Sometimes I think that if I don’t have a story of a culturally-enriching event to tell, there’s no reason for a blog post. But even when you are relatively stationary, living abroad can still be pretty interesting.
I have a lot of different Colombian people I interact with on a daily or almost-daily basis. As I go about my business I love seeing all my Colombian friends. Even if we don’t have a lot in common or don’t get deep in our conversations, they still add to my day. So I decided to start taking pictures of them and will share them with you. Maybe you will enjoy getting to know my peeps as much as I enjoy seeing them. Here goes.
Note: After I published this blog I had a few more interactions with some of these peeps, so I have added some more info in bold for you. Enjoy!
This is Diego and Camila. They are my Pilates teachers. They alternate between the two studio locations so I never know who I’m going to get on any given day. These guys work from 6 – 11 a.m. teaching Pilates, then they have a 6-hour break, then teach from 5 – 9 p.m. Sounds like a super sucky schedule to me. Diego is very forthcoming with info so one day I peppered him with questions. He makes 1 million pesos a month ($341 USD). Based on the area and what I know of rental prices, I imagine they both have a pretty long commute so they don’t go home for the lunch break.
Sometimes in Pilates my mind wanders and I wonder what else they could do with the Pilates studio from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. that would generate money. Based on a complete lack of shirts that fit me or look at all decent, I’m thinking a Short But Curvy Gringa Shirt Store is a good option. At the check-out counter they could sell Pilates socks, Lipton Onion Soup Mix, Junior Mints and Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing. But I digress.
Diego is from Venezuela. He left last March due to the really challenging economic situation going on there, and he was able to come to Colombia because his wife is Colombian. She got a job teaching English at a private school and he was able to get a dependent visa and work permit. That worked out really well for Diego, because a lot of Venezuelans have come to Colombia but are essentially here illegally and have trouble getting a work visa. Diego likes to tell me all about the Venezuelan food that he misses. I like to tell Diego that it’s rude to talk about food while I’m at Pilates.
As you can see, the color theme for the studio is orange. Another American client tried to explain to them that they should audition for “Orange Is The New Black” but I’m not sure Diego or Camila really understood the concept or why we were laughing so hard. Regardless, I love my almost-daily Pilates class, and my vocabulary of body parts in Spanish is on fleek. (Make sure to go read the Urban Dictionary definition of that term. It’s hilarious. Such attitude… but I, yet again, digress.)
This is Jesus. He cleans the streets and seems to specialize in an area that is on my way to Pilates, so I see him almost every day. I started noticing he was the same guy and obviously he noticed me being the only gringa around. The other day he was on my direct path to Pilates so I stopped and talked to him. The conversation went like this.
Me: Good morning!
Jesus: Good morning!
Me: What’s your name?
Me: Nice to meet you, Jesus. I’m Alli-
Jesus (interrupting): Are you married?
Well, that escalated quickly. I told him I was married and that my husband was very tall. Not sure why I felt the need to add in that last part about physical attributes but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
August 24 update: Yesterday when I was walking home from the grocery store, I ran into Jesus again. He was just getting off work so he walked down the hill with me towards my house. As we were walking he said that my husband must be so proud to have a wife like me (trophy wife, much?) and was I going to a party because I looked so fancy. I guess “showered and not in Pilates clothes” means “fancy” to Jesus.
As we got closer to my house I started to wonder how I was going to get rid of him. I didn’t really want him to know where I lived because clearly he already has a boundary issue and Jesus only knows (haha get it?) how far that issue might take him. In addition, I have been lightly reprimanded by my Spanish teacher for getting too chummy with people who may not understand my friendly ways.
So when I got to my street I pointed to another building and said “I’m going there”. That didn’t make a ton of sense because my building is the only one on my street and the other building I pointed to is easier accessed from a different street. But I prayed to Jesus (haha get it?) that he would not notice. Jesus said he was going that way too so we continued walking… right past my house. My guards were probably really confused to see me pass my house but I had bigger fish to fry at that moment.
I finally lost Jesus when I got to the other building and pretended to go up to the door. I waited a bit for Jesus to go the other way and then I hoofed it back to my building. I walked in and the guards looked at me funny but said nothing.
Note to self: Jesus gets off work at 2 p.m. Avoid that area at 2 p.m.
This is Diego. He was the favorite guard of mine and my neighbor Jamie. You’ll notice the past tense in that sentence. Well, we noticed he wasn’t around for awhile so I texted him (I had him on WhatsApp due to some apartment hunting he was doing for a friend of mine). Turns out he’s been reassigned to another building. So we chatted back and forth for an hour or two while he was telling me about how much he hates the new building and likes our building better, and he asked me how everyone was doing. It seemed like a pleasant conversation.
The next morning he sent a video, saying that he was dreaming of Jamie and me. Intrigued, I played the video. I only played it for about 10 seconds. That’s all I needed to see that it was girl-on-girl hard core porn. Take your dreams elsewhere, Diego. Delete, block, done. Whew. Never a dull moment.
