a little cameo

Life in Colombia and everything that goes with it

Archive for the tag “Colombia”

Feliz Dia from my little feminist

A light knock on my bedroom door this morning was followed by D coming in to greet me. He flopped his lanky teen body on the bed and burrowed his head into my side. As I put my arm around him he said “Feliz Dia de La Mujer“.

My earliest memories of International Women’s Day are from after I had started work in the late nineties, where my female colleagues celebrated the day and my workplace observed the day with seminars, morning teas and the colour purple. I don’t recall anything from my school days giving cause to note the 8th of March as any special day, which is a crying shame.

It’s probably given this that I received a nice surprise on the first International Women’s Day I spent in Colombia in 2013. D was then in Grade 4 and he, along with Edwin, wished me, la suegra and Edwin’s brother’s girlfriend a happy women’s day. I hadn’t expected this at all, and truth be told, I probably hadn’t even realised that it was International Women’s Day until that point.

Colombia is still quite a macho country, especially on the Caribbean Coast where my boys are from. Although men have an utmost respect for their mothers, that sadly doesn’t transfer often enough into respect for partners and young girls. So I was extremely pleased to see that International Women’s Day is acknowledged widely in Colombia and instilled in children at school, so much to the point that I’m surprised it hasn’t become a national holiday yet (although really, maxing out with 19 public holidays per year is probably sufficient).

Feliz Dia del La Mujer

A present from D in 2015

After D had left for school, Edwin came into our bedroom bearing pancakes and with another “Feliz Dia de La Mujer“. It gives me a nice cosy feeling to see the wonderful example that Edwin is for D and know that D is growing up in an environment where there is respect for women.

D is exposed to a family environment where there is sharing of household tasks and responsibilities and where a woman is the main source of family income. This should all be part of a definition of normal, and therefore I sincerely hope that these elements of his upbringing will be indiscernible in him as a man, and intrinsic to his future as a feminist.

Seeing the insult, not the silver lining

I had to apply for a new visa last week. It was three years since receiving my last visa and so I had forgotten about this particular niche of Colombian bureaucracy which is a jab-cross punch combination to anyone’s sanity.

As per usual, the process at the visa office was fairly straight-forward and civilised. You have your turn and a fairly comfortable seat to sit in while you wait for your number to come up and so begin the toing-and-froing with the officer who calls your number. However, once you get your visa you then get hit by the more powerful cross punch at Migracion Colombia, and this is where your day can go seriously downhill as you face unruly herds of foreigners, impatient and hungry children and battle to find a seat while you complete your visa registration and apply for a new cedula (identity card).

This is also where I made a beginner’s misstep that I really should have perfected by now.

On arrival at Migracion Colombia’s offices, a 10 minute walk from the visa office, I elbowed my way to the front door to gain entrance. After arbitrarily checking my bag, and more diligently checking my passport, the security guard asked me if I was pregnant and cast his eyes towards my stomach, whose size was enhanced by the knotted tie of my wrap dress. Stunned by this comment, that is only crude and an insult when it is on the wrong side of correct, I responded “No” and he let me through the door with a wave towards the darkened interior where the end of the line was lost somewhere in the crowd.

Only after squishing past him and seeing exactly how long the line was did I realise my error.

In Colombia in banks and public offices there are preferential lines for the disabled, the elderly and for pregnant women. When there are massive queues, having one of these priority client tickets is like having a winning raffle ticket, you wave it about madly to get up front and collect your prize before they draw another number out. I had been offered one of these and in all my naïve honesty I refused it, taking the guard’s comments as an insult rather than as a golden opportunity.

I spent the next 20 minutes in the queue to get my turn number kicking myself.

I spent the following 30 minutes waiting in the scrabble for the document check shaking my head at my stupidity.

And I spent the 2 hours and 45 minutes after that stewing over every tiny detail of that interaction with the guard as I saw other previously non-priority numbers had been upgraded to priority and catapulted ahead of me and as the officials took their lunch breaks leaving only a couple of desks open over two hours to process all these foreigner’s visa registrations, cedula applications and other varied processes.

I was tempted to get up and leave, but then once I’d gotten to a certain point of waiting, there was no return. So I sucked it up and instead of taking just the morning as I had planned for, it took almost my whole day and I arrived at work well beyond late, beaten, exhausted and hangry.

If I was a little smarter what would I have done better?

  1. Feigned pregnancy and taken the free priority pass
  2. Done the whole visa + cedula thing on a day other than Monday (at the beginning of the school year when there were dozens of the Ministry of Education’s volunteer English teachers’ visa applications being lodged)
  3. Separated the two processes, visa one day, registration and cedula the next. It also would have helped getting to Migracion Colombia for the visa registration and cedula process at the beginning of the day before the wave of new visa recipients come in from the visa office.

