With my spiffy temporary resident visa all sorted out, the next step to living in Colombia is getting my cedula extranjeria.
Every Colombian is issued with a cedula (national identity card) which they are required to produce or rattle off their number for anything and everything. The cedula contains important information like name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, height and blood type. It doesn´t however contain important information like address or favourite colour.
As a foreigner living in Colombia I need a foreigner´s national identity card to produce when asked for ID, to open a bank account and for a myriad of other processes. This is in addition to my passport and visa.
Armed with a list of everything required for the cedula processing, I stumbled across a piece of information I didn´t have – my blood type.
If you ever want to see a surprised Colombian, just tell them that you don´t know your blood type. They will ask how is this possible, and what happens if you are in an accident and need blood and will expect an answer that they will still challenge.
The only two people in my family who know their blood types are my aunt who has had two kidney transplants and my grandfather who donated some blood to himself before hip surgery. Curiously, my mother who has been the recipient of a few blood transfusions with a stint in intensive care where she was basically bleeding to death, doesn´t know her blood type.
It´s really not something that most people in Australia know, unless they are a blood donor, but it is a big talking point in our Colombian house. I can see why it is important to know your blood type here. Colombia isn´t blessed with a health system and blood service like we are in Australia. There are very few ambulances (most people hail a taxi) and resources are stretched thin in the clinics and hospitals. The few moments it takes to type your blood could make all the difference to your survival here.
The blood service here works more on a “we´ll give you the blood you need if you can rustle up the same amount in donations from your family and friends”. Colombians are very hospitable and generous people, but that doesn´t really cross over into genuine altruism like blood donation. One of mi novio´s aunts recently underwent surgery. Prior to the surgery, another aunt came around to the house seeking donations because the family needed to stump up 4L of blood to replace the blood his aunt would require during and after the surgery.
If you have a rare blood type you suddenly become in demand and people will pay for your blood, which further negates the donation aspect. When mi novio was completing his compulsory national service in the army, he was rounded up by the captain along with another soldier and sent off to have their blood ´donated´. Out of 800 odd soldiers in the battalion, he was one of only 2 people with O- blood type that the mother of the captain desperately needed as she was at death´s door. After the hefty ´donation´ he was immediately sent back out on duty with just a Gatorade.
When Colombian babies are born, they are immediately tested for their blood type and that information goes on their birth certificate. Getting my blood type tested I however turned into a big baby. Wedged between Santa Marta´s registry office and a photocopy place is a tiny white shopfront that looks more like a small garden shed than a blood lab. That is where you go to find out your blood type and get an official piece of paper with it written on it, because the cedula process needs official certification of your blood type.
It´s a walk in-walk out type place and in under 5 minutes and for COP$5000 (US$2.50) I came out with throbbing, still-bleeding finger where the attendant had carelessly stabbed me and an official blue card proclaiming me to be O+, the universal receiver.
So while I am the universal receiver, mi novio is the universal giver. I think there´s a fair chance some would also say that´s how our relationship could be described too.
Inspired to donate blood? Do it!
Australia: www.donateblood.com.au (and a shout out to my former colleague Benny who has been behind a number of those campaigns encouraging you to donate)
New Zealand: www.nzblood.co.nz
If you are in another country, do a search for blood donation to find how you can save lives.