a little cameo

Life in Colombia and everything that goes with it

Remembering High School Maths

Maths problem solving and equationsD’s maths teacher sent through ten maths problems for him to solve over the weekend, and helping him with this has taken me back to my maths education at high school.

I never liked maths. I was always a word kind of person, enjoying English the most out of all of my subjects (although I never really liked the required reading texts much). I always struggled with maths and the different concepts presented, possibly helped along in no small part by the belief that I wasn’t a maths person. In Year 7 the problem sheets we were given for homework were always difficult and challenging but being the kind of student I was, I hated getting red crosses for anything so diligently put in the effort to solve them correctly.

Despite not liking maths and not considering myself good at it, I got excellent grades until Year 11 when we were able to choose our subjects. At Year 11 level there were two levels of maths, Further Maths, which was dubbed veggie maths, and Maths Methods, which was far more technical and demanding. My friends were all science-maths types and they convinced me in joining them in Maths Methods. From the very beginning that was a bad idea. I was in a class with all the kids who went on to become engineers and scientists, people for whom complex mathematical equations would be part of their university degrees. I had no such ambitions and really should have taken veggie maths along with the other students who were aiming for business degrees.

My Year 11 Maths Methods class became hell and I the demon who terrorised it. I mostly copied the work from my friends, still not understanding anything or how it was applicable in the real world. I spent great chunks of time distracting other students, which for my goody-two-shoes student persona was a huge departure from my reputation at school and I developed a bad attitude. In one particular class, a fellow student complained to the teacher that my wandering around the classroom and loud voice was distracting so the teacher gave me an ultimatum, to sit down and focus or leave the classroom. So I defiantly packed up my books and chose to leave the class, surprising everyone including the teacher who still considered me a responsible student.

I do not know how I managed to pass the year, but as it came to selecting subjects for the final year of school, I was not swayed by my friends’ encouragement to continue with Maths Methods, that I would make it through. So I dropped down to Further Maths at Year 12 level and discovered an interest in maths I never knew I had. Maybe it was the wonderful teacher, maybe it was being back in an environment where I understood the mathematical concepts or maybe it was because I could apply percentages and probability and the like to real life needs for problem solving. I aced the class and ended up with the best Further Maths score from my school, 49 out of 50, which equated to getting a couple of questions wrong on the end of year exam and was way higher than any of my other preferred subjects. Only years later when I organised an event of the Premier’s VCE Awards for my state celebrating excellence by giving awards to the students who received study scores of 50 out of 50 did I realise just how well I had done.

Nowadays I rely on Excel formulas for most of my maths problems, but that interest in percentages, probability and statistics remains. So helping D with his homework on fractions is interesting and something that I get. Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t get it.

I had printed out the sheet of problems from the teacher and left it for him to work on yesterday morning while attending an Escuela de Padres (Parents’ School) on values at his school. I was in a bit of a bad mood about this, as I usually am regarding Escuelas de Padres, and especially since they set it for a long weekend and with mandatory attendance, although there weren’t many parents there.

I came home to find that D hadn’t done the maths homework because he didn’t understand what to do. So this morning we sat down to the first three problems.

“If Juan, Antonio and Carlos each received 12, 36 and 48 respectively on the test out of a maximum 96, what fraction did they each receive.”

Cool! I thought. We had discussed fractions expressed as percentages yesterday while cooking lunch when I asked him to fill the saucepan 3/4 full and I checked to see that he had understood.

Unfortunately he still couldn’t work it out as I explained the problem and what he needed to do. I wrote the equations he needed to do with long division (something I never ever understood and cannot help him with, but D seems to be good at long division). He eventually solved the problem and I said how he could learn little shortcuts to help, things like how 96 is close to 100 and 48 close to 50, so 48 should be about half of 96 and that you can figure this out at a glance if you use these kinds of logic tricks.

