The last couple of weeks have seen me slowly start to settle into the daily rhythm of life in Cali. My early wake up of 5am has become less of a chore, hot showers have become a distant memory and the continual catcalls from men in the street has become a pet peeve that I have sadly had to learn to just ignore. Hissing, blowing kisses, shouting “mona/linda/bonita” – these ‘machistas’ really know how to treat their women!
However it is far from doom and gloom. I have come to love my students, their cheeky humour, the way they look out for each other, and the affection they show us as teachers. I am slowly attempting to learn all of their names, although memorising all 200 or so of them seems like a highly unlikely achievement right now! I have begun to take more of a lead in classes, trying to encourage students to speak in English and confront their embarrassment. Gradually they are coming to respect me, although not without first attempting to challenge my authority with constant chatter. But upon reflection I am truly happy with how things are going in my school. It was never going to be easy, and working in a school can at times really accentuate cultural differences, but as I continue to arm myself with an open mind I find myself adapting to this environment and embracing the love, friendliness and ethos it fosters.
Sometimes my heart aches for my students as I consider all they have to face in their vital teen years. Life can be far from simple for any teenager at times, but these kids are faced with extra challenges that seem so unfair. The sad fact that poor areas often attract higher levels of crime and drug abuse can be seen in Terron Colorado. I worry my children will be tempted into using drugs, stealing, and becoming disinterested in education. I consider how important the factor of ‘the luck of the draw’ is in life. People always say ‘you can do anything, if you put your mind to it’ and I am not saying it is completely untrue, but it goes without saying that some people have to face a huge uphill struggle before they could even consider being on the same playing field as someone who has been born into a better, possibly wealthier, neighbourhood/city/country. And yet these kids arrive into my class every single day and greet me with a smile, a handshake or a kiss on the cheek. They spoil each other when a birthday arrives and will do anything to help each other- even if it is copying the homework!
Exploring the city has led me to both the rivers in the north and south of the city, including some waterfalls. It is amazing how many sides to this city there are. Within the city itself, the standard of living varies incredibly from the really poor, to the really rich and everything in between. The city is surrounded by the mountains of The Andes, seemingly untouched, and providing a direct contrast to urban life. Reflecting upon my time in Canada, these mountains would be filled with trails and hiking routes there. Yet here in Cali they remain relatively unexplored. The fact, or possibly perceived fact, that they are dangerous and a history that continues until today to be scarred with guerrilla warfare have stopped people wandering far from the cities. Spending the day at Rio Pance was an interesting experience, as a popular escape from the city for the day, the entire river was packed with people bathing, kids playing and vendors selling. Cali felt a million miles away and the people seemed to let any troubles flow away down the river as they spent quality time with their families.
I am slowly starting to fill my free time in the afternoons, volunteering at a local foundation that looks after a group of girls who have been victims of sexual abuse. This week I began teaching the girls English, in the most dynamic way possible as to avoid it feeling like school. They are adorable, so innocent and full of love. Hopefully I can be of value to them and will be able to bring some light-hearted fun to their afternoons.
I also had the absolute pleasure of attending the wedding of Jildardo’s niece at his finca. What a fun and different experience up in the chilly mountains once again. We danced outside until night fell and I had the best night’s sleep (albeit under a mosquito net!). The next day we explored the jungly mountainside with Jildardo as our guide, armed with a machete to clear the way. After our mini hike Edith and I rewarded ourselves with an aromatic sauna, complete with refreshingly cold shower! I returned to Cali feeling rejuvenated from the change from city life.
And finally, salsa classes are off to a flying start as Ramsey and I have started working on training our left feet to move in time to the caleña beat. We are slowly picking up moves and hopefully it won’t be long before we have a selection to choose from to create our own little routine!