Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Llamas and Mamas

Found a hostel on the internet. I suppose some intrepid criminal could have just made a list of Top 10 Hostels in Medellin. Safe this time. Cameron and I walked into the hostel, and were greeted by the sound of someone just wailing on a karaoke track. Friday night apparently equals karaoke. We were informed that the two beds we booked are no longer available. We had been upgraded. Upon being shown the new digs, we immediately noticed two things: 1. that there was only one bed, and 2. that one wall of the room was covered in a mural, featuring a particularly angry llama and a pair of devilish looking ragamuffins with precious few teeth. We said some prayers to these witchy children that our significant others would be understanding, and set off to find some food.

After dinner, we returned to a hostel which was still rocking karaoke. Acknowledging that no self-respecting traveler would decline karaoke on his/her first night in a new country, we belted out a decent "Tiny Dancer". But then the magic started. I've gotten to know Cameron fairly well. We were in Peace Corps Tanzania together, we went vacations in the same group, and now we go to the same graduate school. So when she picked up the mic, turned on "Shoop", and became both Salt AND Pepa before my eyes...I had a feeling this was going to be a very good trip. I did my best Vanilla Ice impression, straight to the point, no fakin, killed some MCs like a pound of bacon...and went to bed.

The last week since we arrived has been spent in Manizales, which is just like any city of 400,000 people, if it was then pulled up on all the corners and made to look like every house was about to slide into the middle. It's a beautiful, old city in the Colombian Andes, and is essentially the heart of the coffee-growing region. The mountains are formidable, and were a delightful challenge to run up. We got to take a trip one day to the world's leading coffee research center, CENICAFE. On our way there, as we were driving through lush, green mountains covered in coffee, I had an experience wish I imagine is analogous to a heroin addict driving through a poppy field. So this is where my fix comes from...

The rest of the first week was wonderful. We did a lot of team-building exercises, planned out our 9 weeks in general and the next few in particular, watched a lot of soccer friendlies, and ran. But at night, in our hostel, we had a few bottles of wine, and we simply laughed. Laughed until we cried. There's a simple kind of magic that belonging can bring in a foreign land. For all we want to fit in here and do our work, for all that we might not willingly form such a group in America, in the middle of Colombia we were grateful for what we understood about each other, and that was more than enough.

What else? I spent several nights eating and drinking in the living room/restaurant of a lovely burlesque-esque mama named Monita, who kissed me lustily on my cheeks (and may have copped a feel). After a Colombian soccer victory, we were treated to shots of Aguardiente, which is like licorice mixed with unleaded. Actually not too bad. I was asked for my opinions on the media, politics, and Henry Kissinger, and my response in broken Spanish was apparently hilarious. I ate too much food. I read too much about the World Cup. I missed my wife and my family. The usual.

But now I have arrived in the beautiful town of Supia, which is beautiful, and a town, and hellishly hot. I have acquired a hat which makes me look like a Colombian cowboy. I'm basically living in a tree fort with two guys who have metal-pumping on their minds. This will make me or break me. We're about to meet with the mayor, present our plan for the summer, and get down to work.

What is our plan? We're working with a small community just outside of Supia proper. Students from The New School started working there last year, and we are trying to implement a sports-based mentoring program for vulnerable youth. Since the decline of the coffee economy, youth unemployment, teenage pregnancy, and drugs have become more severe (similar to many parts of the world). But this community, like many others, contains a world of resources, and our job is to put some of those resources together in unexpected and effective ways, so that these kids can have a fairer shot. That's the big picture. The details are still coming.

In the meantime, my Spanish is broken, I can't make dirty jokes again, and I have both a hat AND a sunburn. I'm somewhere else in the world, and it is once again beautiful.

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