We moved onto the second question about needing 1/8 of a gallon of paint diluted in 1/16 of thinner to paint 1 door, and therefore how much is needed to paint 3 doors. This also escaped him and we spent a good 15 minutes on it with diagrams of bottles broken into eighths and sixteenths to colour in the levels.

The third question was much more difficult, but structured in a way of being able to check your answer doing a few additional equations, yet my patience evaporated as no amount of explanation seemed to help him. I guess the additional check equations confused him rather than helped and he then couldn’t go back and put his finger on which one was the answer to the question.

So while he copies out the answers to the first three questions on a fresh sheet, trying to remember exactly which scratchings on the scrap paper are the relevant ones, I sit here typing in my blog about the time I hated maths, hoping to soothe my impatience because we still have another seven questions to go.

 

 

Why reading five books at a time isn’t crazy

Crocheted Kindle sleeves

Crochet sleeves for my Kindle

Adding a fifth book today to my ‘currently reading’ list on GoodReads isn’t as crazy or confusing as it might look.

Earlier this week I read an article on LinkedIn about how to be a more productive reader that really resonated with me. Ever since joining GoodReads just over a year ago at the recommendation of some friends, I’ve rediscovered my love of reading, and have made a more concerted effort to read more.

When I joined at the end of March last year, my goal was to read 12 books before the end of the year. Being able to monitor my progress led to me finishing double that amount, including the long-term reading project of Ulysses. I’m now looking likely to exceed my 2016 reading goal of 32 books in the next couple of months at the rate that I’m reading, although I’m not likely to exceed 100 books per year as the author of the article does.

Usually I would have two or maybe three books on the go, often flitting between fiction and non-fiction as the mood struck me. A third book was added after starting to read books on the Kindle app on my phone in December last year and having access to books while on the go.

Edwin gave me a Kindle for my birthday, not only because he knows I love to read, but because he blames reading on the bright screen of my phone as the cause of my complaints about needing to go to the optometrist. Since receiving the Kindle, I’ve noticed that my reading speed has gotten faster. As commented in the article on being a productive reader, it’s possible to read faster on a Kindle than a hard copy book. Plus, reading is a skill, the more you read, and the more often, the faster you will become.

Today I bought an ebook and opted to pay the additional amount for the narrated Audible version. I’m interested in testing out listening to more audiobooks as another way of reading more books. So while I crocheted a new cover for my Kindle this morning (I wasn’t happy with the first one I’d finished on a plane) I decided to start listening to my audiobook, making it the fifth book on my currently reading list.

I listened for an hour and half while I crocheted, I listened for 25 minutes while on the treadmill and I listened for another half an hour while doing the dishes. So over the course of today, I managed to add an extra two and a half hours of reading into my day. Wow!

So by having books available to you in different formats – hard copy, ebook, audiobook – it really does open up so many more possibilities and enable you to get through more books than you think is possible.

For the record, I’m currently reading the following:
Hard copy: The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton which is on my bedside table and Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez a short story collection where I’m reading one story a day during my lunch break at work.
On the Kindle: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg which I am slowly making my way through, reading a chapter or idea and then letting it sink in over the course of a week or two and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante which is the third book in the Neapolitan series and has short chapters.
On Audible: The Forgotten Family by Beryl Matthews, which while it isn’t my first audiobook, it’s the first one I’ve listened to that wasn’t originally on a CD.

How many books do you have on the go? Do you read in different formats, or stick with one book format?

Walking for exercise

We recently bought a treadmill. It’s for me, really, because Edwin uses the treadmill at the gym at which he is a regular and dedicated member.

When I announced this purchase at work, one of my colleagues laughed and told me it would end up being a giant clothes hanger and why didn’t I just walk outside. Why indeed? I’ve never even remotely considered buying a treadmill before as I’ve always gone for walks in the great outdoors on walking trails or isolated river tracks near my childhood home, so what is different now?

