I got to Bogotá one week ago today, so I thought I’d perform a one-week self check-in, mostly language-related. (Or check-up) Here are some of my scattered thoughts.
1. Bogotá is an immense city. So, even if you lived here before like yours truly or passed through and had a certain experience, you could come back and have an entirely different one if you focus your time on another part. I lived in three areas before (Boyacá with 170-northwestish, Normandía-west/centerish, Autopista with 170-north north), and now I’m downtown. Though they were walking distance from my jobs and thus super convenient, I’ve realized that I always lived in the wrong areas before. Too residential, too tranquilo, too isolated, and too boring for me. YMMV, naturally. I know this sounds like a superficial impression born of my honeymoon period with el centro, but, trust me, I had thought about this for a long, long time. I know myself so much better now, and I know what I need to be happy. I still haven’t answered the city mouse/country mouse question, but if I’m going to be in a city, it needs to walk, talk, look, sound, and smell like a city. I love the buzz, the ajetreo. And all the culture.
2. As if it had made New Year’s resolutions, Bogotá has been on her best behavior for me and I keep thinking I smell a rat . . . but the rat has yet to be produced! Of course, it helps matters not a little that todo el mundo has been on vacation, crowding the other cities, so it’s been kind of dead. Little to no traffic, quiet, clean. Like fitness buffs who despise the flabby masses who clutter up their gyms at the beginning of the year, perhaps the rest of the world’s cities are rolling their eyes as Bogotá pulls herself together for a few weeks in January. Maybe it won’t last. But as a foreigner who came back dreading some of Bogotá’s more unsavory aspects, it’s been a gentle way to ease back into the chaos of this city.
3. Colombia’s no paradise, but with know-how and skill you can figure out how to glide from one beautiful spot to the next, one delightful interaction to the next. And occasionally even find charm in some of the grit. Some of it. No doubt, there are still lots of eyesores, too many needless adefesios. What are your aesthetic needs and dealbreakers? A good question to ask yourself before blithely coming to live, well, anywhere. In more ways than one, I feel more sensitive here.
4. Plenty of things here can make you throw your hands up in despair. Did you get just as outraged and pissed off back home? Did you write your council member and get out the vote and do something about it? I so often hold Colombians to a standard I conveniently wiggle out of because I’m a non-voter, but back home I did just as they do. Not that that gets anyone off the hook-I loathe the red herrings and straw man arguments I can find myself constantly dragged into the moment I, as a foreigner, dare to open my mouth and express anything less than praise about Colombia. But, still, it makes you think.
5. On to Spanish-Here are some things I do well: I manage conversations no problemo (that’s English, if you didn’t know), have zero fear talking to people, can express my zany and at times even witty sense of humor (in a word, be me), I speak much faster, I speak much more fluidly, my accent is better and less traceable (I guess? something I care less about with time), and I’m more confident. Listening still is my Achilles’ heel, but it’s a much smaller heel than I feared. I no longer ask ¿Cómo? after every sentence, for one. It feels like my vocabulary has quintupled. What I relish even more than accolades are when people say nothing at all. Not because they think I’m from here (another silly goal I let go of), but because I’m no longer a needy puppy dog begging for encouragement. It is what it is-growing by a few more words every day.
6. The not so good: I cannot multitask in Spanish. At all! So, don’t even think about asking me to do it. And don’t let me fool you. If I’m peering at something on my computer and nodding along as you say something to me, I’m not catching a lick of it. In English, I couldn’t tune someone out even if I tried (like a mom nagging me to do such and such). Spanish requires all of my brain cells, all of my concentration. If I only half-try to listen to someone, I utterly fail. If I’m engaged and attentive and actively trying to understand them, I usually get all of it, much to my surprise and delight. Before, when my Spanish was really pitiful, it was pretty hopeless-my vocabulary was so slender that I couldn’t hope to make sense of all the gaps. Thus, I wouldn’t even try, retreating into my own little la-la land and then wondering why my listening skills were so bad. Now that I’ve amped up my vocabulary (no tricks, just lots and lots of exposure) and have learned how critical attention is, listening’s no big deal. Personally, I don’t believe that people can truly multitask anyway, and I think there’s no greater gift you can give someone than the gift of your undivided attention. So, I can’t say I really mind not being able to rudely fiddle with some gadget while absently “listening” to someone. I guess I’ll see if I can multitask in time, but I’m in no hurry.
7. I also feel that telling stories and jokes in Spanish is a distinct weakness of mine. Like if I ever tried to tell someone about the time an ex-boyfriend was reading Jerome K. Jerome to me in the car after the 4th of July and an enormous bird that in the split-second appeared to me like an ostrich (but was probably a hawk) took off in flight and hit our windshield, leaving a bowling ball-sized dent that left the mirror about chest level the rest of the two hours back, and he let out this sissy scream and the both of us almost had a heart attack? Forget about it. People fall asleep or wander off long before I ever get to the punch line. I think it’s a mix of missing vocab, pacing, and something I can’t quite put my finger on.
8. There has been grief: Nubia, the mom of the family that I lived with from October 2010 to June 2011 died Saturday morning of gallbladder cancer. Very sad, and Saturday night and Sunday morning were spent at the funeral home. Ella era como una mamá adoptiva para mí. Thankfully, I was able to spend time with her and her daughter, Diana, when I passed through last summer.
9. And there’s been much happiness! But I’d be tattling on myself and others if I gave you details.
10. I decided to go by Katia down here, something I tried before but only in half measures. Katie is really, really hard for Spanish speakers to pronounce, and I tired of being called Keili, Keiri, Kate, and worse. And to spell it-uish! But by substituting one little letter, it’s suddenly so much easier for all parties. You can call me Katie if you want, and certainly friends from before can call me Katie, but I’m enjoying the simplicity. And I don’t think it’s the equivalent of a Santiago going to England and then putting on airs, prancing around and telling everyone to call him James. It just makes my life a little easier, that’s all.
11. My Paisa accent is ancient history, but I can still do it if I concentrate. I’ll be spending the whole weekend with a Paisa, so maybe it will be restoked. My Bogotá accent sounds so high-pitched, squeaky, and petulant to me in comparison. (I know this is ironic, because the Paisa accent is extremely petulant! Or peevish, más bien. I openly admit my bias. Maybe the Colombian accent in general is petulant- a subjective opinion, of course- and I just prefer and notice less the Paisa variety.) The particular cadences of the Bogotá accent also make me feel like I’m always asking a question, and thus unsure of myself?
12. I still need to find a place to live (!), and I still need to start working (!!). And get business cards/presentation cards printed up. Today I had three offers for translation/interpreting work out of the bluest bluest blue, so I think this is the universe’s nudge for me to get to work. Let me know if you’re in Bogotá-I’ve loved hearing from people so far.