So this morning, as I planned to go pick up my new cedula, I thought about things a bit harder. I rode my bike to Migracion Colombia, grinning as I whizzed past all the cars in banked up, peak hour traffic and delighting in the beautiful morning sunshine. I arrived at 8:10am and the office was virtually empty of any clients, it even looked spacious in comparison to Monday week ago. I went straight to the window to pick up my shiny new cedula and within a minute I was skipping out the doors and getting on my bike again. Already the memory of the previous stressful experience at the same office fading away so that if I come back in another three years time, I’ll probably be in another charmed state and repeat all of my above mistakes again.

 

Making Long Term Plans

As 2016 drew to a close, Edwin and I were frantically organising the documents and their respective translations to English to start our journey to Australia.

Although I’m not sure you could really call it the start of our journey to Australia. I think it actually started somewhere on the Panamericana highway between Ipiales and Pasto on the first of January in 2016 where I, hit with the full force of nostalgia of New Years Day in my home town, suggested that it might be time to make plans to move our family to Australia. Edwin agreed and we decided to save up the hefty application fee during 2016 and apply by the end of October.

Although our timelines blew out a bit, we were able to submit the application before Christmas in a frenzy of stitching together pdfs of the original documents and their translations so they wouldn’t take up so much space in the allotted 60 documents per person in the application, naming all the files in an orderly fashion, creating spreadsheets to keep track of the documents uploaded and to be uploaded for each of us and a whole lot of printing and scanning so that everything could be attached to the electronic application – since we are now well and truly in the 21st century and you are no longer required to stuff a tree in an envelope and send it to the immigration office.

Even though we had most of our documents ready, it still required four full days to attach them correctly to Edwin’s partner application with dependent child included and it was a juggling act with our Christmas holiday plans and my studies also on the go.

Now that we’ve submitted the application, and Edwin and D have had their biometric data collected, we sit tight and wait for any messages of additional information required, the details to schedule the medical exam and hopefully, hopefully, within 9 to 12 months, that we receive a joyous email advising of a visa being granted so we can move to Australia.

Nine to twelve months seems like a long time, and it is. A baby can be conceived and born in the time it takes to receive notification of me being able to live in my home country with my family who happen to be of another nationality. For many people  in a similar situation looking at the same visa type, this timeframe is probably torturously long. For others of other nationalities trying to apply for partner visas in countries with different restrictive requirements (I’m looking at you, UK) it might seem but a tiny hurdle in comparison to restrictive eligibility criteria.

For us, it’s an opportunity to enjoy our (hopefully) final year in Colombia (for now, at least). We can really make the most of our time and lifestyle here. D can drink Postobon manzana as much as he wants (I’m too afraid to tell him that soft drink flavour doesn’t exist in Australia), we can eat delicious pan de bonos, enjoy the freedom that walking to work allows, be grateful to have a cleaning lady come to our apartment once per week, look at the cerros every day and feel the inspiration of living in the mountains, spend time with friends and Colombian family and visit places on our Colombia bucket list.

Now that we’ve made our large, non-refundable investment in moving to Australia and I talk to more people about it, many are asking me why are we moving if we enjoy a greater disposable income here than we will likely have in Australia, if we do truly enjoy our lives here and I’m not debilitated by homesickness. In other words, we’re on a good wicket, why change that?

True, they are all valid points. But so is the fact that I will have spent over 5 years living here – which I consider a decent chunk of time, Edwin genuinely wants to move to Australia and be closer to my family and also to have a fairer earning capacity in his chosen career, it is a good time for D to move and learn English and have better education opportunities than he might have here and really I am keen for a little bit of that Australian lifestyle, freedom and space that I love.

We will always have the opportunity to come back to Colombia at some point in the future if we decide to (if my Colombian visa officer is reading this, please do give me a new TP-10 partner visa tomorrow) and perhaps we may even live somewhere else in the world. Who knows?

All I know is that we are half way through our two-year plan to move to Australia and Australia is where we are keen to be for the foreseeable future. The journey ahead won’t be without heartaches, tough times and likely tears, but there will also be adventure, opportunities and new family memories for us to make together.

 

 

 

Spot the difference

20161008_142411.jpg
Spot the difference, real vs fake (hint: bottom 2 are fake)

Learning to spot the difference between real and fake bank notes in Colombia is an easy but important skill to have.

Regardless of how easy it is to spot the difference (and it is very easy by feeling the thicker paper and the pixelated print job), there’s a degree of difficulty added in. You can be awesome at knowing the difference and seeing the difference, but then environmental factors come in to play, which actually means you can get it wrong and end up losing money. Which is what happened to me today.

You see, when you are distracted or are just trusting, or naive, you are much more susceptible to falling victim to the bank note switcharoo.

Here’s how it happens.

You get to your destination and pay the taxi driver the fare. In my case, the fare was $6,900 and I handed over a $5000 and $2000 peso note, said thanks and then glanced down at my bag to pick it up and depart the taxi. I’d performed the transaction in a manner of ‘keep the change’.