Well, you see Bogota isn’t exactly a city made for people who like to walk for exercise. There are lots of parks, playgrounds and green spaces (depending to a degree on where you live) but there are not many easily accessible trails you can walk or jog around on an everyday basis. Driving to a trail is out of the question given the hideous traffic and lack of parking that Bogota is notorious for, and walking around in the streets is a surefire way to either get frustrated at not being able to cross streets or wind up getting hit by a car. I guess many people have a gym membership, however I felt that getting a gym membership just to walk on the treadmill was, for me, a guaranteed way to never use it.

Today, Good Friday, dawns and unlike spending my Holy Thursday holiday in my pyjamas reading books and organising my wardrobe, I write a to do list, topped with “Get on treadmill”. Probably a good idea given that it has sat, unused and collecting dust, at the foot of my bed for the good part of a week.

However it is too nice a day to stay inside our apartment praying that the narrow windows will let in some soft breeze along with the sunshine and views of blue sky. So I look to Google Maps to help me find somewhere green I can walk to and around. I’m open minded to try anything really, as there is hardly any traffic after the mass exodus of Bogotanos to celebrate Easter outside of the city. Then I see the Rio Molinos with strips of green along the sides. It’s not far from our apartment, so I decide that I can do a loop of it between Carrera 11 and the Autopista.

It’s the best idea I’ve had in a long time.

You would hardly call Rio Molinos a river. It is a typical Bogota river, a cemented aqueduct that is stagnant and stinky like a sewer. But after the smell stops bothering you, the beauty of the trail begins to emerge and gives you a perk in your step. The river is lined with many trees, some flowering, some providing shade, playgrounds and grassy nooks, there are even bottlebrushes with their red flowers coming out and reminding me of home. It’s quiet. Being in the middle of a peaceful residential area there is very little traffic around, although crossing the Carreras 15 and 19 are still a bit challenging even on a quiet traffic day without a convenient pedestrian crossing nearby.

Fifteen minutes into my walk and I’m planning when I can get here next. I fall in love with Bogota all over again. I feel an energy and lightness enter me. The barnacles of the everyday frustrations of this city release their hold on me and I’m smiling. I have an extra bounce in my step, the air sucks deeper into my lungs and the vitamin D leaches into my skin.

Even though the Rio Molinos is ugly and in no way compares with the magnificent Murray River I grew up alongside, today Bogota has given me an extraordinary gift, and has proven me wrong in thinking I needed a treadmill to get exercise by walking here in this city.

A bit about driving

Bogota trafficI always thought that Colombian drivers were terrible. Period. No ifs, buts or exceptions. However since buying a car last year and having experienced Colombian roads from the driver’s seat, I’m prepared to cut them some slack in the driving stakes.

I’d long held the belief that Colombians received their license in a Weeties pack (although of course there are no Weeties here), yet in actual fact the current requirement is that they complete a 30 hour course and pay more or less a monthly minimum wage for the privilege. That’s pretty intense and quite a commitment.

I won’t deny that at first I was afraid of driving here. I told Edwin that we would buy an automatic, because there was no way that I was going to drive in Colombia – on the other side of the road for me – and try to think about changing gears in Bogota’s infamous traffic. I had a car and drove in the US for six months, so I wasn’t a complete newbie to driving on the right hand side of the road, but I was still petrified at joining the chaos on the roads.

Getting behind the wheel was a huge lesson in understanding the challenges that every single driver faces and it made me realise that I’d been a little too hasty in my judgments about Colombian drivers.

  1. When there are no lines marked on a 4 lane road, how do you expect people to stick to their lane?
  2. When there are large, car eating holes that suddenly appear before you in the road, how can you not swerve to miss them?
  3. When speed limit signs seem to have been selected at random and placed 20m apart by road workers, how can you expect people to know how fast to drive?
  4. When street parking is as rare as hen’s teeth, how can you be expected to do drop offs and pick ups without holding up traffic?

While I’ve cut some slack to Colombian drivers, there still remain some eternal frustrations that make driving a not-so-pleasant experience.

