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Another changing face of childhood magic is the Tooth Fairy whose gossamer wings have been replaced by a whiskered mouse called Ratón Pérez.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

A lesson in lyrics: El Taxi

They say that listening to music is a great way to improve your language skills. In my case, where my learning preference is visual rather than aural, this just doesn’t work unless I have the lyrics in front of me.

At the party after the baptism, we got to hear the ‘El Taxi’ song by Pitbull twice, with the kiddie entertainers leading a choreographed dance. I quite like this song, simply because it’s catchy, and obviously the kids like it too.

I was convinced that during the chorus it was:
“JoJo dar me por el taxi” which I was translating as “JoJo give me the taxi fare”.
This got cleared up by my colleagues this week when it was played in the office.

Correct lyrics are:
“Yo, yo le paré el taxi” which means “I stopped the taxi”.
My colleagues thought my mistake was pretty funny.

Reading over the rest of the lyrics I was shocked to read all the dirty double entendre which causes me pain for liking a tune against my better judgement of the nature of the lyrics. I could go on here about how I despise a lot of reggaeton and champeta music, and the accompanying dance moves, for their objectification of women as sex objects and make the same kinds of correlations they do between video games and violence with these songs and teenage pregnancies and sexual assault, but I won’t say anymore because it’s depressing and the best I can do is teach my stepson to be respectful of women and girls.

I just hope that these meanings are way beyond the kids’ grasp because here the kids start dancing as soon as they can stand up and there isn’t really much of a children’s music sector here so they dance to whatever the adults listen to – not age-appropriate Wiggles-type songs or the Peter Coombes “Brush your teeth with orange juice” kind of songs that I grew up with.

Here you can see just how much the kids enjoy El Taxi.

A Baptism

We received the invitation to be the godparents of Edwin’s nephew by WhatsApp while visiting the monastery near Villa de Leyva with my Mum and sister. Edwin wanted to respond straightaway and pressured me for a response, when I just wanted to have a discussion in private. Surely receiving an  invitation by text message rather than a phone call is an indicator that an instantaneous response is not required.

I never expected the privilege and to be honest I thought our duty was done when one of the two names we suggested for the baby was selected. I can’t say I was overly keen to have this responsibility.

Anyway, an enthusiastic Edwin responded with a phone call to the affirmative, only adding “it’s an honour” as I wildly gesticulated that he needed to include that phrase for politeness sake.

We didn’t hear anything about the baptism for a while after that, not until Edwin and I were chatting about the looming date and I said that his sister and brother-in-law had to check with the priest about the requirements and that they needed to know that I’m not Catholic, because imagine if I turned up to the baptism only for the priest to say the godparents had to be baptised and confirmed Catholics. I was also not willing to perform any kind of religious act to turn me into an eligible fairy godmother should this have been the requirement for the job. My thoughts on religion are at opposition to my spiritual beliefs and I was not disposed to put myself into a hypocritical position solely to appease others no matter how many family feathers it would ruffle. As it turned out, there was no issue with my non-Catholickness at all.

On the day of the baptism we raced back from having our hair and nails done in town to meet with the priest at 2pm prior to the 3pm baptism. We were 15 minutes late and the priest was nowhere to be seen. Edwin’s brother-in-law put in a call to him only to be told that he would be an hour late, and therefore also late for the start of the baptism.

My anxiety levels were probably the highest at this delay, although the Colombian anxiety was regarding the possible lateness of the start to the birthday slash baptism party at 4pm and the concern that guests would be turning up to the party and we would still be in the chapel. I couldn’t quite grasp this reaction, as surely the party invitees had also been invited to the baptism and would be in the chapel with us. If this wasn’t the case, then that is like rocking up to only the wedding reception and not the ceremony – plain rude.

While we waited, we went to check out the party site where the decorators were no more advanced than before we had gone to the beauty salon. They had been there since 6am, supposedly to decorate, but what they did could have been done in 2 hours, maximum 3 hours. It’s another shining example of wasted efficiency and perception. The party place sells the decoration and entertainment package saying that the decorators will spend 10 hours decorating the venue to your theme, instead of just saying “we will decorate your venue for $X” and then send the decorators out there for 3 or 4 hours and then to another party for another 3 or 4 hours that they could make more money from. Because of the apparent ineptness, I’m also sure that the impressive George the Curious balloon tree filled with cute balloon animals came ready made from the shop, as the decorating guys couldn’t keep the other balloon bouquets from escaping in the wind and popping on the grass.

