More Similar than Different

A Comparison of My Expectations about Colombia

It’s raining. I can hear the tapping of the drips on the window sill and the wind blowing gently. My bare feet are chilled. Not cold. Chilled like an Autumn evening back home. And while I feel almost entirely at home, so much has changed for me. This fall chill is familiar, but not for August, where back home the grass is burned and crispy from the harsh 100+ degree weather which has sent everyone indoors.

Last week Eva asked me what I expected of Colombia. She wanted to know my expectations because she wanted to measure how they would change after I got here. I simply responded “I do not have expectations,” But in reality, I knew that was not true. I’d heard stories of the amazing and incomparable fruit, not to take my cell phone out of my pocket in public, the weather in Bogota is cold (which I did not believe), and the weather on the coast is hot.

All of my expectations had more to do with my surroundings: food, clothes, houses, markets, money. And they were based entirely on what I expected to be different. What I was not prepared for was measuring the similarities.

It’s true, Colombia is different from the US in many ways: nearly every Colombian knows a little English (that’s not the same in the US), they take great pride in looking good and being mannerly, the wealth gap is visible to the naked eye, they sell anything you could need in carts on the sidewalks, they do not have seasons (your location in the country determines the weather, and the climate is relatively stable).

But what I did not prepare for was the number of similarities.

This weekend, I went with Luisa’s family to a nearby national park where we hiked down to a beautiful picnicking area and ate lunch together as a family. Sandwiches, chips, water, yogurt–and a warm family atmosphere. We listened to the same music. We played a good ol’ game of tag, and we shared memories. On the way home, we fell asleep in the backseat listening to the hum of the tires on the road and feeling the sunshine through the window onto our faces. When we woke up on Sunday, we went to the store to buy groceries for a family dinner. And while I am not used to walking to the store, my family has a long tradition of getting together on Sundays for a home-cooked meal. Today we sat on the balcony together eating barbecued chicken, laughing at one another, and being thankful to be together.

While things here are strangely different–they serve ahi at every table instead of ketchup, their bread is a little pan-fried, flat disc called an arepa– I find myself more drawn to point out how similar we are: We value our families, we take great pride in our belongings, we love to hear and tell stories. We play games with our children, we enjoy drinking beer with our friends, we get a little insecure when we experience new people and situations.

But for those who are truly curious, here is a comparison of my prior expectations and my findings:

Before
  • The weather would be perfect.
  • The food would be amazing.
  • I would have altitude sickness.
  • I would be super lonely and not be able to talk to anyone.
  • We would not go out at night because it is too dangerous.
  • I would suffer from lack of eating etiquette.
  • I would stick out because of my light skin.
  • We would eat fruit all day every day.
  • We would drink a lot of alcohol and party every weekend.
  • Everything would be super affordable because of the economy.
After
  • Bogota has mostly nice weather, but it gets cold, especially in the rain.
  • The food IS amazing, and I am certain I am gaining weight. Everyone loves introducing me to new food, and I cannot say no.
  • No altitude sickness, I am just tired about an hour earlier than usual.
  • A LOT of people speak English, and they are eager to talk with me.  Still, I am given more than enough opportunities to speak Spanish too.
  • We’ve been out at night to an art show and for dinner, but you should take a taxis or Uber at night for added safety.
  • I need to work on my etiquette.–how to hold a fork, etc. (Mom, Dad, you failed me here…)
  • I love the fruit, but I only have about 1 piece per day because I am already full of other foods. What I find interesting is how they drink juices at every meal or aromatica (hot water with fruit in it).
  • We have yet to party…
  • Not everything is super cheap. Services like laundry, salons, and Ubers, are CHEAP. Food is cheap. Products are actually pretty expensive. Deodorant was about 9 dollars.

Additional Findings:

  • The driving is basically lawless, and motorcycle drivers have no regard for their lives.
  • I actually DO like oranges, and all my life I thought I disliked them (I still do not like apples).
  • Avocados everywhere! Heaven!
  • It is super humbling to not be able to communicate at times, and knowing when you do, you’re making mistakes.
  • This city is BEAUTIFUL. It is so colorful.
  • It is a pain in the ass to take off your jacket when you are hot and put it back on 15 minutes later because you are cold, knowing you will have to take it off again.