As I begin to realize that my days in Bucaramanga are numbered I’ve been taking extra joy in the more mundane details of daily life that are uniquely Colombian. My favorite weekly chore is going to the plaza downtown to buy my groceries. The plaza is a giant four-story building full of fruit, veggies, fresh eggs, restaurants, grocery store items, nuts, spices – anything you could need!! There’s even a witchy section on the top floor where they sell incense, crystals, candles, dried herbs, tarot cards and the like. The first floor is devoted almost exclusively to vegetables and the second floor is home to fruits. As you walk down the aisles there is an overwhelming array of produce in an eye-pleasing variety of colors.
The trick of the market, I’ve found, is to pick a few merchants and return to them every time. I have a vegetable lady, a tomato guy, a nuts-in-bulk guy and a plantain guy. They always greet me warmly and throw in a little extra food for free. I’ve found the fruit selection changes from week to week so I don’t have a specific fruit vendor, instead I choose the one with the best looking bananas that day and the cheapest goldenberries. Since there are so few foreigners here in Bucaramanga the merchants are always amused to see me. They yell after me “Hola teacher!” or “Hello my friend!” or shout out the names of some of their products in English. Today my nut guy asked my American friend and I for a little help reviewing the verbs might, maybe and well for his English test later that day. In exchange I got a little discount on my peanuts and coconut.
Another facet of ordinary life in Colombia that I’ve come to appreciate is how lovely Sundays are. Sunday is a day markedly different from the others. The streets are completely empty and almost every business is closed. The parks, however, are full of people all day long and the street vendors set up shop to sell them sweet treats and grilled meats. The tranquility of Sunday is amplified by the fact that every other day my neighborhood is full of sounds. Cars and buses never stop honking their horns. There is a construction site on every block due to the current development boom. Shopkeepers yell out “A la orden!” as you pass by, which means “At your service.” If you find yourself in the heart of downtown there’s a whole other set of sounds. Vendors selling socks, cell phones, remote controls and the like crowd the sidewalks and if they aren’t shouting about their wares they have a looped recording playing of some hypeman doing it for them. I still find it amusing to watch the beyond bored faces of these vendors while an excessively enthusiastic voice shouts from the speaker at their side. There’s also the distinct sound of electric mosquito rackets whose bug-zapping power is being demonstrated with small twigs. As evening approaches the little shops that sell food and beer turn up their speakers and you can hear reggaeton, merengue or vallenato on top of everything else. I enjoy the liveliness of all these sounds and the unique sense of place they invoke, but quiet Sundays are a nice break from the cacophony of the streets.
The fact that this blog post centers on the more mundane details of my life here is an indication that I haven’t been up to a whole lot lately. I’m nearly finished translating my friend’s documentary Peligam, teaching private English lessons in addition to my work at Colombo and practicing my salsa. This weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner by some of my former students. They got dressed up in their nicest clothes and took me to Ritmo Pizza – a restaurant that sits on a hill and overlooks the lights of the city. I have ten days of vacation coming up for Holy Week, but am still undecided about what I will do.