  1. People who think it’s okay to drive in the fast lane (ie left hand lane) of a 2 lane highway and never pull into the fa right hand lane to let faster traffic past – especially when they choose to travel at 50kmph.
  2. 85% of drivers* do not use their blinkers (indicators) to change lanes or turn into streets.
  3. The people who beep their horns for the cars in front to take off from the traffic lights when the lights are still red.
  4. Never giving way to pedestrians at traffic lights – every day as I walk to work I am almost hit by a turning car that refuses to give way to me.
  5. Drivers with a complete disregard for their children’s safety letting them bounce around the car unrestrained, or in the arms of another passenger, or even worse, allow them to sit in their lap in between them and the steering wheel.

This last one makes me very angry because if you can afford to buy a car, you can afford to buy your baby or child a car seat.

I’m also quite baffled that everyone parks in reverse. In my home state of Victoria the only reverse parking people do is to get into a parallel park on the side of the road. Upon telling Edwin he could drive frontwards into a carpark he told me that he simply cannot park forwards, he can only park the car in reverse. Bizarre. I think it takes longer to park in reverse, and it gets very frustrating when you have to wait some time for a big SUV to manoeuvre their car into a narrow space using three or four line ups so you can pass and find a space. Surely putting the nose into the park and not having to rely on mirrors or a passenger to get out and guide you in would be far easier.

I’m still not super confident driving in Bogota and I leave most of that driving to Edwin while I crochet the time away, but I’m getting better and am starting to take the car out more, although only when I know I can easily find parking near my destination. The suddenly appearing motorbikes remain a cause for concern and driving anxiety, as do the even more unpredictable buses. But the best part of having a car is that I again feel like I have freedom. I can get in the car and go somewhere if I want to. We can go away for the weekend or on daytrips or longer trips as a family. We had the same feeling of freedom when we got the motorbike in Santa Marta, but unfortunately 3 don’t fit on the motorbike.

A car is not a necessity in Bogota for us like it was for me in Australia or the US. We live close to my work and to shopping centres so I don’t have to drive there. We managed to live in Bogota for almost two years with just the motorbike, public transport and our own two legs, so even though our car spends most of the week without leaving the garage, it’s handy to explore the outskirts of Bogota and pick family and friends up from the airport.

Now that we have 4 wheels and 5 seats, the motorbike has become Edwin’s runabout taking him to classes and work and filling in the gaps when we have pico y placa (restrictions on driving the car depending on the date and the last number on your numberplate). I’m not sad to no longer ride the motorbike, quite the opposite in fact, because even if it is faster in traffic jams I feel safer and more comfortable in my own private metal bubble.

 * so I made this up, it’s a fictitious statistic most likely for exaggerated purposes, but it feels very realistic to me.

Out of place in Ciclovia

Sunday Ciclovia in Bogota

Sunday Ciclovia in Bogota

Bogota is blessing us with continued beautiful summery weather, which makes Sunday Ciclovia even more enticing for people, although today I felt rather out of place.

You see Ciclovia has a dress code. Ciclovia activities – walking, running, bike riding, rollerblading, skateboarding – are all categorised as sports, so you must wear sportsgear. It is expected that you will be decked out head to toe in matching attire. Your runners will match the colours in your lycra leggings and the top you wear. Anything else is not acceptable. Like, for example, my outfit of denim shorts, singlet and thongs (the Australian definition).

A couple of weeks ago I got incredibly burnt on the Ciclovia (even despite sunscreen applications). The backs of my hands were red for days and I still have a very pronounced t-shirt line. I didn’t want to get burnt today, but I wanted to spend some time outside, so my idea was to ride to a nearby park where we could buy a coffee and sit and relax (in the shade) outside on the grass. While the boys took a soccer ball and frisbee along, I had a book with me. Hardly categorising as a sweat-raising sport for me.

Edwin gave me funny looks when I refused to put sneakers on and when I didn’t pull out the lycra leggings. He tried to reinforce that we were going to Ciclovia, his stress on the words confirming the association between Ciclovia and sports. He still didn’t get it when I said that my bike was a mode of transport to get me to our destination of the park.