At 3pm we drove up to the chapel to greet arriving guests. After almost three years in Colombia I still have the foolish expectation that people will arrive on time for important events, yet Edwin’s brother-in-law’s family only arrived at 3:30pm. It didn’t matter anyway because the priest didn’t show up until 4pm, and dispensing of any pleasantry or need for consultation with the baptism’s protagonists, went straight to put on his robes and then called the parents, Edwin and I to the front and launched straight into the ceremony as though the devil was snapping at the heels of the toddler.

I’d never even been to a Catholic baptism and all of a sudden I found myself a participant in one, in another language to boot. I had been counting on the pre-ceremony pep talk with the priest to help guide me through the experience. Thankfully the priest was very instructional about what to do. He told us ahead of a passage that we had to say “Si, renuncio” or “Si, creo” and thankfully I understood when I had to make the sign of a cross on the toddler’s forehead. I also think that most people would recognise the Lord’s Prayer in any language just from the melody of the lines. It was over in 15 minutes and then we were rushed to the priest’s office to provide our names for the baptism record where the most conversation we got was when the priest asked if Edwin and my sister-in-law are siblings after seeing the identical surname structure.

It was then off to the party to sit awkwardly in rows around the perimeter of the open-air venue and watch the children’s activities and entertainment. At any Australian kids birthday party, the parents will mingle with others and the parents of the birthday child would introduce people to each other, with the children’s activities not necessarily the central focus for the adults, however here, once you had a seat, that was it and adults only spoke to those either side of them. I didn’t even see my sister-in-law go around and talk to the parents of the invited children. Come to think of it, at an Australian party, there is always a food and drink table, where while a plate may get passed around every now and then, each guest can go to the table for a nibble or a top up and circulate. The seated and served nature of a Colombian party is far less sociable.

Balloon tree
The sad story of the balloon tree

Just before the parents gave their speeches of thanks, the pinata came out. I always thought a pinata had to be whacked with a stick for all the lollies to come bursting out, but in this case, the contents of a container were tipped over the kids’ heads and they were sent scrambling for a prize amongst the confetti and streamers. Once prizes were claimed for those lucky enough to have snatched one up, the kids started sweeping around on the floor with the contents of the pinata and it was precisely at this moment that they turned into destructive little feral monsters pulling all the animals off the balloon tree and then pulling the tree apart. It was as though a consolation for not getting a pinata prize was a balloon animal. Perhaps it is mean-spirited of me to have described the children like this, but I wanted that balloon tree and its animals to go home with my godson.

In the thank you speech I got a special mention. I hadn’t expected my foreignness to still be such a novelty within the family, but Edwin’s brother-in-law said “We are very proud that our son’s godmother is from Australia, and that is very cool” at which there was a ripple of excitement through the crowd and one blushing face in particular.

The special treatment continued when at the family dinner held afterwards, I was ushered over to be introduced to my brother-in-law’s colonel while Edwin was left to cut the cheesecake that I, in all my BYO Australianness, had brought to share (something else that still sticks with me despite the only obligation to bring to a Colombian party is a gift).

The next day before heading back to Bogota we went to see the duplex that my sister-in-law and her husband have bought and will move into after he retires from the army. The current tenants were in the middle of moving out and were trying to figure out how to load the fridge in the back of a ute when Edwin’s brother-in-law waved to me “Camille, come in and have a look”. Edwin, standing right beside me, just looked at me with a wry smile, wondering when my celebrity would fade and that he would finally get a look in as the valued godfather.

Are you a godparent? If so, I’d love for you to share your thoughts on the role and its responsibilities. 


Lift Etiquette

I’ve always really liked Colombian manners in lifts (aka elevators) because it’s so warm and fuzzy and polite, but today I saw the other side of the lift doors in a new way as I was heading out to enjoy the first of three long weekends in Colombia this month (yes really, three almost-consecutive Mondays of public holidays woohoo!).

