Published! In Was Gabo an Irishman?

Towards the end of last year I received an email with an invitation to submit a story for an anthology of essays by foreigners uncovering how the works of the great Maestro, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, had shaped their opinions of, or revealed to them, the real Colombia.

I was very excited and immediately knew that I wanted to write about the magical realism of life in Santa Marta that I’d seen firsthand when I first moved to Colombia.

At around the same time I participated in a workshop as part of my work where visiting professors from my home state of Victoria delivered a capacity building program to Colombian PhD supervisors and doctoral candidates. While I fit into neither of these categories, I found the program informative for my work and quite motivational for my personal projects, particularly the piece about writing a thesis or a journal article, and the work involved to craft the story in a coherent way, and tips for making time to write.

I told the professor, Ron Adams, about the invitation and he was very encouraging. And so I started to write. I planned out the story looking at what I wanted the overall theme to be, and also made a list of the anecdotes I wanted to include.

Despite not sticking to my writing plan for a number of entirely valid procrastination excuses, I managed to finish my story and submit it from a hotel in Chile right on the deadline with a mixture of triumph, anticipation and guilt at not having kept to my plan and submitting something that wasn’t quite as polished as I had hoped – but then is it ever really going to be perfect?

In January I received the exciting news that my words would be published, not just virtually on my blog, or in some dull work report, but actually in printed in ink and bound into a book that would be for sale. My story about the beliefs and superstitions I lived amongst in Santa Marta was going to be included alongside two dozen other writers. As I told Edwin that my story was going to be printed in a book, he was very excited, although his excitement grew even further when he learned that he was my muse and that his name was going in print as well.

You see, as we discuss the pros and cons of starting a family together, it is Edwin’s strong desire to leave a legacy behind. He wants our story to be handed down and for our genes and surnames to entwine into a living breathing person. That is the legacy he wants. I think it is quite a common sentiment for many people, however I am not one of them. I don’t see numerous offspring as perpetuating my impact, or importance, in the world after I am gone. It’s not how I need to be remembered. I’m not sure that Edwin’s mind will be changed, even now that our love story is written down and published and being read by thousands of strangers, yet for me, this is more like what my legacy looks like.

I’ve never written down our story before, not even here. I have often thought about writing a post describing how we met, and I’m sure there’s a draft started somewhere but the perfect public forum for telling it was meant to be in the book Was Gabo An Irishman? Tales from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Colombia. We each have our own versions of telling the story of how we met and fell in love, each weaving different threads together and elaborating it with our individual recollections, yet the stories are very different in English and Spanish which is what I guess makes it fabulous as an oral history.

I’m seven stories away from finishing Was Gabo An Irishman? and I know that when I finish it, there will be a sadness because there will be no more incredible personal stories to absorb, admire, amaze and relate to in the accuracy of their observations.

My great thanks go to the editors and founders of this wonderful project, Caroline Doherty de Novoa, Victoria Kellaway and Richard McColl. They have pulled together all these people with interesting stories to tell and have done so in a polished and professional way. I know my story is far better for their insightful comments and fabulous editing and I’m really very chuffed to have my writing alongside such talented and accomplished people.

So now the only thing left is for you buy a copy and read not just my story of falling in love with Edwin and Colombia, but all of these wonderful tales of love, war, magic and most of all, real people.

From overseas you can purchase a copy of Was Gabo An Irishman? via Amazon at this link and by clicking through you can also read a far more enticing description.

In Bogota, the book is available at:

La Madriguera del Conejo bookshop, Carrera 11 #85-52

The Book Hotel,  Carrera 5 #57-79

If you do buy the book, I’d love to hear your feedback!

And as a final note, I’d like to share the fabulous quote preceding my story Bewitched in Santa Marta on page 187.

Crazy people are not crazy if one accepts their reasoning. – Of Love and Other Demons


An overwhelming lack of enthusiasm

Arriving back home from our recent camping trip to Tayrona National Park full of excitement with the news that we are going to get married and with a beautiful ring on display, I was looking forward to letting my nearest and dearest, okay, everyone, know the news.

