Monday, 30 December 2013

Reasons to be cheerful

It has, by all accounts, been somewhat of an indifferent return to our 'second home' of Colombia. Indeed you might say – but we won't – that it has been bordering on negative. The time of year we returned has played a factor in terms of us getting saddled up again with any significant work – well before December 25th this country goes into holiday mode, with English classes generally being the last thing on most people's minds.
The hopefully prosperous trek on the year 2014 begins
Where does the road lead in 'our' year of 2014? Pic from

Now not racing around Bogotá playing the part of the on-call, 'flying teacher' has left us with time (too much time in some ways) to explore other, more fulfilling, employment options, something that was (and is) one of our chief goals for this latest stint in the country.* Alas, little progress has been made thus far on that front – again, the prevailing ambiance among the masses right now of 'leave it until next year' is, we hope, a big reason for this.

So we will be looking for an upturn in fortunes when things get back into full swing (or the Colombian equivalent of that) in the coming weeks. In this regard – and also in an overall context – we do, we think, have reasons to be cheerful looking forward to 2014 and beyond. Sure 'tis the season to be positive (and in writing, to make barely relevant lists to pass as acceptable articles); and we can do that from time-to-time, contrary to what some believe. Right, here goes:

Let's start with the new year itself. The numbers '2' and '14' resonate deeply with us, for birthday reasons. So having both together in the one year, it's got to be a positive sign, right? A cynic might say that it means nothing at all, '2014' simply representing the amount of years since the birth of a highly contested/controversial saviour. Eternal damnation for such cynics we say. And no, we're not engaging in a process of seeing a straw and clutching desperately. One mustn't ignore the obvious.
On another point, this year sees us enter the last of our 20s. So we're just coming nicely to the boil; or so we'll tell ourselves.

Pieter and his 'wonderful' selfie
Looking, eh, good there Pieter.
While there were many good reasons to be back home in Ireland earlier in the year, a sense of being slightly trapped and 'dependent' was not one of them.** We feel we have a little more freedom here, whether that's actually real or imagined. It may all just be in the head (and the pocket too; when resources are tight, we can make our money last a little longer here while not severely damaging our 'revered' social life). An important caveat: For the majority of our time since coming back we've had a lovely apartment all to ourselves. That's due to change shortly. Change can be good though.

Goodbye to 'The Year of the Selfie'
Apparently 2013 was 'The Year of the Selfie' – that is, for the uninitiated, a photo taken of yourself, by yourself and subsequently posted to social media (well it's silly keeping it to yourself, right?) The thing is, the looking-in-the-mirror selfie while making a ridiculous pose has been all the rage for Colombian women for the last number of years. Just take a peep at most Colombianas photos on their Facebook page to get an idea of what we're on about. A rare moment where Colombia was, erm, 'ahead' of the posse on the global stage. Here's to 2014 signalling the end of this craze. See, we are being positive.

A star is born
Since returning to Bogotá, we've reacquainted ourselves with some TV extras work.*** Not only that, but we managed to land a brief speaking role, i.e. no mere 'extra', but a 'super extra' with an actual, ahem, meaningful part, on the hit production 'El Capo' (the third series, which is due to be aired from February 2014). Our performance as a San Diego airport control tower guy is sure to make headlines across the Latino world. Hollywood, take note.
'Wrong Way' -- the consummate acting professional hard at work...
The 'pro' at work. Pic credit: Christopher Allbritton.

New York, New York?
Whether Hollywood takes the lead or not, we may in any case find ourselves New York bound in a few months. It's just a case of taking the flight, it's already paid for. We like to explore new places, so the chance to visit 'The Big Apple' and catch up with family would be very much up our street. It all just depends on how our Colombian plans are progressing. Failing that, or maybe in addition, there's always the World Cup in Brazil. Sure it's only a stone's throw away from our current abode – anyone fancy joining us on a boat ride through the Amazon to get there?

6 Nations
Mentioning the World Cup, while it will be a great spectacle and we wish Colombia all the best, that Ireland won't be there means we won't be overly engrossed in it. Rugby's 6 Nations Championship on the other hand always gets our emotions up. We saw glimpses, specifically in the November test match against New Zealand – the one (another one) that got away – that Ireland, under new management, could have a big impact in the 2014 tournament. As we stated from the onset, we're being positive. February and March might put paid to that; here's hoping not though.