August 24 update: During a recent Spanish class, I have learned that perhaps I was using some questionable words with Diego, and perhaps I gave him the wrong impression. My Spanish teacher and I were talking about some verbs meaning “to miss”, including missing someone. I told him the word I used to (causally) express to Diego that Jamie and I missed him. My Spanish teacher’s response:
But my response to my teacher was “But Diego knows he’s talking to a gringa, he should know my word choice might be a little unusual, and I didn’t mean anything. He’d figure that out, right?” Yeah, no. My teacher explained that a lot of people in Medellin have not had a lot of contact with foreigners, and definitely don’t understand how a non-native speaker might mix up her words.
Dear Diego, Sorry if I led you on.
Love Regards, Allison
This is James and Francisco, our two (new) favorite guards. James is a nice guy and I think he’s big into fitness because one day as I was passing through the lobby on the way home from Pilates we chatted about fitness. He had me feel his bicep muscles (not in a weird way, although after Diego, God knows…. ). He likes to be called “Bond” (James, get it?) and he’s always cheery when we walk through. #nopornsofar
The other dude is Francisco. He’s new but he quickly became a favorite because he’s a cutie patootie and he’s always smiling. When we met he asked if I lived in Jamie’s house (he got our apartments mixed up). I said no, but I could understand the confusion. The gringa families all come and go in different combinations. Me with Jamie, Jamie and my kids, me with Jamie’s husband Scott, etc. The guards have no idea who belongs to whom. I don’t know anything about Francisco other than he’s cheery and I like that.
This is Oscar. You met him in this post when he helped Jamie with her move-in process. He’s our apartment’s rental agent and he does pretty much everything we need, including changing light bulbs and cleaning hair out of our drain. #notmine #hairydan.
We use Oscar for other errands too, including taking Jamie and me to the central part of town to buy curtains (where you want to go only if you know what you are doing) and also transporting the niñas to school. We love Oscar but he can be a little difficult to work with sometimes because he doesn’t give us prices for any of this work. It goes like this:
Me: Oscar thanks for doing that [insert random errand] for me. How much do I owe you?
Oscar: Oh don’t worry about it, Señora.
Me: But you make a living doing these errands, it cannot be voluntary. What do I owe you?
Oscar: Whatever you think, Señora.
Me: [Throws random colorful bills at him and then overthinks it for days afterwards.]
To make that situation a little bit more awkward, sometimes when we are on our way to go somewhere with Oscar, he’ll start telling us about how complicated his life is, with a lot of bills. He tells me he’s trying to pay for his son’s school, his car needs fixing and he doesn’t have enough work. As Americans we tend to want to solve that problem for him. So his lack of fixed prices for his work makes it a big, awkward scenario. But we love Oscar for all his complications because he’s a good problem solver for all the stuff that goes wrong in the apartment. And he never looks down on
me Dan for all the hair.
August 24 update: Oscar did this again yesterday when he was at my house picking up the electric bill. Only this time he almost started crying and could barely compose himself. I didn’t think the awkwardness could reach new levels but it did. This feels like a no-win situation. Either I give him some money to help him out and it sets a very bad precedent or I watch a grown man cry and just stand there staring at him, then offer him a bottle of water for the road. #doornumber2
This is Tia Nelly. We call her “Tia” which means “aunt” because she’s Oscar’s aunt and that’s what he calls her. Tia Nelly cleans my house. She is a fireball full of energy, shorter than me but way more spunky. She does a great job cleaning, even organizing my spice packets and my Tupperwear lids. She charges 60,000 pesos ($20) per cleaning visit and usually stays about 7 hours. We give her 100,000 pesos ($33) instead, which other gringos frown upon, saying we are driving up the pay scale. The Colombians I’ve talked to say that’s a ridiculous concept and that if we want to tip generously, we should and it will be appreciated.
This is Gloria. She’s a peep-once-removed because she’s really my neighbor Jamie’s peep. Gloria is Jamie’s housekeeper. Jamie doesn’t use Tia Nelly anymore because Nelly can’t come every week consistently so Jamie found Gloria through a friend of a friend. Gloria comes to her house every Thursday and works for about 10 hours and will organize and clean everything she can get her hands on, including organizing underwear drawers, scrubbing down athletic shoes and cutting the tips off green beans. Gloria gets paid 50,000 pesos ($16 USD) and insists on no tip. I considered using Gloria but the Shermanos don’t like that level of intimacy with our cleaners (just say no to underwear organizing) and the niñas have massive “do not touch” areas in their bedrooms. Gloria would probably be frustrated at our house. That, and I hate having people in my house (read this post for my thoughts on that) so I’d shoo her away after about 7 hours and that is definitely not her style. So I’ll stick with Tia Nelly. But I may or may not have put my shoes over at Jamie’s house on Thursday, and they may or may not have gotten caught up in the Great Gloria Shoe Cleaning Frenzy. #justarumor #ithappened
There are a lot more peeps that I have in my Colombian Life but I’ll have to save them for another blog post. Stay tuned for “Colombian Peeps Dos”. For now I hope you enjoyed meeting all my friends. Well, except Diego-the-porn-sender. He’s no friend of mine.