In the kitchen I asked mi novio if he was going to tell his mum sitting in the rocker in the lounge room, but he said for me to tell her. So I approached her and said “Señora, we have some exciting news. Your son asked me to marry him and I said yes!” while thrusting my left hand towards her so she could see the ring with which he had proposed.

Her response while looking at my ring was “That´s good. It´s pretty, it´s an engagement ring” and then proceeded to tell us that the recently dead Hugo Chavez was going to be embalmed and put in a crystal coffin on display in a museum in Venezuela.  Brief? Yes. Lacking in enthusiasm? Absolutely. A pin prick to my bubble of excitement? Most certainly.

Instantly I slumped in the chair, barely able to hide disappointment at such an uninterested reception to incredibly important news by the first person we´d told.

I gulped down my Coca-Cola and made a speedy dash to the bathroom for a shower where I admit to bursting into tears.

In our room mi novio found me on the bed with my head buried in a pillow and asked what was wrong. I told him that here we were with the most exciting news the house has had for the year and his mother hadn´t shown any excitement, let alone congratulated him. What a great way to feel welcomed into the family. I´m pretty sure in my distraught state I said that if that was how excited his mother and family were going to be, then we´d get married in Australia where all of my family, who I was sure would be over the moon by the news, could attend this important event in our lives.

After my outburst, I tidied myself up and then mi novio came into the room again to find me talking to myself in the mirror. He asked what I was doing, and I answered, rather suspiciously, “nothing”. Clearly it wasn´t nothing and when he asked again I said I was practicing what I would say to his mother to let her know how hurt I was feeling by her lack of reaction to our news. He told me to practice on him, and I unwillingly I relented and put forth my little speech. He asked if I was really going to say something and I told him that if I never said anything, I would always feel the stone of hurt and bitterness in my heart over her reaction. He asked if I wanted him to tell her, and I was unsure but eventually decided that it was probably best for him to broach the subject.

We went out to the lounge and sat down on opposite sides of the room. Mi novio then said “Mamá, Camille feels sad because she thinks you are not excited or happy about our news because you didn´t say anything or express your happiness.”

Her response was defensive and actually slightly argumentative, “I looked hard at the ring and it was nice. If I had have thrown a glance at it and then looked away that would have been an offense. It´s not my responsibility to ask or inquire about anything, it´s my children´s responsibility to communicate with me. I´m not going to ask questions. One doesn´t like to make comparisons, but I was thinking about your brothers and sister and how it´s nice that you´ve told me and not run off and hidden things from me.”

She proceeded to stay off the topic of our pending nuptials and instead launched into a lengthy tirade of how she wasn´t happy about how one son got married 5 months after his father died and so she only went to the church not to the reception, how another son got married in the presence of all his wife´s family and without telling any of his family, how her daughter was supposed to get married in 6 months but then suddenly upped and left the house for her fiance´s home town where a wedding was planned for in a week´s time and how she believed after seeing things on Facebook that another son had gotten married on the sly too. An interesting way of showing she was happy for being included in our celebrations and not making comparisons.

Instead of feeling the weight of sharing my feelings leave my chest, I felt berated for being so sensitive and apparently doing things the wrong way for not leaving it up to her son to tell her we were engaged.

So I told mi novio that from that point he had to tell his family. I wasn´t going to say anything because I´d probably just be disappointed by their reactions and it seems that this type of news is best coming from him than me, the foreigner.

I guess I was better prepared for the lack of enthusiasm from the rest of his family after this experience. His older brother just kind of stared at the news and his aunt (who is both his boss and my boss) just smiled dumbly. A cousin didn´t even say anything. Not once was there a felicitaciones (congratulations) said by a member of his family, except for when mi novio said to his son “Aren´t you going to congratulate us?” but I guess it´s okay to put words in a nine-year-old´s mouth.