One thing you notice in Colombia, and Latin America in general, is that when you get into a lift, everyone will greet each other with a hola, buenos dias or buenos tardes. At first as a cold and solitary Westerner riding the lifts it was shock, but it’s actually a really lovely custom that I’ve grown to love and embrace. And as if the greeting wasn’t enough pleasantry for one trajectory into the heavens, you get farewelled when you get out with a ‘hope you are well’ or ‘see you later’. Awww. Lift riding brings out the best niceties in Colombians.

Or so I thought until this afternoon.

I rode down from my floor in an express lift with one other person to the ground floor. While he didn’t give way to me – as a woman – to leave the lift first as is often the case in Colombia, he shared the space politely. Please note, if you are a foreign woman sharing an elevator with a Colombian woman, you must ALWAYS cede to her native-born female right to leave before foreign women and men.

When we arrived at the ground floor, the doors parted to reveal a stocky man with a deadpan face standing directly in the middle of the doorway, toeing the line formed by the edge of the marble floor and the liftwell. He was so perfectly centred in the middle that he appeared first as a nose, followed by eyes, ears, shoulders and hands in quick succession. My companion and I started towards the doors to exit the lift, doing those preparatory movements you make to signal what your real move is going to be, and all the guy on the other side did was stand as still as a statue, perfectly blocking the doorway and not even blinking one dead eye in response to our ‘we’re getting out now’ jig.

I thought there would be a stand off to see who would give way first, but my lift buddy wasted no time exiting on the left, turning on his side to shimmy past the giant stone obstacle. Alone in the lift I also just wanted to get out, but still the guy waiting to get in the lift did not budge.

I have to admit my time in this new skyscraper with its fancy lifts is short, but I had seen this situation once before (although it’s never happened in our apartment building or in the previous building I worked in) and it reminded me of other impolite impasse behaviour I’ve witnessed in Bogotá. It reminded me of a Transmilenio bus stop.

For those not familiar with Bogotá, the Transmilenio is a train-like mass bus transit system notorious for overcrowded buses and stations. One incredulous aspect of it that riles me no end, is the utter chaos of boarding and disembarking the buses. There are zero rules and even less logic applied when it comes to these two rather critical parts of getting somewhere. There is no pause to let people off the bus before trying to board and definitely no giving of a little space so people can get off the bus and in turn make some room for those wanting to get on. There is also no moving aside to allow others past if you are at the front of the line yet this isn’t the bus you want to get on. It is mayhem and requires an excellent barging technique to get around these people whose only thoughts are about themselves and where they are going, with no concept of how give and take can actually make for a more effective and comfortable ride for everyone.

Since staring off at my nemesis wasn’t getting me out of the lift any quicker, it left me no option but to copy the side shimmy of my lift buddy, except that I added my own twist to the manoeuvre and quipped “This isn’t the Transmilenio, you know” as I slid past him and raced to the building exit without looking back to see if he’d understood the barb.

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


From junk room to study

We’ve been living in our apartment for 18 months now and until today, our spare room still had nothing but an inflatable orange couch, an inflatable kangaroo and a small folding table to keep the modem and router off the floor. The cupboards held an incredible variety of toys, games, motorbike accessories, cables and cords and a ridiculous amount of cardboard boxes being saved for some creative project.

After a year of desperately wanting a desk but being unable to justify the expenditure, I said to Edwin just before Christmas “I need a desk” followed by something stubbornly sulky that represented “now!” Perhaps it was D visiting his mother for the holidays or the December bonus, but either way, I was prepared to shop and spend to get a desk that will ultimately – so I keep telling myself – improve my happiness by giving me a space away from the TV.

Edwin had been planning a day trip to some waterfalls he’d read about a week earlier and was adamant that we would go there before Christmas, however I won him over to a day trawling antique and second-hand furniture shops by telling him that my desire for a desk pre-dated his interest in that particular outing which could wait until the new year.

Having been pinning photos of desks for a year, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Drawers on the right-hand side, wood (definitely not that laminex wengue colour that is all department store furniture is made of), not too big, and preferably in mid-century modern style. Finding the right desk was a whole lot more difficult, but the one of the great things about Bogotá is that where there is one antique shop, there are many.