As I cruised along on my non-sporty bike with a non-sporty hat on, I was surrounded by Bogotanos who clearly haven’t understood that the weather is hot as they were riding and running in long pants and long-sleeved sports zip ups. I sat tall in my seat, soaking it all in and received a passing remark from another cyclist who said “You look very elegant riding with that hat on.”

It made me wonder if one of the barriers to more Bogotanos using bikes to get to work and other places is because the bike is seen as a sporting accessory, not as a mode of transport.

 

 

Stop it Bogota, you’re making me homesick

Mildura sunrise

I’m thinking about home

The past week in Bogota can only be described as glorious. The skies are blue from the mountains in the east stretching out west across the sheet plains of La Sabana. The weather is warm, a little too warm to fall into Bogota’s usual weather cycle.

 

When you step outside into the bright day, the warm air clings to you, offering up a gentle caress that you know could soon turn to a Chinese burn. At 2600m the sun has the same strength as in my land under the hole in the ozone. Slip, slop, slap.

This wave of homesickness hits me as I think of my hometown. It’s summertime there now. The temperatures there are pushing 40 degrees Celsius, but this unusual heat in Bogota, which is really only about 25 degrees, takes me to an Australian summer.

I can smell the sausages sizzling on the barbecue and feel the contrast against the tossed salad, cold from being in the fridge. I relax into the heat and see sunlight sparkling on the river where I’m waiting with my toes in the sand for my turn to waterski. I flinch as I feel the spray from the misters at the beer garden touch my hot skin. I can feel the delight as a cold bubble of water floats downstream, breaking up the warm surface water. I’m squatting beside the road by a tar patch with tiny bubbles on the surface and I can smell the tar as I pop the bubbles with my fingertip. I get sleepy as I sink into the carseat, the hot, trapped air lulling me into slumber.

But here I am, just basking in this glorious weather. Breathing in the lightness of the air that reminds me of holidays, and a slower pace of doing things.

The news talks about this strange weather, that bakes us during the day, and then in neighbouring farm towns just 40km away how it frosts the pastures with minus 3 degrees at night. It’s part of El Nino they say.

My phone tells me it’s cloudy and 5 degrees Celsius, but then again, I never look at or believe the weather prognostications here and at least another 20 degrees needs to be added to even be in the same ballpark as what’s outside my building right now.

This weather has taken me on a nostalgic journey back home. Usually I’m used to the weather nostalgia in name only as Bogota’s predictable four seasons in one day (twice over) is in line with Melbourne’s fame for having four seasons in one day. But now I’m reliving summers of my hometown, and desperate to cling to this sensation.

While this nostalgia brings me a certain sadness, the perfect weather is giving me an energy that was absent. I wake up with a smile and open myself wide to embrace what I’m sure will be a great day.

A lesson in leaving Colombia with a minor

Desierto de Tatacoa, Colombia

It’s not quite Central America, but a new experience nonetheless. Desierto de Tatacoa, Colombia

Leaving Colombia and getting an exit stamp in the passport of a Colombian minor isn’t a straightforward process. Colombia has very stringent laws in place for travelling children, and rightly so to keep them safe from kidnapping or trafficking.

We  understand that our situation is a little more complex than some others as when a child leaves the country with only one parent, there are a lot more forms and processes to follow. Given that D’s mum doesn’t live in Colombia, matters are further complicated as we can’t get her to sign the Migracion Colombia permission form in the presence of a notary when we plan to travel.

With our sights set on taking D on international holidays, Edwin organised with D’s mum to get an escritura publica signed at the notary office when she was last in Colombia. The escritura publica is essentially a legal document that says that D can leave the country with Edwin for tourism purposes until he turns 18. Since it’s within D’s mum’s rights to annul this document and retract her permission at any time, we knew we had to get a copy from the notary’s office within 30 days of our departure date, which we duly did.