As far as life events go, Colombians are more excited by babies and birthdays than by weddings. I´m sure that if we´d announced we were having a baby, the reaction would have been far different. In Australia, whilst many people choose never to wed or have children before getting married, there is still a strong tradition for being married before starting a family. In Colombia everyone asks when you´re going to have a baby. They´re not interested in whether you´re going to get married, just when you get pregnant.

Perhaps my views and generalisations are tainted by my experiences living on the coast. The state of Magdalena where we live is one of the four poorest states in Colombia and teen pregnancies are the norm (condoms are priced way out of reach of a huge percentage of people here) and not the same kind of big deal they are back home. As a matter of fact we are going to a baby shower today for a 17-year-old girl. Truth be told, I had expected to find a greater pressure to get married before starting a family in this Catholic country, but it seems all that matters is bringing a baby into the world, regardless of how old the mother is, or whether she is in a stable, loving relationship.

I asked the girlfriend of mi novio´s cousin why she thought I´d been met with such indifference and she said “Everyone gets divorced or separated anyway, so people don´t really think it´s worth celebrating.” I was astounded at the pessimism on a level which I hadn´t yet encountered in Colombia. However mi novio doesn´t agree with this and says it is just that more people to live together without getting married. Even his parents never got married.

Thankfully the reception to our engagement news from my parents, brothers, sister, grandparents, aunts and friends was overwhelming and effusive. Exactly as I expected it to be and like how I am when I hear exciting news of engagements, weddings and babies – with genuine happiness for the people concerned.

So whilst I had the wind knocked out of my sails, this little boat continues to navigate the choppy waters of cultural differences in search of safe harbours, crystalline water and beautiful beaches like the one where mi novio proposed to me.

Have you ever had an unexpected response to a major life event due to cultural differences?

Oh no! I’m THAT kind of girl

Sightseeing at the cliffs
Out and about

You know the type. We’ve all had a friend who upon finding a new love disappears from sight.

That’s what’s happened to me with this blog since mi novio arrived, and I understand the feelings of neglect the blog must be having. However, I don’t want to be that girl, so I apologise to all and sundry for my disappearance…and want to try and make up for it.

The arrival of mi novio was exciting, surreal and a little strange. For the first couple of days we looked at each other in a kind of “are you really here next to me, in person?” way. It was a bizarre experience to move our relationship back into that face-to-face variety after it had grown so much via Skype, but after day 3 we finally believed that yes, we were really together again.

The past couple of months has been a learning curve for us both with things like his level of English (not as high as I’d thought), my normal life stressing (exacerbated by moving) and my desire that he have a most amazing experience here (while he’s happy to study English and spend time pottering around with my family).

But things are all good.

I am excited about the move to Colombia. I’m happy that mi novio gets along with my family very well (even to the point of being enthusiastic Dad’s vintage machinery interest) and I’m loving spending time with my family.

Meanwhile all the sorting of affairs in order to move to another country for an indefinite timeframe is taking up brainpower and hours. There’s new bank accounts with fee-free international transactions to find and open, old bank accounts to close, superannuation funds to consolidate, copies of birth certificates to get, documents to be witnessed, possessions to be sold, given away, thrown out or stored and, most importantly, the decision on what to take with me. And that’s not the half of it.

It’s quite daunting, but I guess that’s to be expected when you are moving countries and don’t know when you’ll be back (if ever). But I’m not the first person to move overseas, and in all this, I can’t help but feel for those who don’t have the time or ability to collect the documents, pack up possessions and prepare themselves for a move to a foreign country.

He arrives tomorrow!


Mi novio arrives tomorrow!

After 186 days apart, it’s only one more sleep until we get to throw our arms around each other.

Everything is ready for his arrival. The place is tidy and I’ve baked him a chocolate love cake (and also a lemon tart). Now all that remains is for me to calm my nerves.

As of tomorrow, in less than 12 hours, everything is going to change. This is why marriage, particularly that of the type where people don’t live together (or even have sleepovers) before getting married, is such a big deal. It is a massive life change and it’s not without its stresses. I can see why people get cold feet when that little change-resistant, pessimistic voice starts getting in your ear. But the most important thing is to keep looking forward and trust your decisions that have led to this point. Change is exciting!