So there you have it; our 'Reasons to be cheerful', kind of. It's simply a case now of 'let the good times roll'. Happy New Year to all!

*For an idea of what our English teaching work in Bogotá has been like, see The 'money' tongue.

**For more see Any which way but lose....

***Oh the 'glamorous' world of TV extras work in Colombia is explored more at

Friday, 20 December 2013

Simply having an indifferent (Colombian) Christmas time

This time of year is of course very family orientated, especially for those from a Christian background. So the fact that we decided, yet again, to leave our clan with the Christmas period within earshot, has left many here in our second home wondering why. And it hasn't just been the Colombians who have asked us this, but even fellow expats: 'Why didn't you wait until after the 'holiday season' to return?'
Some of Bogotá's Christmas lighting -- credit where credit is due
Some of Bogotá's Christmas lights are pretty impressive

It's not that we're anti-Christmas, far from it. Indeed back home we really do enjoy the festive period and we always have. Even when we've had to work through some of it, as was the case in our most recent ones spent in Ireland, we've generally liked the whole atmosphere it generates.

Yet this is perhaps the crux of the matter; Christmas for us is about home and everything that goes with it. Not being in the place where we spent 23 uninterrupted years merrily munching through turkey and ham dinners every December 25th (plus the very satisfying second, third and even fourth servings in the subsequent days) means we have a slight indifference towards it now that we're not there. Here in Bogotá it just doesn't feel the same as we gear up for our third consecutive 'holiday season' (we like to be politically correct every now and again) outside of the homeland.

In one sense it's a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'. That is, while Colombia does obviously 'do Christmas', it's not the Western, winter version we know and love. (Okay credit is forthcoming for trying to replicate the winter scenes. Some of the lighting displays are impressive enough and accompanied with the odd relatively chilly night in Bogotá it can at times seem 'semi-Christmassy', but in the end we just don't buy it. For starters, the daytime temperatures are just too mild.)

A large part of the Christmas ambiance we like are the tried and trusted, cheesy as some may be, tunes; Fairytale of New York being one of our favourites (and we hasten to add it's far from cheesy).* Yes, Colombia has its Yuletide melodies, but again, as we haven't grown up with them, they just don't resonate; although this little radio advertisement for Café Aguila Roja,, akin, perhaps, to the Irish clothing retailer Penneys' “whole lot of things for Christmas” is beginning to grow on us (pickings are slim).** This year, we state without shame, we've found ourselves listening on line to Ireland's Christmas FM just to get us 'in the mood' – we even got ourselves a 'shout out' on it from across the waves.

So with all this, let's call it 'mild yearning' for a traditional home Christmas in mind, why exactly didn't we stay? Well we left just before the season got into full swing, so that helped. Plus, we had to balance any desire to remain with the fact that we had already spent longer in Ireland this year than we had envisaged, especially so when there were, and are, very few decent job opportunities around. We figured the money we'd spend during an Irish Christmas would easily pay, with a bit to spare, for flights back to Colombia, or anywhere for that matter.
Last year's remake of Bethlehem proved a hit with Bogotanos; we got in for free, honestly
Never mind a live crib, how about a live Bethlehem, Bogotá style?

Also, there is the case that we're perhaps being overly nostalgic, looking back on past Christmases a tad too fondly compared to what the reality was. For sure it's better to have happy memories than sad ones. More significantly though, some of those things that signalled Christmas to us have now gone and can't be replaced. This year we said goodbye to an uncle and good friend, somebody who was as much part of our festive memories as those aforementioned turkey and ham dinners, the songs or, in our earliest years, Santa Claus.

Thus, as we all know, things are constantly changing, evolving – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. With time we might come to embrace a Colombian Christmas. Or maybe we've just 'moved on' from getting too engrossed in it, no matter where we are.

One positive thing about being indifferent is that we don't have to face those January blues; there's no big low if you don't have the high. Steady as she goes and all that.