Rules, regulations and laws are prone to changing frequently, so rather than rely on our understanding of the requirements, Edwin went to the Migracion Colombia office in Calle 100 and spoke with a childen’s lawyer, showing her the documents we have. She said that all the documents were in order and that we would have no problems leaving the country with D. Edwin asked again if there was anything else we needed, and she said no, the escritura publica and his birth certificate were sufficient.

But it wasn’t.

After checking into our Christmas Day flight to El Salvador and lunching at Crepes and Waffles, we approached the immigration booth to get stamped out of Colombia, handing over passports, boarding passes, the escritura publica and D’s birth certificate. We knew something was up when the officer moved away to an office with our documents, and we started to get a sinking feeling.

When he came back he said we were missing a section validating the escritura publica and led us out of the quarantine area to the Migracion Colombia office beside the check in section of the terminal, handing over our documents to another officer.

We weren’t the only ones there in that office, and it appeared that all the cases were regarding children.

The officer explained that what we were missing was a nota de vigencia, a seal from the notary’s office saying that there was no amendment or annulment on record for the escritura publica. She showed us a copy of another traveller’s documents to explain what that was. What we had was a photocopy of the document from the notary’s records, and a notary’s authentication of that document. But no nota de vigencia.

The sinking feeling deepened into dread.

Edwin explained to the officer that he had gone to Migracion Colombia in Calle 100 just 10 days prior and was told his documents were in order by a Migracion Colombia official. Still there was nothing we could do, and the only thing the officer could do was include his claim in the report on the incident and encourage him to make a formal complaint at the office he had visited regarding the incorrect advice received.

So we were denied departure to Colombia because when we’d gotten the copy of the escritura publica, the notary hadn’t added the seal. Or maybe we were supposed to ask for a nota de vigencia instead, I’m still not clear.

With heavy hearts we left the office, spoke to the airline regarding our tickets and luggage and when we found out that the plane had to leave before we could get our bags, we took a taxi home to think about our options.

Before returning to the airport and after being able to process what had happened, we had devised a plan B. Given that it was Friday, we wouldn’t be able to get a nota de vigencia from the notary in Santa Marta until at least Tuesday, which would reduce the days we had to travel, and it would cost an extra US$150 per person with the difference in fare and the ticket penalty. We had our bags packed already so we decided to do a roadtrip instead, taking advantage of our time off to visit the South of Colombia which none of us had visited before.

The reality hit poor D – who was very excited about our trip and getting on an international flight – when we went back to the airport to collect our bags and he was glum until we got to our first stop at Desierto de Tatacoa the next afternoon.

I would hate for this to happen to you and ruin your holiday or travel plans, so here are my tips for reducing immigration heartache in Colombia with Colombian minors, which we will certainly be following  next time.

  1. If possible, check your documentation ahead of your flight with your port of departure. Next time we will be going to El Dorado Airport in Bogota to check our documents as they are the people that see these cases every day.
  2. Carry a copy, or even better multiple copies, of the child’s birth certificate. This is because the officers need to know who the parents are. We overheard another case in the airport where a 15 and 17 year old were travelling with both their parents and they didn’t have their birth certificates to prove that the two adults were their birth parents. The officers were prepared to accept scanned copies saved in an email, but the family didn’t have that either.
  3. If you are visiting multiple countries, take a copy of documentation to travel with the child for each country as Migracion Colombia keep the copies of your permission form (the per-trip authorisation by both parents – the Migracion Colombia website should have a template for download) or your escritura publica. I think they also keep the copy of the birth certificate.
  4. Make sure if you have an escritura publica authorising the child’s travel with a particular parent, that you get a nota de vigencia from the notary as well.
  5. As I’m not sure of the process if you are travelling with non-Colombian minors, you should check with Migracion Colombia what they need.

If you have any other tips or have a Colombian immigration experience to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

What’s in a name

I’m one of those people that is quite attached to their name. I really like it and I’m ever so thankful that Dad stumbled across the name on an American waterskiier competing at Moomba and managed to steer the namingship away from Digabeena, which was my mother’s choice for feminising Digby.