We started in Calle 79A between Carreras 7 and 9 where all the fancy antique stores are to find a store dedicated to mid-century modern I’d seen on a previous visit. Only one shop was open at the hour we arrived and it didn’t have anything from the fifties or sixties, but there were some lovely, and expensive, pieces there.

Next we went to Chapinero to Carrera 9 between Calles 60 and 62 where there is another antique shopping strip. In one of my favourite stores to poke around in, we found a huge black desk that was close to the style I wanted but too big and too black for my liking. Edwin took a shine to a desk in another store but I didn’t like how heavy it looked with drawers on both sides.

The third antique district we visited was in Chapinero again, but the other side of Carrera 7 and between Calles 65 and 67 where there are few stores. In one of the stores whose specialty is selling old furniture painted shabby chic, I found exactly the style I wanted, except the paint job was hideous. The top was a streaky white, the legs and framework a burgundy colour and sky-blue drawers. Looking beyond the paintwork, the desk was a beautiful mid-century modern desk with rounded legs, the desk top creating an eave over the framework and long, wide brass drawer handles. But it was more than I wanted to pay and I didn’t think I could live with the paintwork.

We went back to Calle 79A and I found the store I had been looking for, Dessvan. I asked after desks, but while there was nothing that took my fancy, the assistant took me a few doors up the street to another store that had the most divine mid-century modern furniture. We fell in love with a pair of yellow tub chairs and I could have gone home with a completely redecorated apartment if my pockets were deeper. But it was a desk on our shopping list.

Using my feminine wiles, I told Edwin just how much I was in love with the desk with the horrendous paint job, and how if it was in a different colour, I would be so happy with it. I think it was partly to do with the begging face I put on and the other part his patience at an end but when he said the magic words every woman loves to hear “Mi amor, if this is the desk you want, I can repaint it for you,” I was sold on it.

We went back to the store to buy the desk and I let him negotiate the price and the terms (as all good Colombians must do).

Happy as a lark, we spent the next couple of hours warding off the rain in Chapinero, eating pan de bono and buying wool for more crochet projects, before heading home to await the arrival of the desk.

When we got home, we found that despite being told the delivery man would call us when he was on his way, the desk was already there and waiting in the communal reception room. The doorman couldn’t believe that we’d paid for a desk with that paint job; he thought we’d found it really cheap somewhere on the side of the road. I guess also the fact that most Colombians like to have new things and despise second-hand or old things had something to do with his reaction.

Straight to work sanding the hideous paint back
Straight to work sanding the hideous paint back


Once we put the desk in the spare room, it started to light the room up. Edwin could see the potential, and immediately pulled a piece of sandpaper out of thin air and started sanding back the sky blue paint on the drawers. When I said I wanted to paint it turquoise, a colour I am in decor love with, and showed him some similar projects on my Pinterest Desks board, he also came around to the idea.

Shiny new desk!
Shiny new turquoise desk! Edwin did a great job.

My dad always says that a man has got to have a project, and the refurbishing of the desk was a good hands-on project for Edwin during his end of semester holidays. He sanded and scraped the paint off until we exposed the bare wood. He bought a caramel coloured stain and turquoise paint. He patiently painted layers of paint and varnish. He shined the brass handles to life and we ended up with a stunningly beautiful desk where I will write blogs, Edwin will use the computer and D will do his homework.

Transporting a desk chair
Transporting a desk chair

The concession to an antique desk was a modern chair, so one Ciclovia Sunday we picked out a comfortable chair that would fit in the hutch space and rode back with the box perched precariously on Edwin’s handlebars and me with two new prints to hang on the walls sticking awkwardly out of my basket.

A wooden shelf Edwin had found abandoned in the carpark after some residents moved out, finally found a home on the new study wall after being painted with a turquoise trim.

We spent New Years Eve and New Years Day hanging pictures, washing walls and cleaning out the wardrobe, getting our study into order and I couldn’t be happier.

The only things left for us to do to finish the room off are to find a rug and then get a new light fitting and a desk lamp. Oh, and wash the window so my new outlook of the cerro from my desk isn’t obscured by dust and grime.

Happy New Decor from my fabulous new study!

My fabulous new study!
My fabulous new study!

