Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Night in Havana

During the Summit of the Americas, held here in Cartagena last April, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited this popular bar in the Getsemani neighborhood. I have been wanting to visit Club Havana since moving here a year ago. A few friends and I ventured out one Saturday night and here are some pictures of the club. 
Every wall is adorned with pictures of famous Cuban musicians. 

Club Havana features live music that is lively and fun. Most of the audience exuberantly sang along with the band.

Club Havana has a casual atmosphere, so much so, that the beautiful lead singer pictured above did not wear shoes during her set. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back In Cartagena..

I am back in Cartagena after being in the States for seven weeks. I had a wonderful time while away visiting friends and family. I did miss my friends in Colombia and my lifestyle here (by lifestyle, I mean my housekeeper). One of the big differences in how I live in the two countries is that I drive every day in the States. Where I live in Cartagena, I can walk to the supermarket, doctor's offices, restaurants and the beach. I only need to get in my car if I am driving to my children's school.

I walk everywhere here for errands and for exercise. I love the walking path that is right in front of my apartment building. (Pictures of the path above) The path is around Cartagena Bay and people walk, run, bike and rollerblade in the early morning and evening. It is too hot to walk during the middle of the day.
The other huge part of my life that I missed is my housekeeper. It is hard for "average" income people in the United States to afford domestic help on a regular basis. Here help is extremely affordable. I have my housekeeper come three days a week, she cooks, cleans, does my laundry and she has also been helping me learn Spanish. She has become part of the family and we missed her while away.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dinner at Tiger Mart

When I asked my neighbor recently where they were going for dinner  she said, “Tiger Mart.” I was more than a bit astonished. “I’m sorry, what? Did you say Tiger Mart? As in, the gas station?” Utterly perplexed, I waited to hear the correction and the name of a new restaurant that I hadn’t yet heard of. Instead she said, “Yes, Tiger Mart, at the gas station. They have really good hot dogs.” 
Recently, a friend of mine found out that Tiger Mart carries the largest selection of Amazon hot sauces in all of Cartagena. After hearing yet another friend compliment their prepared food, I decided that it was time I took a trip to Tiger Mart to explore their marketplace and to have a hot dog, of course.
The Tiger Market is its official name, locally it is called Tiger Mart.  It is located just outside of Boca Grande on the road to the Old City on the right. The gas station is popular and so parking can be a challenge if it is packed. I did get lucky the day I went and found parking immediately. While the space is not large, it is well stocked with interesting food items from all over the world.
I found fig cookies from Ireland, cookies from Italy, seasonings from the U.S. and yes, a large selection of Amazon products. (If you go, I highly recommend the Amazon Sweet Chili Pepper Sauce.) One can find pretzels, large bags of walnuts, almonds, large containers of spices and condiments, including mustard (both Dijon and whole seed), and even sprinkles! Also on hand, large jars of strawberry jam, specialty chips and an entire selection of sugar free cookies and treats. 
After taking a few minutes to peruse the shelves, I walked to the counter and asked for a hot dog, there are two ways to have the Perro Caliente, American style or wrapped in a pastry. I chose the American style, I put some mustard and potato crisps on the top and went to sit down. Tiger Mart has conveniently provided small tables with stools for people to sit and enjoy their meal. I found a table, but all the stools were taken. I started to eat standing up when a gentleman immediately offered me his stool, I thanked him profusely in both English and Spanish.  I got comfortable in my seat and took a bite,  it was in fact quite yummy. I was reminded of the kind of hot dogs you would get in a baseball stadium.  I did see other food offered, empanadas and I did see pizza boxes, but didn’t see anyone order a pizza.
I plan to return to Tiger Mart for more Amazon sauces and to try their empanadas, which my friend told me are also quite tasty.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sex Ed and Religion in Colombia