*Any excuse for a blast of Fairytale of New York:

**Not exactly the Penneys ad version we're looking for but it gives an idea:

Finally, and regardless of your thoughts of the shenanigans at this time of year, we'd like to wish everybody a happy and peaceful Christmas/Holiday Season!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

No somos Colombianos, pero ... (We're not Colombian, but ...)

An old Colombian flame of ours used to suggest that we’re just not compatible with her country; with a large proportion of the people that is, not the actual land. In fairness, it didn’t take her to get us thinking that way, whether it’s completely true or not.
A bog-standard, satisfyingly simple Bogotá tienda bar.
Unlike some 'exclusive' spots, locals actually talk to you in tiendas such as this one.

We’ve tinkered around this topic on these pages before.* Plus we tend to be very honest and forthright; no, you’re right, let’s not go down that road just now.

In terms of finding ‘love’ (uh-oh, here we go again), where we do a large part of our socialising – see for what we’re on about – are not the type of places you’re likely to find the most ‘sought after’ girls in Colombia. We won’t go into the whole argument that such a search is fanciful in this country; or any for that matter. We’re not complete romantic cynics, just yet.

The fact is that for much of our socialising we gravitate towards modest, value-for-money, friendly, venues. You see, we do like to regularly get out and meet people but this also has to be balanced with living within our means. Thus, when you’re in a city/country with such a disparity in prices between different neighbourhoods, from the relatively cheap to the ridiculously expensive, and your own income is pretty average, visits to the ‘swankier’ ends have to be frequently curtailed.

In contrast, most Colombian women around our age, ones with comparable backgrounds/education to ourselves in any case, tend not to like the satisfying simplicity of the tienda bars we regularly frequent. No, they enjoy more the lavish locations – it helps of course when they don’t expect to put their hands in their oversized handbags for much, if not all, of the night. We however are such fans of equal rights where possible that the idea of paying far more than our fair share is anathema to us (for more see The wages of love).

Yet the question remains, are we incompatible with Colombia? Our Costeña ‘friend’ answered this one in the affirmative.** However, putting aside her Colombian nationality, we may be more ‘acceptable’ to, and compatible with, the masses of her country than she is. Her hangouts of choice align with the ‘elite’ minority of the country. Tienda drinkers are the norm, the majority. All understandable really considering the wage difference and accompanied social scene discrepancy between the top earners and the rest.
The 'delightful' La Perseverancia, our new hangout spot in Bogotá.
Our new home, La Perseverancia; no one even tried to rob our camera.

Change may be brewing on this front. With a rising middle-class, perhaps places that are now seen as upper-class will in time become more accessible to a greater number of citizens and expats alike. Such a change though is unlikely to happen at any discernible rate, not in these parts.

We may be a long way from the day when a Colombian parliamentarian and the local unemployed alcoholic drink in the same bar and share a conversation, something that you’ll often witness in Ireland. Although maybe that’s not the best example; they’re both similar types in many ways. You get the point though.

One other feature that draws us back time and again to our watering holes, outside of the price, is that we tend to find that the locals there get that almost indescribable thing, the ‘craic’ (or ‘crack’, depending on your spelling preference). A word (not a substance) used in Ireland and elsewhere to describe many scenarios.

In this context understanding and being able to engage in various bouts of slagging/pub banter. Lest there’s still any confusion about the word and its meaning, the only drug that is usually consumed in the presence of craic is alcohol, although it’s not a prerequisite. Not only do they get the craic, but we find that they're usually very good at handing out free beers. Oh they know how to 'play' us.

So while you can point to many areas where we don’t ‘fit in’ with Colombia and her people, we’ve found enough comforting similarities to keep us coming back.

You could say, like the country itself, we’re still a work in progress here, without a fixed completion date.
*For a run through some of the things we've found 'uncomfortable' here, see Lord of the Dance and Colombia’s false friends. The Irish and Colombians do, however, have that strong Catholic background, manifested in different ways albeit.

**'Costeña' ('Costeño' for a man; literally 'coastal' in English) is the term used for woman from Colombia's -- and Venezuela's -- Caribbean coast. It's also the name of a beer in Colombia. (We won't go into the whole 'a beer is better than woman because...' spiel; we could, but we won't.)