16 May, 2012

How I feel in Bogotá / Como me siento en Bogotá

Sitting in a cafe in the north of Bogotá, with a magazine in my lap and the sun shining down, it's very easy to forget I'm sitting half way up a mountain, half way across the world from where I was born.

But then I notice the huge umbrellas permanently fixed above the patio because it is going to rain later, no matter how sunny it is now. I notice the cup in front of me lacks a green mermaid and instead has a yellow donkey. I realise that the National Geographic I'm holding is in Spanish, as is the conversation one table over that I've been eavesdropping on.

And I do this:
I tend not to document it when I grin like a fool, so this photo will have to do

Just in case anyone seriously thought I'd be coming back to London in June... Don't hold your breath. I'm having far too much fun over here ;)

05 May, 2012

Cute Kids / Niños Bonitos

Yesterday was a kind of 'holiday catch up day' at the local primary/secondary school that I have adopted (or have they adopted me?). Instead of taking separate days off school for each of the recent holidays they decided to roll them all into one big celebratory extravaganza.

For Language Day (in the UK known as Shakespeare's Birthday) there were special mentions and prizes (flag medals) for the children who had "excelled in their English or Spanish studies" (guess who I cheered the loudest for). No less than three special anthems were sung: the National Anthem (I think I can sing it better than the UK's one now that I've heard it so often), the local anthem for Bogotá (which I'm ashamed to say I had no idea existed, despite every Colombian city having one. Do we have any Urban Anthems in the UK?), and the school's own hymn ("We are young people who love Colombia, we will construct the future of our homeland walking on the paths of...?" - I couldn't catch the rest).

But then came the real celebration. Every Wednesday afternoon they have a class called "ludicas" in which they study drama, music, and English in groups of interest rather than age or grade. For the past few weeks these groups had been preparing a variety of skits, poems, and musical numbers for the grand recital.

I present to you, in their international debut, the English Theatre Group in "Three Dogs and a Cat"
Totally awesome! (I might be biased)

And the Spanish Theatre Group parodying El Chavo brilliantly:

02 May, 2012


In Colombia studying English is as compulsory as any other subject at school, and a certain level is required to be able to study at university. Despite this, only 1% of Colombians are at Intermediate level, and less than 0.08% are Advanced (official statistics here). At 35,000 people that's less than the capacity of a football stadium. I really can't blame them though, not when the Inglés Callejero that they see everyday is so... unique: 

"G Spot" - a hairdressers. On the corner of Carrera 13 and Calle 28, if anyone needs directions. 

One of many examples of a misplaced apostrophe. Ju'st becau'se there i's an "s" in a phra'se, doesn't mean it's nece's'sary to u'se an apo'strophe a's well. 

A sports bra called "Ding Dong"... 

... and another called "Clap Clap" - isn't that not the point of a sports bra?

I kind of understand "Sssh" for tiny underwear though.

And a pair called "Bleep!!" - I'm not sure why the exclamation marks are necessary, although again, the name is at least sort of logical. 

An unexpected merger between two communications giants. 

"Mr Handsome" nail clippers. I saw this and immediately thought of you, Mama ;)

On the other hand, the name "Punkyfish" doesn't bring to mind pink and sparkly hair accessories. 

Is anyone still wondering why I, as an English teacher by profession, came to Colombia?

PS - Sí, ya se la reputación de los ingleses y su falta de habilidad para hablar idiomas extranjeras. ¿Y que? </showing off> :D

01 May, 2012

Onboard Refreshments / Refrescos a Bordo

As someone recently mentioned, things are available for purchase on the buses here in Bogotá (please follow that link, and read part 2 to that story here). Usually the adventure starts with the salesperson apologising for the inconvenience of interrupting our journey (although most interruptions are welcomed as hardly anyone reads on buses here), then handing out samples to each passenger. Then the sales pitch (usually involving tuition fees and/or illness) starts in earnest. Finally the price is stated, along with the offer to take whatever spare change you have if you don't have enough money to pay the full price. If you don't want to buy it, just hand it back with a smile. 

I decided to buy everything that was offered to me on the buses for one week, and this is what I got:

(click on the photo to see a larger version)

  1. A squeezy moldable toy head. I'm really not sure what the official name for this kind of toy is, but I'm sure you know what I mean. It was being sold by a man who claimed it was the perfect tool to educate your child and improve their hand mobility/agility and knowledge of shapes, or just as a stress reliever for yourself. What impressed me most about his pitch was that he managed to demonstrate how to play with the toy on a moving bus without falling over. (1,000)
  2. El Tiempo. One of the main newspapers here. This is the Saturday edition which is huge! In the UK all the newspapers have been shrunk down to commuter friendly sizes, however this is still a real broadsheet. No wonder no-one reads the newspaper on the bus in Bogotá! There's no room! (Hence the creases.) This was being sold by a woman (an official vendor) who brought her 8 year old daughter on the bus with her. The girl had been reaching for something by standing on a bucket. This unfortunately tipped over and she was left with three partially paralysed fingers on one hand. The girl, as well as handing out the newspapers/collecting the coins showed off the (still red) scar on her wrist and palm. The mother had had to find work to pay for the doctors fees. (1,500)
  3. Black bin liners. These were being sold by a really cheerful guy who appeared to be over 50. A father of two, he bought in bulk and sold to us in smaller packs so that we wouldn't have to go to all the trouble of going to the shops ourselves. Although that seems like he's giving away his secret (buy low, sell high), prices in different areas of Bogotá vary so much, it is actually a good deal to take advantage of. (1,000)
  4. Two heart shaped lollipops. The first thing I bought before I realised making notes would be helpful when it came to writing this post. (200)
  5. Two gummy sweets. These were sold by a very young man, probably late teens, who wanted money for his first child. 
  6. Two bracelets (the other was a gift to Virgina, who was accompanying me). Sold by a man whose wife was pregnant and in hospital. (2,000)
  7. Two packets of mints (one mint flavoured, the other strawberry-mint). The woman selling these hopped on and off the bus with a limp, saying that due to an incorrectly applied injection she had received in her leg, it permanently damaged her tendons. (700 for one pack, 1,000 for two)
  8. Wink (a caramel/biscuit chocolate bar). Being sold on the Trece on a hot afternoon, while we were stuck in heavy traffic, these were extremely popular. The woman selling these only spent a couple of minutes on our bus before hopping on to the next one. Most sales-people don't pay for their tickets, instead giving a free sweet/bracelet/etc to the driver in exchange for the short ride. 

Not pictured:

  • two rappers (who usually rap about the people on the bus or things we pass in the street - they really are quite good!)
  • one guitar/vocal duo (one day I will have the courage to at least photo, if not record, a busker) and 
  • one set of CDs designed to help your child master English (I had promised to buy everything offered for a week, but I just couldn't bring myself to go that far)
  • Various pens, puzzle books, and colouring books. Sadly I wasn't offered any during the week, although I had seen them for sale before. 

Now, who wants to help me eat all of this sugar? I'm not sure I can (should) manage all by myself...