My son and I have been in Bogotá for a week now. Besides the normal adjustment to the colder weather and altitude–my home town is 8,530 feet above level of the sea–we have enjoyed the company of my Mom, Grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins –and their dogs, and my best friend from high school and her kids. Yes, you are not mistaking; in only one week I already have seen all those people.
Colombians are famous around the world for their warmth and familiarity. There is no need for a special occasion to get together; any given day can turn into a family reunion in a matter of hours. No matter if you live close by or across town, there is always time for coffee and pastries. Besides, you always want to make the effort to be present at those reunions; otherwise you will be the “specimen of dissertation”. My son, now four years old, already fits right in because “the Colombian blood line calls” and he kisses, hugs, and teases everyone he meets.
This closeness is what I miss the most while living abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I love and respect the United States, and I am a proud American, but my heart will always be Colombian –and so will my accent.
Because you will never get anywhere if you forget where you came from, I want my son to love his family and submerge in our folklore, so when he is older, he won’t be startled when he starts acting contrary to the gringo norm.
For example, he needs to understand that the passion he would feel when we watches a game of soccer is not a chronic condition of anger management, but simply the hysteria of the moment. He also needs to learn the “chain of curses” that should be yelled for 90 minutes directed to the opponents, missed kicks, fouls, and the referees’ mothers. Just as in many South American countries soccer —fútbol in Spanish–is our religion and the unifying factor of people with no boundaries of color, political affiliation, or social class.
Once he gets the love for soccer, I want my son to see food in a different way. A meal in Colombia–no matter which region you are in—include carbohydrates, proteins, and vegetables in quantities that other people around the world eat in a whole day or maybe in a week, but not at one sitting! He’ll also learn that no matter how much he eats it will never be enough in the eyes of the mothers and grandmothers. Even if he licks his plate clean persistent, phrases like “How does he grow?”, “He didn’t eat anything!” and “You didn’t like it, did you?” will be the usual among the moms if he didn’t ask for a second plate. Eating for Colombians is not a physiological need to fuel our bodies but the essence to feed our souls.
My husband used to say when he visited my country for the first time, that eating was like a French kiss to me, because my eyes would glass over with ecstasy and fulfillment after each bite.
Colombia is a developing country and its path to a better quality of life for its citizens is steep. That was the reason for my self-exile. Nonetheless, this is a country that stamps your heart from the moment you are born with a special gift, a birth right. Besides the love for the family, fútbol, and food, we know how to turn disadvantage into opportunity, and discrimination into friendship. No matter where we land, we see people for what they are without labels of any kind. I promise, once you let a Colombian into your heart, you’ll never be the same.
That was the lesson my son taught me –or should I say reminded me of– last Sunday while he played with kids at a playground inside a mall. He got in the middle of a circle and started playing Lego with boys and girls younger and older than him, who he never met and couldn’t understand him. It didn’t occur to him that he was speaking English–he understands Spanish fully but doesn’t speak it yet; he just got in the circle and played. That’s what I did when I moved to the USA; I just jumped right in and got my feet wet. That’s the Colombian Birth Right. Now all he has to do is to start speaking Spanish, but with a gringo accent.
Thanks for reading and sharing.