Two weeks ago, I stepped out of the airplane and into the dusty, hot, smoggy air of Medellín, Colombia. With this I also started a crazy roller coaster ride with no end in sight. My mind is dizzy, my body is sore and my creativity is at an all-time low. I have nothing to say, nothing to write about and yet SO many things have happened in the past 14 days that I am not even sure where to start to organize and categorize them, let alone write anything inspired about them. What happened? Why do I seem to go from one culture shock to the next? Am I getting to old to adapt to new situations – something that used to come so easy to me? Is the contrast of South America – USA – Europe – South America too fast and too stark? I have no clue, but what I do know that since I stepped out of that plane I feel like a chicken that just got its head chopped off. I am running around aimlessly, passively taking everything in, completely unable to process ANYTHING.
I perceive a big blur of Salsa, traffic, pollution, street vendors, arepas, homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks, Colombian BBQs, amazing scenery, cute little villages, busy markets, crowded streets, men whistling at me and chaotic public transportation. You would think that after over 3 years of living and traveling around South America none of this would come as a surprise to me, but I feel just like I am in one of these movies where somebody is brought from the Stone Age into the 21st century. I am lost. Dazed. Confused. Everything is disturbing and amazing at the same time. What is Colombia like? How is life in Medellín? How are the people here? I wish I could do a better job of explaining it to you than this James Joyce reminiscent stream of consciousness. Be patient with me, for now that’s all I got. So what can I tell you?
I can tell you that Colombians in Medellín like to eat everything very very sweet. They don’t eat spicy food and they have an incredible sense of humor that takes me by surprise every time. They are so quick and sharp that I usually only notice how funny the joke was when everybody has already moved on to the next topic. They drive their small motorcycles like there is no tomorrow, they dance like Salsa Gods and Goddesses, men never ever wear flip flops or sandals, girls like to show their bellies and the ratio of beautiful women is extremely high (I cannot say the same about the men, though). Men are expected to pay for everything, women are expected to give up their independence for it – which seems to be working out just fine for a lot of the people here.
The fruits are to die for, the arepas not so much. Having a finca (a country house outside the city) seems to be the ultimate Colombian dream in Medellín, and then there is the “issue” with the Colombian time. So far, every time, I met up with a Colombian to do something, we ended up a million other things before (grocery shopping, picking up friends, visiting family) before even remotely considering the activity we had planned for the day. It drives me crazy and amuses me at the same time. The contrast between the rich and the poor that seems to be wider than the Grand Canyon, the need to rob others, the omnipresent drugs, the glue sniffers around every corner and the street prostitutes leave me angry and sad.
I am not sure if anybody else feels the same way about this city. If this constant state of being torn between despair and laughter is the essence of all things Colombians or just a cliche I am clinging to or if after all it is just my confused chicken head speaking. Colombia has shown itself to be a challenge I didn’t expect. Well, you know what they say: what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.
And if it neither kills you nor makes you stronger, at least you’ll make a shrink very happy!