El Paro

As one student of mine said yesterday, “Things in Colombia are crazy right now.” Today marks Day 12 of a national strike by the country’s farmers, los campesinos. They’ve been hurt by trade agreements with the US, Europe and Australia that are bringing milk and produce into the country at much lower prices than what they can offer. As well, they’ve been hurt by the high cost of fertilizers and fuel to transport their produce. The protests began in the country with farmers blockading the streets and destroying their produce. These road blockades continue and have mostly suspended travel throughout the country. Every day there have been marches in Bucaramanga led by the students of UIS, our large public university, which have by and large been peaceful.

"We all eat. We all strike."

“We all eat. We all strike.”

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This past weekend I took my first trip to the big city to visit some friends. One of the first things that struck me about Bogotá was the prevalence of graffiti on nearly every building we passed while on the metro. There is a large culture of street artists there since graffiti is not illegal, but rather hugely supported. Another thing that struck me was the temperature! Thanks to its elevation of 8,512 feet the weather is quite a bit cooler than what I’m used to in Bucaramanga, a welcomed change! The day I left Colorado on the heels of an epic blizzard I had no idea that cool weather was going to be one of the things I’d be missing the most.

Este fin de semana fui a la ciudad grande para visitar algunos amigos mios. Imediatamente me estaba maravillada con el graffiti que cubre cada edificio. Allá hay una escena de graffiti muy fuerte porque graffiti no es ilegal, sino apoyado grandemente. Tambien me gustó mucho la temperatura de Bogotá. El día que salí Colorado, durante una tormenta de nieve fuertisima, no sabía que iba a extrañar tanto el clima frio.


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Flavors of Spanish

Since arriving in Colombia I’ve been enjoying discovering the nuances that distinguish Colombian Spanish from the rest rest of the Spanish-speaking world. One of the first things I noticed was that Colombians have a strong fondness for using the diminutive form of words, whether the object in question is small and cute or not. When you visit your friend’s house they may offer you an “aguita” (a glass of water). If you live close to the park you can say you live “cercita del parque”. The taxi driver will tell you your fare is “4000 pesitos”. Or instead of a taxi you can take a “busito”. Little children and small things in general are often called “chiquiticos” or if they’re really small “chiquitiquiticos”.

Colombians are also quite fond of using the verb regalar when asking for things. I never fail to find this amusing since the regalar literally means to give a gift to someone. Even when you are obviously going to be paying for it, you ask the lady on the corner “regálame una arepa”. (Please give me an arepa.) If you’ve just met a new friend they will ask you “Me regalas tu número?” (Will you give me your phone number?) At a restaurant recently the waitress told me “regálame un segundo” (Please give me a second.) as she got a glass of water for me. Perhaps my favorite use of “regalar” is the excessively polite manner of saying excuse me as “regálame un permiso”.

I’m largely just familiar with the manner in which Spanish is spoken in Santander. However, there exist many variations of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar within the different regions of Colombian. I was puzzled one day when I asked my non-Bumangués salsa teacher “¿Cómo estás?” and he replied with, “Bien, y vos?” In Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and certain parts of Colombia vos is used in place of . It has one pleasantly simple rule for conjugation – the “r” in each verb turns into an “s” and the last vowel has an accent. So “you eat” would be “vos comás”. It’s so easy! The one and only exception is the verb ser which becomes sos in the vos form. I was fascinated by the existence of a whole new pronoun and conjugation rules I had never heard of before!

Another interesting variation in Spanish is when common, everyday words in one country take on an extremely explicit meaning in another. A prime example is the verb coger which means “to get/to take”. In Colombia it’s common to hear “¿Dónde puedo coger un bus?” to ask where you can catch a bus. In any other Latin American country though coger is a vulgar term for having sex, and thus this innocuous question would cause heads to turn if asked in a country like Argentina.

Mi Cumpleaños!

I feel very lucky to have met so, so many lovely friends in Colombia who made my birthday weekend a particularly delightful one. The festivities began on Friday at 9.a.m. in room 301 of the Colombo. The bell had rung for class to start, but my students were nowhere to be found. A few minutes later they all burst through the door singing “Happy Birthday” with a handful of balloons. It turns out they had been waiting for their friend to bring a birthday cake, but he never showed up. They did, however, gift me with the giant sparkler candle that was intended for my cake and a few candy bars. After class I came home to the sounds of a salsa version of “Feliz Cumpleaños” being blasted from the stereo and the smells of a savory lunch being prepared by my host brother Andres. While I was lamenting the fact that my giant sparkler candle was without a cake to stand on, Andres surprised me with a special birthday dessert made of apples, carrots, cheese, oatmeal and brown sugar. It was his interpretation of the quintessentially American apple crisp I have made twice now for my Colombian friends.


Minutes after this photo was taken my special birthday candle was shooting sparks high into the air!

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