"Mom, we learned about Internet porn in school today." This was my son's declaration one afternoon while I was hanging out with a friend. "What did you learn about Internet porn," I responded. "Not to do it," he said.
I knew that my son was taking a once a week sex ed class in his fifth grade class. The class was taught in Spanish and we had a notice come home asking permission for our child to participate. I signed without hesitation. The class met for a few weeks and Luke would tell me what they discussed.
Most of it was pretty standard and things that I want him to know and understand. The Internet porn thing though, had me wondering what else was discussed. I went to meet with the school psychologist, the woman who led the sex ed classes, to ask her more about what was covered. She explained to me that the program is comprehensive and starts in kindergarten. Each year the children are taught about their bodies and their sexuality. I was very impressed and told her that in the States the program that I know well that does this is part of my church, I have not seen many schools in this day and age give comprehensive sex ed in this way. She told me that in Colombia sex ed is mandated by law; every child in this country has to participate in sex ed classes.
I asked her then why we got a permission slip. She told me, "We only send the permission slips home to families from the U.S. we know that sometimes they don't want their children to participate."
Wow. I was a bit floored . One the one hand, pleasantly surprised at how progressive the Colombians are in this area and on the other, disappointed at the U.S. education system that, at times, is victim to the culture wars by denying our children a comprehensive and healthy learning of sexuality.
The other class that is mandated by Colombian law in all schools, public and private, is religion.
How intriguing. The two mandatory classes (along with reading, writing arithmetic etc.) are sex education and religion. The two classes are taught separately, for sure, however, I wonder if it wouldn't make more sense to teach them together at the same time.
In light of the gay marriage debate back in the States, it would be an interesting look at what religion teaches us about sexuality. In the case of Colombia, a predominantly Catholic country, sex would be seen through the lens of the Vatican. That would make for quite a thought provoking dialogue. Thankfully, the classes are not integrated and sex ed is taught, in what appears to be, a straightforward manner.
Granted, the views of sex here are still colored by the rigid dictates of the Catholic church. However, prostitution is legal here and same sex couples are permitted by law to register as de facto unions (uniones de hecho), which were previously available only to heterosexual couples and which provide all of the rights of marriage. According to the 1991 Constitution, "de facto unions" are legally equal to marriages. (italic passage from Wikipedia)
In essence, the entire country of Colombia provides more equal rights to its citizens than the majority of the United States. (Huh, and we like to call ourselves advanced.)
In a country where the Catholic church has such a strong influence, prostitution is legal and same sex couples who live together can be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples. If this is the result of mandatory sex ed and religion in schools, maybe Colombia is on to something......

Friday, May 4, 2012

Where Are the Apples?

This post was written by my friend Fallon, who is also from the States.

The first time I went grocery shopping in Colombia I thought, “That’s weird… Where are the apples?”  I corrected myself as I processed this thought.  The absence of apples in the local market was not weird, just different than the life I was accustomed to living in the United States.  Over time, it became easier to adjust to cultural differences between Colombia and the U.S.  Perhaps I could not find apples, but I learned to love pittaya, maracuya, and mamones. 
Although my adjustment to eating Colombian fruits seems small, it represents an honest effort to understand and accept a culture different than my own.  In the past year, I have confronted and overcome biases I held about Colombians and gained knowledge about what it means to be Latino. 

Check, Please! Understanding Latin American Meals and Time

I sat chatting with my friend in a local restaurant after we finished our lunch. My food was gone, my water was gone, and my eyes darted around the room in search of the waiter so he could bring us the check. We waited for over 20 minutes, until I finally waved him down and asked for it. I paid the bill, annoyed, and left in a hurry. I decided that he was rude. In the United States, we are accustomed to eating a meal in a restaurant in under an hour. In Colombia, going out for lunch may take two and a half. The next time this occurred, my friend smiled and said, “Are you in a hurry?” I replied that I wasn’t, but that the waiter should bring the check once we are finished. She explained that in Colombia, wait staff assume you want to relax and enjoy conversation following a meal. This practice, a custom in many Latin countries, is known as sobremesa. In Colombia, it would be considered rude for the waiter to bring you the check, urging you to leave. Therefore, you must ask for the bill when you are ready. The emphasis is not on eating a meal, but on the opportunity you have to spend quality time with a friend or loved one. My assumption that I would receive a bill immediately following my meal affected my opinion of Colombians in a negative way. I also failed to recognize that the time I spent with my friend, deepening our relationship, was more important than paying the bill.