A Book Swap Party

A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to a book swap party being held by a colleague of mine and upon reading the rules (one book per person and something you enjoyed) I felt instant regret for having left my latest, greatest read The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert in Australia with my mum after my recent trip back. Why regret? Well you see my bookshelf here in Colombia doesn’t exactly contain a lot of good, intelligent reads. It’s actually a bit embarrassing and given that I knew the other invitees would be book and writing people, I found myself wishing that I had brought Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest masterpiece back with me to share at this event.

But life should not be about regrets, so I set about analysing the books that met the following criteria:

1. I had read, and finished, the book

2. I was prepared to part with it

There were 15 books that I had read, and of those, there 2 that form part of my Latin American collection, and therefore are loanable, but un-giveawayable.

The 13 books included 3 rural Australian romances, 2 historical romances, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, 1 American chick lit, 1 hideously self-indulgent autobiography, Pride and Prejudice and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

In the end, the toss up was between one of the rural Australian romances Mum had left behind and had inadvertently inspired me to write a few chapters of a similar genre and The Book Thief. I chose The Book Thief. Not just because for a book swap party it is quite apt, but because there is a story behind how I came to have it in my possession.

I wanted to share the book’s story with whoever selected my book to take home. A book is not just about the story contained within the pages, but the journey it has taken. In essence there are two stories for every book and I wanted to tell the unwritten one.

The story of my copy of The Book Thief goes like this:

This book was given to me by Emily in July 2011. I met Emily in Asheville, North Carolina during my solo roadtrip across the US and then I stayed with her and her extremely hospitable family in Connecticut a few weeks later. As I was preparing to leave and hit the road to Vermont, Emily ran inside and came out with The Book Thief. She told me that it was one of her favourite books and she wanted to share it with me. I had heard about it, but hadn’t read it before.

The book travelled with me back to my base in Los Angeles where I left it while I took a life-changing trip to Colombia. In October 2011 I took the book (and a suitcase of other personal effects) to my new boyfriend’s home in Santa Marta to await my return in mid 2012 to live in Colombia.

Two and a half years passed before I finally took it off the bookshelf and opened it up to read, prodded by the pending release of the film adaptation.

Maybe it was the high expectation I had of it being someone else’s favourite book, favourite and important enough to gift to a passing traveller, or perhaps it is the quietly sinister and odd narration, but it didn’t end up in my category of favourite books. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a page-turner demanding me to devour it. That said, it is an interesting story and unique in it’s style. I like the peppering of German words, which really do help to firmly set the story in Germany and take you away to that place, even if you don’t know what they mean. And, it’s written by a fellow Australian.

I am swapping this book so that it can continue on its journey in the spirit with which I came to have it. I hope it passes through many more hands over the years, further adding to its own story.

There were so many interesting books shared and while I missed out on Laura Esquivel’s Swift as Desire, which would have been a great addition to my Latin America bookshelf, I came home with another book adapted for the silver screen, Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Perhaps the greatest gift out of the party was the inspiration to write this post. The desire to put my fingers to the keyboard instead of my crochet hook and get back to writing.

Crochet isn’t so hard to learn after all

Crochet love hearts
Little crochet love hearts

I’ve wanted to learn how to crochet for ages but have hidden behind excuses like “I don’t have a crochet hook” and “It looks hard” and my favourite “I’m terrible at knots.” Despite my desire to learn, I wasn’t ready to learn. That all changed last week.

Mum came to visit last month and for some inexplicable reason she brought with her a crochet hook and a ball of fuchsia coloured wool. It was inexplicable because whilst Mum has passing phases of craftiness, I’ve never actually seen her crochet anything. Knit yes, sew absolutely, crochet never. She had even taken it on as carry-on (I would have thought a crochet needle, despite being blunt, would have gone in the same bin as tweezers and pocket knives at the security screen) although she had barely 30 stitches finished.

