Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Surprises from the First Two Weeks

The view out my bedroom window; taken May 16.
Today officially marks two weeks since I arrived in Colombia! I'm happy, healthy, and excited for the rest of my time here. Two weeks in, I feel adjusted to most of the everyday things. I'm comfortable with the language, altitude, and traffic patterns of this city. I've tried and enjoyed many new foods, and I never mess up the order and placement of the five keys I need to get into my apartment anymore. I barely notice that there aren't any bugs up here at 2,600m. However, a few things have been more deeply surprising, and I wanted to share them in this post.

1. I love working with my hands. I come in at 9am and stay late every day, and I'm not even getting paid. I guess the amount of fun I had in PoE should have been a clue, but I still didn't expect to be having this much fun at work. Most of what I'm doing right now involves learning to build and documenting the projects that will serve as introductions to the use of tools for participants during the first few days of the IDDS. They are small projects using cheap materials, but they're really practical and fun to make. I plan to redesign the solar fruit dryer for use in my dorm room in the fall.

2. The mindset of the people I work with here at C-INNOVA is different than anything I've ever encountered. They are all deeply committed to creating positive change in their country, and they deal with the complications and hypocrisies that they encounter in the most direct way possible. I've always disliked patriotism, not only because I'm a child of two countries, but because of the ways it's usually expressed in the US and Europe. In the US, people tend to express their love for their country through superlatives that ignore its deep inequalities and problems. In Europe, patriotism often means shunning outside influence and intercultural understanding. For my co-workers, loving Colombia means acknowledging and taking responsibility for its problems. It means serving Colombia's people and taking steps to improve their lives. I'm sure there are people with this mindset in every country, but it isn't something I've been lucky enough to encounter before. I'm excited to experiment with this version of patriotism and to find more people who embrace it.

3. Truly being a foreigner for the first time in my life is more strange and beautiful than I ever could have imagined. When everything is new, the wonder of childhood comes back and the smallest things seem magical. You can go from one climate to another here in a matter of minutes, just by driving down the mountain. I've finally started wearing sunscreen every day, because Bogota's proximity to the equator and altitude mean that I can get sunburned on my walk out to lunch. The sounds of small explosions we heard during a weekend in the countryside were nothing to worry about, just a popular pastime that's a bit like corn hole but with gunpowder. The dogs on farms that don't seem to belong to anyone are friendly and have all of their shots. The other day, I saw a billboard advertising NO-AD sunscreen. I think I finally understand my parents' tendency to giggle at small everyday things, when they're outside of the countries where they grew up. There are some things that just never stop seeming odd or wonderful when you're in an unfamiliar context.

Everyone always says that the first two weeks in a new place are the hardest, and there have definitely been difficult moments, but I've really enjoyed my time here so far. Here's to the next seven weeks!

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