Another practice I noticed when I moved to Colombia was that everyone arrived late for every event, no matter what it was. I once attended a wedding where even the bride-to-be showed up an hour after the wedding was scheduled to begin. I found this custom irritating at first because in the United States we place an emphasis on arriving early. Lateness is frowned upon in most cases. Rather than be annoyed, I have embraced the fact that lateness is simply a part of the culture and not meant to be discourteous.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


There is a distinct culture living on the coast of Colombia that differs from the one in Bogota. While I was in Bogota only one week, I experienced it as busy and crowded. I did enjoy listening to people speak Spanish there because it was slow and clear. Here in Cartagena, the city is not as crowded and the pace of life is slow, although the Spanish is not slow. It is fast and often words are cut off. For example, in Bogota, you will hear, "Buenas Dias," said clearly. In Cartagena, you will hear either, "Buenas," or "Buendia." I don't know enough Spanish to give more examples, you'll just have to trust me, it's fast and words are chopped.
There is one word that I hear all the time and that's "tranquilo." Literally, it means tranquil in English, but it's used here to mean, "hey, relax, it's all good." I love hearing it because it is a sweet way of communicating calm.
Recently, I was at the grocery store and as I turned away from perusing a shelf of spices, started pushing a cart. A woman walked quickly to me and said that I had taken her cart by mistake, I was flustered and apologized quickly and she said, "tranquilo," with a smile on her face. People say it when mistakes are made all the time or when someone is in a rush (usually it's someone from the States whose rushing to do something, in general, people here don't rush). Tranquilo. I love that it's part of the culture here. "Hey, relax. No worries. Life is short. Stay tranquil."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Easter Without The Bunny and Spring Without The Daffodils

Easter in Cartagena is celebrated without the  supermarket onslaught of peeps, chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. I actually never heard anyone say Easter in Spanish, everyone refers to the holiday by saying "Semana Santa," which is "Holy Week" in English. I asked people what the word for Easter is and more than one had to take a minute to think about it saying, "We don't really say, Easter, we always refer to the holiday in terms of the entire week." There are parades around the old city of people following statues of Jesus and/or Saints. Religious people will spend the week in contemplative prayer both at home and at church.
Leading up to the Easter holiday season, I expected the supermarkets to have candy displays and aisles of baskets and fake neon colored grass. None of this occurred. The reason I thought it would is that Christmas here has all the commercial trappings of the United States, including fake trees and Santas everywhere. Not so with Easter. The holiday is revered as one that is religious and not one of frivolity. I found it refreshing. Although, I have to admit that my children are not very young, so not searching for eggs or getting loads of candy was not something they particularly missed. Maybe if they were younger, I would feel a bit more nostalgic for these things.
What I did appreciate was the solemn focus of the holiday. After all, the Easter holiday celebrates what is considered the foundation of the Christian faith. If we are honest, we can acknowledge that Peter Cottontail was not in the empty tomb hiding plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. But I digress.
A non-candy filled Easter is not the only thing that struck me this spring. What I miss is seeing the daffodils coming out of the grass after a winter of cold weather and snow. It is the first time in my life that I don't have the feeling of being part of mother nature while she slowly transitions from the long  cold dark nights of winter into  long sunny days and warm nights. I didn't even realized  I was missing this until reading posts from friends on Facebook. They would comment on the signs of spring they saw in their yards, or the gardens they started planting.
While I am here, I will continue to appreciate the wonderful tropical weather that is here, while vicariously enjoying spring through Facebook.