When I saw her started project I mentioned that I really wanted to learn. My Nan is very talented at working with wool and even had a loom with which she made all her 15 grandchildren a tartan blanket, so I thought maybe she had been crocheting with Nan lately. Mum started to explain the process to me and then added “Except I don’t know how to turn”. Perhaps she hadn’t been getting crochet help from Nan after all. Turning seems to be a critical element and is probably why she hadn’t gotten very far into her nebulous project. She showed me how to hold the hook and wool and to make chain stitches except my brain wasn’t open to learning and I found it awkward, uncomfortable and frustrating. So I gave up. Lucky for me, Mum decided to leave behind her hook and ball of wool for me to practice, and on Thursday last week I idly clicked on a link in Pinterest with a tutorial on Maybe Matilda on how to crochet and decided I wanted to give it a go.

First dodgy piece of crochet
First dodgy piece of crochet

I had pinned pictures and links to beginners crochet instructions before, but this time, with a hook and wool at hand, I decided to see if I could follow the instructions and get the hang of it. I learned how to chain, create a slip stitch, do single crochet, half double crochet, double crochet and treble crochet. I also learned that there are different stitch names for different areas, and these US terms may be different to the Australian ones which makes it slightly more confusing for a beginner looking for free and easy patterns/descriptions on the internet.

My first piece of finished work was just practicing the different types of stitches and getting the hang of holding the tools. Parts of the square look pretty good and neat, and then there is the big stuff up in the middle that looks like a dogs breakfast.

But it wasn’t as complicated as I had expected and I figured out different dos and don’ts courtesy of the time-old trial and error method and by observing the process carefully to understand the stitches better.

After finishing the square I was high on achievement and decided to press my luck and try crocheting in the round. I found another tutorial and tried a couple of different methods of creating a circle and ended up with a little purple cone that looks slightly rude. Convinced I was ready to move on to greater things, I decided to make a beanie using my new-found skills. I was following a pattern for a premature baby beanie, yet as I crocheted I decided I wanted to make myself a hat. Hmmmm. So I just kind of followed my nose and stitched my way round and round and round and into the night while mi novio slept.

Pink crochet hat
Pretty in pink

After more googling I figured out how to decrease the huge circumference I’d stitched and give it sides. Consulting the mirror a few times to get the length of the sides right I finally tied it off and grinned proudly at the result, something I would actually wear and that looked fancier than a regular beanie (thanks to my ignorant freestyling which thankfully worked out for the better).

Next on the learn list were crochet flowers. I had two different pinks, a red, a green and a Christmassy multicolour wool in my craft box from earlier pom pom and craft projects so I used the other pinks to create two different flowers and made a tiny fuchsia coloured one to pin to my new hat. I love crochet flowers. They look fabulous but are definitely more difficult to do because you really have to count stitches, something that is tedious for me and I think I ended up going off pattern again a few times.

Baby headband in progress
Baby headband in progress

Three more little things followed, crocheting the headband for a brain-squasher (with mi novio‘s baby niece in mind), making some cute little hearts that could easily be turned into Christmas tree ornaments or stitched onto something like a headband and a curlicue, a crochet firework-like spiral.

I’ve been lucky to have the time and finally the ganas (one of my favourite Spanish words indicating desire, will or energy to actually do something) to practice and create and in the space of 4 days I managed to produce a number of little things and my hat. I don’t think I have the patience or passion to become accomplished at crochet and I doubt I will remember how to do all these things without following instructions every time, but I’ve found another way to be creative and to produce and get that great sense of achievement when you finish something you didn’t realise you could do. I’ve also received requests for hats from mi novio, D and la suegra, so I guess I have more practice coming up. I just hope my beginner’s luck continues!

Crochet flowers
Pink crochet flowers

I’ve discovered that crochet requires you to look at what you’re doing, so it’s difficult to use it to occupy your hands while watching TV, unless you just listen and watch half-heartedly, but it is a great activity to do while listening to your favourite podcasts.

If you are a beginner too or want to learn to crochet, check out my Crochet board on Pinterest for links and pages I’ve found for these projects and others I’d like to make. I think granny squares are next on my crochet learn list.



Do you crochet? How did you learn and what do you like to make?


A crazy day of Colombian cliches

Yesterday was one of those days where there are so many observations to make about Colombia and Colombians. Even if my phone had enough memory for a Twitter app, I wouldn’t have tweeted this, but let’s just say that if I had live-tweeted yesterday, it would have looked something like this:


12:55pm – Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllll #Colombia

1pm – A little loco comes running into the bedroom screaming and yelling. He flies on the bed and appears to be having some kind of fit.

