I skipped the August Blogging Abroad photo challenge because it didn’t really inspire me, but I was back at it for September with the theme of #mytown. Please enjoy this little tour of my town in Colombia!
I decided to go to the home of one of the most influential institutions in my town for the window prompt. I went mid-day mid-week, and while the main doors were locked, I found the little garden entrance. I made sure to ask the doorman if I could enter. I did not bother asking him if I could also climb the creaky wooden spiral stairs up to the choir loft to take this picture. They squeaked enough and felt rickety enough that I was a little nervous, but the belltower is above that, so I knew they needed to be safe enough. The garbage can at the top was also reassuring.
Both of the most popular forms of transportation in my town can be seen here: motos and buses. I count 8 motos; if you were to take the left at the intersection, you’d arrive at one of my schools. That makes this intersection particularly busy. Motos are used to transport anyone and anything – I’ve seen men carrying 15′ rebar, infants, a screaming child in the arms of its wailing mother, 5 people, my puppy, and my bike. There are two bus lines that come through town. The one not shown has yellow buses and takes a route closer to the sea. It’s excruciatingly slower if you’re trying to get to the main city, but the best option to get to one of the touristy areas of my town or the university cooridor. The one shown here is what I take most of the time, and it zooms up the highway.
Gardens must exist here, but I’ve never seen one. My host mom likes flowers a lot, though, so this is what she’s got going on in the back patio. It was gorgeously lush and in blossom back in July; I don’t know what has happened to it since. Maybe the dog? I know he gets in there sometimes…
This is a common sign “Hay bolis.” Bolis are like homemade freeze pops, but they’re much thicker and shorter than the ones you know in the United States. They’re about the height of pop cans, but not quite as thick. They come in local flavors like mango, raspberry, passionfruit, tamarind…and at 300 pesos, they’re about 10 cents a pop. They’re ubiquitous enough that a frequent joke is to yell to visitors waiting at the door “no hay bolis” – “there are no bolis.”
I actually took this picture before I got this prompt for the photo challenge because I thought that character was so funny – what’s it really supposed to be? It’s got a condom hat, but it is certainly not the male anatomy (which is for the best). Anyway, the mural is by the hospital in my town and is promoting a “friendly” health service for youth to prevent teen pregnancy. The current adolescent fertility rate in Colombia is 5.2%; while almost double that of the United States, it is a full percentage point lower than the rest of Latin America. There’s a greater implication to the trajectory of a teen’s life as the result of pregnancy here than in the States: teen moms here are less likely to finish school and less likely to work outside the home.
In my coastal Colombian town, there are three major cell phone providers, two dish networks, and one cable provider. Throughout town there are tons of spots to recharge your cell phone with minutes and data from any of the carriers (the vast majority of people use pay-as-you-go plans instead of prepaid). The biggest catch is that carriers here have strict restrictions on how their minutes are used and can’t make calls to one another. For that reason, my host family uses one carrier for their landline, and another for their cell phones. For that reason also, there are places alllll over where someone has multiple phones for different carriers and sells phone calls for 100 pesos a minute (3 cents). You find them, ask them to call xx carrier, give them the number, they dial, then you make your call and pay for the minutes used. Yeah, it’s a pain.
Perhaps the surprising thing about my town in Colombia is the presence of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. They are doing some real recruiting efforts here that I haven’t seen since I was really young and the missionaries seemed to come by our house all the time. I was really hoping I’d run into the Mormon missionaries and be able to ask for a picture of them for this one, but the only time I did it was nighttime and lighting was bad. Instead I spent 4 days trying to remember exactly what spot in town the Kingdom Hall was located at.
For someone that loves the beach, I definitely don’t spend as much time there as I’d like to. Part of that is because the beach here is filled with pollution. For starters, people here are not conscientious of what damage pollution can have; speaking to people from other areas of the country, it’s a regional cultural thing. Plus, my town is downstream of where the Magdalena River, the Mississippi of Colombia, lets out. As a result, lots of gross stuff washes our way. What you see here is what the volunteer placed here before me calls “Puerto Colombia snow” – styrofoam that’s been beaten up in the ocean and washed ashore in just tiny little balls.
This very special group of people in my town are passionate about learning and make the time to learn English with me twice a week. At the beginning of September I started basic English classes for adults, and since then have gotten on average 37 students each session. They are engaged and motivated and it’s something I actually have control over and I love it.
The biggest thing to happen in Colombia politics since I’ve been here took shape in September, leading up to an October 2 vote. My town (presumably the government) was on the YES side for the popular vote on the peace accord, and painted murals and hung signs to promote their position.