengers,
have no way to know is he even has a child:
if he will buy food or drugs,
if he needs or just wants.

I have 11.000 pesos in my wallet
and I don’t know if I will buy food or drugs,
if I buy something because it is a need or just a want,
if every time I eat a piece of bread when I am not really hungry
someone’s stomach eating itself a bit more
should be on my conscience.

Them being born without,
me being born with:
isn’t that just how the cards fall?

One being born with,
one being born without:
isn’t that how a good man falls?

It is so much easier to suspect these people
are con-artists and liars,
fuck-ups and free-loaders,
than to put ourselves in their lack of shoes.
It is easier to suspect that they don’t deserve our charity,
than to wonder if we deserve what is ours.

So we, with pockets full of more than crumbs,
pretend we don’t see them;
stare straight ahead as they graze their fingers
along our pant legs.
We pretend we don’t hear them,
use our headphones–
which cost more than they will have all month for food–
as the culprit for our deafness.

It is easier to not see them at all,
than to address the disparities between us.
It is easier to feel entitled,
hateful, inculpable.
It makes it easier
to sleep at night.