1:02pm – The little loco starts jumping on the bed brandishing pillows and repeating “Gano! Gano!” (They won, they won)

2:05pm – Time to get ready to go to a family birthday party at the opposite end of Bogota #familycommitments

2:10pm – I want to wear a dress, but everyone else will be in jeans so I guess I’ll acquiesce

2:25pm – On our way to the #Transmilieno station

2:29pm – We need to buy a present, chocolates from Carrulla

2:31pm – Uh oh, looks like some kind of riot ahead.

2:32pm – It’s a sea of yellow shirts throwing cornflour and spraying silly string everywhere. How do we avoid this?

2:33pm – They are blockading the road, there are traffic jams, beeping horns, mess and people cheering

2:33pm – What?!? They are even spraying foam into rolled down car windows #chaos

2:35pm – I’m told a gaggle of people on the median strip are surrounding a woman hit by a car #sickinthestomach

2:37pm – The pricing on supermarket shelves rarely matches up with the product. Where are the  $18,000 chocs?

2:40pm – Oh great, #cardrejected. x2

2:41pm – Now we only have about 15,000 pesos and we’re going to the boondocks. I need emergency taxi ride money.

2:43pm – Taking the side route to avoid the #crazyColombians and to exit unscathed

2:43pm – Feel sad for the woman being stretchered into the ambulance #sickinthestomach #nosyonlookers

2:46pm – These Colombians are #outofcontrol. It’s mayhem in the streets

2:46pm – Police are out n about but so many people yelling, cheering and blowing those horrible horns

2:48pm – I don’t feel very safe. What’s it going to be like at the other end of #Bogota?

2:49pm – Made mi novio call his aunt for an update on the situation in Bosa

2:51pm – Made him call again to ask how far we have to walk from the last bus stop

2:51pm – Okay, it’s just a block. I guess that should be okay #stillfeelinguneasy

2:54pm – Phew, card worked at #Bancolombia. Now we have emergency taxi cash.

3pm – Hand over $50,000 and my card at the Transmilieno stop. Teller shakes her head. Can’t hear over the noise

3:01pm – Apparently this station doesn’t recharge cards. #cranky #whydidtheymakemebuyonethen

3:03pm – Which bus to Las Americas? #Transmilienoconfusion

3:04pm – Darn, the F14 just passed.

3:04pm – The F14 doesn’t stop here. Just get on the next one.

3:10pm – Change here or at Jimenez? Yes, no, yes, no …. get off!!

3:10pm – F14 right behind. Woohoo! Seats for all three of us #Transmilienomilagro

3:20pm – We’re practically the only people on the bus not wearing yell0w jerseys

3:25pm – Street watching on the way south. Mostly quiet, most shops closed. #ChaosOnlyInNorth

3:45pm – The centre is also full of #crazyColombians

4pm – Passing Pradera outlets. I want to go shopping!

4pm – Haha “Pradera Outlet Factory” jajaa #Englishclasses

4:15pm – Finally we are arriving at Portal Las Americas. Long way from home.

4:16pm – I love that the feeder buses are called ‘alimentadores’. Obvious translation, but still sounds cool.

4:16pm – I didn’t think Colombians knew how to line up neatly and patiently for a bus #Transmilieno

4:20pm – Here’s our bus. We’re not going to fit.

4:21pm – We made it on, no seat. #squishy

4:24pm – This road is worse than the 4wd track to Ciudad Perdida. #hugepotholes #ridiculous

4:30pm – Feeling #claustrophobic. I don’t know how so many people do this every day. #Transmilieno

4:32pm – D just called it Transmi Lleno (full) #jajaja

4:40pm – Esta vaina es leeeeeejos

4:43pm – I wish we had left earlier. #readytogohomealready

4:51pm – Patience has just about to run out. Let me off this bus!

4:53pm – I think this is our stop. Get off. Push, shove.

4:55pm – Where is the building? #neverbeenherebefore #endoftheearth

4:55pm – I think we got off a stop too early. #walking

5pm – Me: what’s the birthday lady’s name? Novio: I don’t remember. What? She’s his step-grandmother.

5:01pm – This is it. Entering the conjunto and chasing down the rellies ahead.

