Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Second Chances

As proud as I was about the poetic nature of my "I'm leaving" post back in January, it pains me slightly to have to renege on it now. (I mean, there were songs lyrics involved!!!)

Regardless, circumstances have changed slightly and I have been given an opportunity which I feel I need to take. Before anything even occurred locally, it was clear the openings for biology teachers were scarce at best (or very rural and also involved chemistry or something I am not interesting/certified in teaching). Secondly, and coincidentally, the person the school hired at the recruiting fair in February decided not to come. Suddenly my position was open again. To sweeten the deal, the school is partnering with a graduate school program and hopefully forming a cohort of faculty members to work toward it together from Colombia, while covering part of the cost.

In the end, I enjoying living here and wasn't exactly ready ready to leave after only two years. Professional practices and policies that I don't agree with can be dealt with; I can be a "yes man" for a couple years if that's what it takes. Most importantly, I adore the kids. There are definitely tough days, not everyone is a studious and interested angel, but in the end they are wonderful people who will be the leaders of their city, country, and beyond. I love them for who they will become and what potential they have.

If those don't factor into a reason for re-signing my contract, I'm worse at proverbial math than I thought! Either way, I'll be in Colombia for a couple more years so if you were snapping your fingers because you thought you missed your chance to visit, well, it's your second chance too!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Runways & Running

What do fashion models, children living in poverty, river bathing, and getting body-checked have in common? They were all part of my abnormally entertaining weekend!

Starting Saturday, my roommate, Nira, and I went to an event to benefit CreeSer, a foundation aimed to help children living in areas of Cali below the poverty line with schooling and getting a good diet. It was started by a recent graduate of Colegio Bolívar, Mariana Cobo, who now attends the University of Virginia and continues her work with the organization from afar.

The event turned out to be a fashion show with collections from three Colombian designers: Hugo Puentes, Lulu Borrero, and Jhon Mesias. I've never been to a runway show before, so I didn't what to expect, other than the fact that Tyra Banks would be judging the models afterward and one of them would "no longer be in the running for America's Next Top Model." What I did not expect was to see some of my current and former students in the show! Sitting there on the side of the catwalk looking down it's length, the first one emerged from behind the wall and I thought, "Wow, that looks a lot like...is it?...it is!!!" Fortunately, none of them were hired to model the barely-there "beach-wear." Some of them were really nervous but no one fell and they all looked great! Also, note to self, everyone looks taller on a runway.

On Sunday, in the wee hours of the morning (try 3:30am) I got a cab and headed to the house of my friend and counselor at school, Adriana, to head to the small city of Pereira to run a 1/2 Marathon with her brother and a few students. Two of the students, Camilo and Juan Sebastian, both seniors, were already in Pereira. The other two, Diana and Manuela, both juniors, rode from Cali with us. I ran the full marathon in Calima with Adriana and the boys back in October, but this was the first road race for the girls who are basketball and soccer players, respectively. Oh, and there were the three body guards too; one was driving our car and the other two followed in another.

The course was all through the city, across the famous Viaducto César Gaviria Trujillo (the longest cable-stayed bridge in Colombia), into the neighboring village of Dosquebradas, and back to Pereira. Traversing the bridge (at right - I stole this from Wikipedia) was by far the best part of the run, with the exception of the exhaust from the buses passing by. Unlike the marathon in Calima, this one was not through the country-side so there were plenty of spectators along the entire route; since running is not a popular sport here in Colombia they could be considered "gawkers" as well. Because of this, I lost count of the number of times I got called "mono" or "gringo" along the way. As my eyes were fixed to the road ahead, I would undoubtedly hear "Aye! Mira! Es un gringo! Vamo' mono! Vamo'!" I kept thinking how weird that would be in the States if an Asian man was running down the street and someone started yelling "Look at the guy from China! Go Asian man! Go!" I just can't see it!

I finished in 35th place with a time of 1 hour 28 minutes 22 seconds. The course was quite hilly and the elevation higher than that of Cali by about 400m. Also, this guy that I had passed about 2 km from the end came sprinting back right as we rounded the corner for the finish and completely body-checked me! Running is not a contact sport last time I checked and, if you are going to pass someone, the proper way to do it is to go around the outside, not squeeze in between the curb and the runner, shoving them in the process. Regardless, it was a personal best by over seven minutes; I'm looking forward to the full marathon in Duluth, MN, when I get back Stateside at the end of June!

In the end, everyone finished, including one of the body guards, in one piece, and we all had stories to tell. The crazy drunk lady, the black dog that tried to attack everyone, the lady who cheated by cutting a block, the "spitter," etc. After the run, we went and found a spot in one of the many mountain rivers to wash off in and then headed back to Cali, completely spent!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Say What?

One of the fun things about living in a place where English is not the primary language, other than learning the new one, is discovering words that do not exist in English. Most of these discoveries occur organically through incidental conversation. Other time it happens when a student is attempting to translate something and asks what the English word is, in Spanish. This second option usually results in a round of charades followed by a polling of the class. Eventually, I figure out what they are talking about, but still can not answer their question.

A few examples off the top of my head:

Pequeca In English, we just say "stinky feet smell" or "foot odor." In Spanish (or at least Colombian Spanish) there is a word to describe this particular odor. Since learning it, I have heard it used to describe anything that stinks, but it always stinks "like pequeca."

Estrenar This verb is a fun one since it is very limited in it's use. It means literally, "to wear for the first time." I guess in English we ask a similar question: Are those new shoes? Clearly though, we do not have a verb explicitly for such an occasion.

Vaso Sometimes when I run, I get a "side cramp" or a "side stitch." In reality, this is not very specific for this pain could be anywhere on my side. This word, I learned during our recent Anatomy Unit, refers specifically to the type of side cramp one gets in the lower side of the abdomen, nearish to the spleen. Incidentally, spleen in Spanish is "bazo" which, as one of my brighter students pointed out to me, is a "homophone not by coincidence."

You have to love the things you "learn" from your students...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears!

This might come as a bit of shocking news. I've lived in Cali for coming up on two years now, I have had an unhealthy fascination with nature since birth, and I've yet to visit what is considered one of the best zoos in all of South America right here in Cali. I'm still trying to figure out how I allowed that to transgress as long as it had!

Last weekend a few friends from school and I decided that now was the time to go! Sarah and Justin, along with their seven month old, Claire, and my roommate, Nira, all headed to the far western side of the city to the Zoológico de Cali. The beautiful facility is nestled along the mountainside and traversed by several tributaries of the Rio Cali, adding not only a beautiful backdrop to visit the zoo's creatures, but also a constant and pleasant background noise to accompany your walk along the winding paths.

The zoo had quite the selection of animals, including a few that I'd never seen in person before, such as a giant anteater, which, even when curled up in a sleeping ball, is impressive. We saw a strange "sitting bird" (at right) and some scarlet ibises in the bird aviary as well as a plethora of stunning butterflies and a chrysalis or two that would have made some jewelry jealous in the butterfly atrium.

And, yes, there were lions, tigers, and bears there. In fact, the bears came from as far north as Alaska! Grizzlies in South America, not something you see every day!