Mi novio is finally going to be on my territory and I’m anxious about how that will go. Will he like it? Will he feel comfortable enough here in order to one day come back here to live? Will he like the person I am here, in my home environment?

I guess all that will be answered soon, after I greet him at the airport with a massive public display of affection and we start the next phase of our lives, the one where we live together – in the same country – and we talk face to face instead of on Skype.


Making a long distance relationship work

Every relationship is different because every person is different in their hopes and dreams and in their personalities.

Whilst I’m not sure what a definition of a successful long distance relationship is (is it when you stop being long distance and have a relationship in person?) I thought I’d share some of the things that have worked for mi novio and I.

1. Commitment
We are both committed to having a relationship. We want to be with each other with the exclusion of all others.

2. An end date
Sunday 10 June, 2012. We are working towards the day when we’ll be together again and for always. The day after which there is no more long distance and we are both living in the same place. Without a definite date, or month, I think I would go crazy. It’s like anything unpleasant, it makes it easier to get there when you have a finish time, such as when that time on the exercise bike just got really hard, but you only have 3 minutes to go, so you dig deep into your energy reserves and do it.

3. Plans for the future
We have so many plans together involving travel, setting up a home, starting a business and having a family. When the going gets rough for a time, we can always seek refuge in these plans to get us through the time we are spending apart.

4. Honesty
All relationships require honesty, but a long distance relationship lives and dies on honesty. It is so easy to misconstrue something when you are not there in the situation. And it’s best not to hide things, even those things that can be taken the wrong way or cause pangs of jealousy. Being open helps mi novio to remember that I trust him and that he can trust me because I’m telling him everything I’m doing.

5. Remember it’s hard for them too
Sometimes I forget that mi novio is going through the same things as me. I wonder what he’s up to, who he’s spending time with and what little things are going on in his life beyond the computer screen. It’s actually worse for him because he has never been here in Australia so it is much more difficult for him to imagine what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis, whereas I can picture him going to work and spending time with his family.

6. Good communication
Long distance relationships are built on the memory of chemistry and clad with good communication. Even if mi novio’s day is the same everyday, I want to hear about it. I want to know all about what he’s doing because I’m not there to do it with him. A long distance relationship really gives you the ability to polish your communication skills and improve your story-telling abilities, your story is far more elaborate than I woke up, went to work and came home.

7. Make an effort
Relationships aren’t a one-way street. Both partners should make the effort to contact each other as they both have the responsibility to look after the relationship. It is much more convenient and cost-effective for us if I’m the one to call mi novio, but he will still email or send text messages so not one person is left driving the communication in the relationship. When I’ve felt as though I’ve been the one in control of the relationship contact and it starts to frustrate me, I ask him to send me a love note via email and this makes my concerns melt away.

8. Don’t be afraid to argue
It’s not all “I love you, I miss you” lovey dovey chat. All relationships have tension at times, and it’s easy to dismiss these feelings because of the distance and think you have to be nice to your partner. One time I had this funny desire to pick a fight with mi novio. I had no good reason for arguing, but I was feeling so numb with all the I miss yous that I just wanted to feel something different, something more passionate. And then it happened. I got grumpy, behaved childishly and then we talked about it. A lot. As we continued to talk through the issue I felt myself relax completely and feel a wave of love wash over me. Now I know why I picked the fight. I wanted that glorious feeling. However if you’re going to fight, you have to make up, and it’s best done straight away. Relationships seem to sour quicker over distance if a conversation is left on a bad note.

Mi novio is going to be here with me very soon, although the days seem to be ticking by slowly. As I think about our long distance relationship changing into an in-person relationship, I also think about those that are still in the land of long distance or who are just embarking on a relationship in different places. I wish for them strength, persistence and faith in love.

What else do you think makes a long distance relationship work?