5:01pm – Who’s that in the green #dress?

5:03pm – Sister-in-law looks fab in a dress. Never seen her in one before. #wishIhadwornadresstoo

5:05pm – The reception room is set theatre style #weird #antisocial

5:06pm – Greetings and kisses all round.

5:07pm – The birthday granny remembered my name. Still don’t remember hers. #Awkward #justuseSenora

5:11pm – 2 month old baby thrust upon me by the mother. #justrollwithit

5:13pm – Am told that #babies like me. Waiting to hear the usual question…

5:14pm – When are you going to have a baby? #unavoidablequestion #notodavia

5:20pm – Staring at the fields & mountain out the window #Bogotacitylimits #woopwoop

5:24pm – Food or drink haven’t been served yet. #onColombiantime #neveranynibbles #setplan

5:35pm – Found out that we will be having #lechona. Yum. Spit pig stuffed with rice & meat. #crackle

6pm – Mariachi band! #morepopularthaninMexico #thereisamariachiwoman

6:03pm – Mariachi guitarist’s white pants are very, very tight.

6:30pm – Still no drinks. Novio’s gone to the shop.

6:38pm – OMG I think a #priest is here to give #communion

6:38pm – He just put a robe on over his party outfit

6:40pm – Have never heard of #communion at a birthday party. Wonder if he’s taking confessions too

6:49pm – It appears he’s the nephew of the birthday granny

6:49pm – And he’s giving a #mass not just communion! #catholicism

6:52pm – Is it rude not to stand and kneel when everyone else is? #notcatholic #canIpretendIdontunderstand

6:55pm – Talking about the great mystery of God being 1 but 3 different things & and the message is we can be different but unified

7:04pm – Birthday #mass is over. Now the babies are being blessed.

7:20pm – #Lechona is being served.

7:45pm – We got served last despite being closest to the kitchen 😦 #lovelechona

8:05pm – Meeting more extended, removed and estranged family members. Colombian families are confusing.

8:20pm – Hometime. Getting a lift with the bro-in-law. #awesome #lucky #nonightrideTransmilieno

8:30pm – Birthday granny was a nun for 20 years! #thatexplainsthemass

8:31pm – Happy 80th birthday Dona Elia!

9pm – Family commitments met for a little while. #happyColombianfamily #phew




World Book Day & What I’m Reading

AmorToday is World Book and Copyright Day, promoting reading, publishing and copyright and also Spanish Language Day so while I listen to the live streaming of the national Gabolectura a simultaneous reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s No One Writes to The Colonel across Colombia’s libraries, plazas and parks – I figure it’s a good time to share what I’m currently reading in Spanish.

I’ve written before about the disappointing lack of a reading culture in Colombia, yet the death of the nation’s most famous author and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez last Thursday has catapulted literature and reading to the front page and top of mind in all Colombians. In response to the passing of this national icon (although he lived in Mexico) the country is in mourning and the government has organised a week of activities celebrating his life and literature. One of the initiatives is today’s national reading of his novella No One Writes to the Colonel and giving away over 12,000 copies of the book to promote reading and to encourage families to read aloud. So great is the movement that mi novio, who rarely picks up a book, has said that now he wants to read Gabo’s most famous work One Hundred Years of Solitude. I hope he will, and I hope that it encourages others to read his work and savour delicious descriptions and eccentric characters. I know am.

I have to admit to reading very little apart from the newspaper in Spanish. When I read novels I like to devour them and reading in Spanish is a much slower process for me, however I like to always have a book in Spanish on the go alongside another in English. For Christmas mi novio gave me Amor by Isabel Allende. It is an anthology of stories of love in all its forms with a personal commentary and Isabel’s own memories followed by selected passages from her books. I think it is the perfect format for non-native Spanish speakers and it definitely suits my reading style in Spanish as it includes short excerpts from books I’ve already read in English and I can easily pick it up and read a few pages and put it down again without losing the sentiment between readings. It’s also nice to know I’m reading her actual words and not those of the translator interpreting her phrases into English equivalents.

So, while I’m reading a book in Spanish by a Chilean author on this day of international celebration of books and Spanish language, I’d like to encourage you to add a book by a Latin American or Spanish author to your reading list and open your mind to another perspective.