Sometime early in our school education, we all learned that humans have five senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch, feel. While I have spent much of my tenure here reflecting on the other kind of feeling (emotional), lately I have been trying to imprint the sensory experiences of the Colombian Caribbean coast on my memory. My strategy? Think about these senses a lot. Be aware of them. (Shout-out to yoga for helping my cultivate this skill a bit, but also shout-out to anyone who can provide me more suggestions for improving my memory.)
The coast is a sweet/salty place. Like the sea has influenced everyone’s palates; nothing is complete without its salt taste at the base, but they love complementing it with sugar. Consider arroz con coco, or coconut rice. Or corn-based arepas. Or one of my faves, salchipapas – a big pile of French fries with sausages/meats, lettuce, cheese, a mayo-based condiment, and pineapple sauce. While that pineapple sauce already gives a touch of sweetness, these are always washed down with pop. Soda. Whatever you know gaseosa as.
The coast is sticky and gritty. When is the last time you felt your upper lip sweat, or felt a bead dripping down the back of your leg? When is the last time that happened and all you were doing was sitting? Then you leave the house and walk through the dusty streets of your town and there’s no way you get where you’re going without getting some of that dust stuck to at least your feet. If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, you know what it’s like to find sand in your ears days after being there.
The coast is bright and colorful. The sun shines unrelentingly from 7:00am to 5:00pm. Houses line up, purple, blue, white, orange, blue, gray, yellow, white, white, teal, pink, yellow, yellow, gray, white. My favorite house in my neighborhood is a split of a bright purple and a gorgeous teal. While white is the most formal color, preferences in clothing and accessories lean towards neons – especially during Carnaval, which some of my students recently joked to me actually happens all year, not just in January-February.
Most of all, the coast is a cacophony of noises. Music from down the block, motorcycle engines and horns, fans whirring, blenders grinding, pet birds squawking, dogs barking, cats in heat, vendors singing their songs to sell their wares, horse and donkey hooves clip-clopping, fireworks, a tinny Für Elise from an ice cream cart, the roar of buses, the shouts of children, the hoorays and fireworks following a Juniors or Nacional soccer game. The sounds of the coast are persistent and omnipresent thanks to a lack of insulation in homes.
There’s even a constant background buzz from the power lines that rarely perceived (although sometimes walking under them you’ll definitely notice and then fear for your life a little bit), and when that goes quiet, the entire vibe of the town changes. There are no more TVs blaring, no more speakers blasting champeta. People stop moving. They move from their living rooms to their terraces to catch a breeze. At night, even traffic slows because a lack of streetlights makes the streets much less friendly.
You will notice that one sense is missing. I will just summarize it quick and say that it is generally unnoticed, but when you do, it’s either garlicky or fecal. Remember, we still have donkeys and horses traversing the streets, plus lots of street dogs.
Tomorrow, consider what you sense. What does your home taste like, feel like, look like, sound like, smell like? Will you remember those sensations even if you leave that place?