I’ve often been called Camilla, which, to be absolutely clear, I do not like to be called. A girl at high school once said to me after I’d told her not to call me Camilla that it just rolled of the tongue more easily than Camille. I think my muttered response was to put the brakes on her tongue.

One of the things I like about my name is that it is not common. I know of a couple of Camille’s but have only come across someone with the same first name a handful of times in my life. Perhaps that uniqueness is one of the reasons why I, shamefully, was distressed about being placed as an advisor in college alongside a guy called Kamil. Thanks to my response, the lesson in taking my name’s uniqueness too seriously was repeated as I now work alongside a guy called Camilo (and I’m pleased to say that I didn’t have the same reaction to the situation fifteen years ago, but rather was able to see the funny side of it).

Here in Colombia I have had to deal with the Camilla saga all over again, as Camila is a popular Spanish name and every time I say my name they think I’ve said Camila. To make my life easier, I told my Colombian family to call me Camil-ee, pronouncing the normally silent ‘e’, which was a good way of establishing that my name is not Camila.

I have also started to simplify it even further in cafes where I have to give my name and always use ‘Cami’, a common short-form of Camila or Camilo here. However, despite my best attempts, every time I say ‘Cami’ at Juan Valdez, they always need me to repeat it. Perhaps it is because they don’t quite believe that is my name because I don’t believe that my accent in Spanish is that bad.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a busy café and ordered my lunch to takeaway. They had also implemented the name system, and I said ‘Cami’ to the person behind the counter. I then sat and waited to hear my name called out.  I waited, I heard someone call out Carmen, then I waited some more, heard them call out another name and then I realised that my name had been written down as Carmen. When I approached the counter I said I thought they’d gotten my name wrong and was that a tex-mex burrito as that was my order. They were a bit reluctant to give it up and I repeated a number of times that my name was Cami not Carmen. I eventually got my burrito, although I left in a cranky mood.

I went back to that café again this week and stood patiently in a really long line to order the tex-mex burrito again. To get my revenge from the last visit, I said my name using my Australian accent, not providing any concessions to the Colombians behind the counter. I was asked to repeat it and said it exactly the same way. A look of confusion flit across the girl’s face, but she didn’t say anything more.

I sat down to wait, and made sure that I paid attention to the customers who were in front of and behind me so I didn’t miss my lunch being called out. Only my name never got called out. Instead the girl handing out the orders just held up her hand and waved at me. I’m not sure whether any name was even attached to my order, or whether they remembered me from last time, or whether I was just the only foreign looking person in the café. At least I left this time with a sly smile and a win instead of with an argument.

Walking back to the office I thought of a friend who regularly posts photos of the botched names she gets on her coffee cups in different places around the world. I’d really love to know if someone has researched if using names actually makes people feel more connected to the place, or whether the incorrect spellings or pronunciations outweigh the positives.

I’m not even going to say that the incorrect name issue is an expat or foreigner experience – although many expats would have plenty of tales to tell about having to repeat their names and spell them out all the time – because there are plenty of Australians whose names I would not be able to spell or necessarily even understand. And when the shoe is on the other foot, I’m also guilty of mis-hearing peoples names here, and although I’m more familiar with names in Spanish speaking Latin America now, I get lots of names wrong when I’m in Brazil. I’m therefore always thankful when there’s an exchange of business cards!

How do you adapt your name or the pronunciation of your name when you are in a foreign country?

 

The evolution of the wheel

I’m completely amazed. Walking out of work today I saw a guy pass by riding a wheel. A wheel!

So astonished was I that there is no photographic proof that man has progressed from the creation of the turning wheel to riding the wheel itself.

The wheel is like a unicycle crossed with a Segway, and about the same size as that of a unicycle or foldable bike wheel. Either side of the tyre are footholds to stand on, but there are no handlebars to steer. And it magically glides along the footpath.

My jaw dropped open. I looked around to see if I was the only person to witness this strange apparition on this new invention. A brief thought flitted through my mind “have I just travelled through time?”.

After recovering from witnessing this miracle I got to thinking – will we one day be teaching our kids to ride a wheel, not a bicycle? How far will we continue to advance in my lifetime?

It looked like a tricky business, but the guy made it seem effortless, and (hat’s off to him) he was wearing a helmet, which is good to see that he practices responsible wheeling.

Is ‘wheeling’ a new thing, or am I just one of the last to be surprised by this mode of transport?

The Last Visit of Raton Perez

One of the unexpected aspects of moving to Colombia and being thrust into instant parenthood is that the perpetuation of childhood miracles at Easter, Christmas and upon losing a tooth are quite distinct.

Santa Claus/Father Christmas really only appears in decorations as Christmas gifts are given by Niño Dios (Baby Jesus). This probably shouldn’t be so strange for me to see Santa faces and forms in houses when he isn’t an integral part of Colombian Christmas rituals as I’m guilty of buying snow-covered decorations and wrapping paper when snow is not part of Christmas in Australia.

Easter Bunny doesn’t exist and there are no chocolate giving traditions at Easter. Coming from the country with the highest per capita Easter egg chocolate consumption, I find this very sad, although if you look hard you can rely on a few imported Lindt Chocolate bunnies to cheer up the season.

Another changing face of childhood magic is the Tooth Fairy whose gossamer wings have been replaced by a whiskered mouse called Ratón Pérez.

Perhaps I want to try to hold onto my own childhood memories by bringing these traditions into my family here but I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought much about the impact of me thrusting them upon D who by that time had already celebrated 7 Christmases, 7 Easters and lost a couple of teeth. I must remember to ask him when he’s older if he noticed the difference in these events after I came into his life because all of a sudden Santa came to visit, leaving gifts behind in a pillowcase laid out by the tree, chocolate was consumed at Easter, and instead of putting his lost tooth under his pillow he had to put it in a glass of water on the mantelpiece in order to receive the money.

In the past year and a half, Ratón Pérez has made over 10 visits to our place, although I think now he is just about done. I remember one of the first teeth to come out in Bogotá; D had been fiddling with his loose tooth for quite some time, giving us updates on his progress every so often. I remember as a kid getting the dental floss and tying it around my loose tooth to help give a little pull. It’s one of those fascinating agonies we can’t help but be drawn to. After quite some time and in a burst of bravery, the tooth came out. We probably didn’t make enough noise about his achievement, instead directing him to put it in a glass of water on the mantel and saying Ratón Pérez would come during the night.

The next morning there was a 2,000 peso note in the glass and no tooth. D started to rant and get upset. It wasn’t over the amount of money he had received, rather he was upset that Ratón Pérez had taken his tooth. The horror! His words were “I wanted to keep my tooth, it took me a lot of effort to pull it out.” He wasn’t happy with our explanation that it is an exchange process, the tooth for money and so the following week when the next loose tooth came out with some help from the school nurse (who has helped him pull at least 2 teeth out during school) he put the tooth in the glass of water but this time wrote a note asking Ratón Pérez to leave him his tooth because he had invested so much effort into pulling it out. The next morning there was a tooth in the glass, but no money, and so it continued for the next two nights until D finally took the petition down and resigned himself to the fact that he couldn’t have both.

I had expected that by now, at age 11, D would have definitely cottoned on to Ratón Pérez being Edwin and I, but with one of his last teeth to come out we forgot to swap the tooth for money and in the morning when he checked it before going to school, he got really angry that Ratón Pérez hadn’t come. His reaction was not that of a boy who knew his parents were behind the scam.

It’s nice that he’s still so innocent, although we can see that beginning to change. He’s going through a big growth spurt and his interests are evolving. Now that I think all his baby teeth are out, there’s no need for him to keep believing in Ratón Pérez , but for now, we’ll just hold onto the last vestiges of his affectionate and innocent boyhood before the magic wears off.

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