Then the driver says, “This note is not good, please give me another one.”

I looked at the $5000 peso note he was giving me back, and sure enough, a single glance tells me it is fake.

I am surprised. I received it as change from Juan Valdez, and cashiers in stores are very vigilant about receiving fake notes. I don’t have another five thousand peso note to give him.

I then give the taxi driver a $20,000 peso note. He takes it and then says “Ufff, can you give me something smaller.” This is not an unreasonable request, although most taxi drivers can change a $20,000 note. I start looking in my purse and take the note back and shove it in.

I say I only have $4000 pesos. Taxi driver says “That’s okay, just give me that.”

I’m a little dubious about him accepting well below the fare, but give him the two $2000 peso notes and leave the taxi.

I was meeting friends for coffee so I showed them the fake $5000 peso note “Look what I got today!”

Later, as we were paying, I took out a $20,000 peso note out of my purse and as soon as I unfolded it, I knew it was fake too.

Scammed! I felt so silly and couldn’t believe that I’d gotten two fake notes totalling AUD$11.30 (a day’s minimum wage in Colombia).

In essence, the taxi driver had switched both the $5000 and $20,000 notes I’d given him for fake ones. He fooled me twice over, first by pretending I’d given him the fake fiver, and secondly by pretending he didn’t have change for a $20,000 note and switching my real note for a fake one.

I’ve only received a fake note once before, a couple of years ago when I got a $2000 peso note, also from a taxi driver.

Mistake #1 – taking a taxi in the street. Immediately upon doing this, you should pay a lot more attention to what’s going on. If you use a taxi app the risk of being fleeced is minimised and you can make a complaint because you have a record of the driver’s details. I should have taken note of the licence plate of the taxi I got in the street.

Mistake #2 – believing that I’d given him a fake $5000. No sir, that was not the case. You know when you have a fake note in your wallet. While you might not notice it when you receive it, you always spot the difference later when you go to use it for a payment.

Mistake #3 – not being on alert when the taxi driver handed me back money a second time after the first “this is fake” pass and paying closer attention to what was going on. Each time he only handed back one note so there wasn’t anything to compare between a fake and a real one.

Mistake #4 – thinking I’d been given the fake notes by a chain store (that had also given me a pamphlet about the security features of the new $50,000 notes about to be introduced, how ironic). If this kind of thing happens in a taxi, it’s far more likely that’s the origin of the fake notes.

So the take home lesson is be alert, be vigilant, and doubly so if you are a foreigner. It’s 78 days until Christmas, so robberies are going to go up and there are probably going to be more fake note scams going around. Keep your cash safe people!

 

Just put a little stone under your tongue

“A what?!” I exclaimed, stopping in my tracks and turning to Edwin at my side.

“A little stone,” he repeated calmly.

We were walking in the centre of Bogota from the Flea Market in the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogota carpark along the Carrera 7 in search of pan de bono to snack on when I started complaining of having a stitch in my side. I’m not really sure how it got there, because I wasn’t exerting myself any more than a slow stroll through a shopping centre, but it was grabbing at me below my ribs.

It was then that I learned the word for a stitch is vaso and along with that new tidbit came a ridiculous-sounding home remedy. Edwin had just told me that to cure myself of the stitch I needed to put a pebble under my tongue.

I looked at him disbelievingly. How could putting a pebble under your tongue fade the pain of a stitch? I also wondered how I hadn’t heard this before, but Colombia is such a hotbed of superstitions and home remedies you could never claim to learn them all.

Edwin asked D to corroborate his story, and after a bit more feeding of parts of the story, D acknowledged that yes, if he had a stitch he knew that putting a little stone under his tongue would cure him.

I’ve gotten much better at just accepting some things since moving to Colombia, so my challenge back to Edwin was where was I supposed to find a pebble that I would be able to put in my mouth. We were walking along dirty streets that no one in their right mind would dare to stoop down, pick something up and put in their mouth after only a cursory wipe down with their own saliva. It’s the kind of street where a mum would just throw the baby’s dummy out if it fell on the ground, there would be no picking up, sucking on it and stuffing it back into baby’s mouth.

He shrugged, and I said meanly “So I’m just supposed to carry a pebble with me in case I get a stitch?”

The stitch eventually passed and so did my memory of the remedy until I was talking to colleagues over lunch and I remembered to ask them if they’d ever heard of a home remedy involving a pebble under the tongue. They hadn’t, nor had they ever heard anything about a cure for stitches. I figured that it was a costeño home remedy, not one shared by the rolos of Bogota.

I got the chance to test out the pebble under the tongue theory yesterday as we hiked to some waterfalls outside of Bogota. On our way back to the car we had to climb a punishingly steep hill, and at the top I felt the sharp pang of a stitch. Being on a gravel road there were lots of pebbles available, so I bent over to pick up a small stone.

As I was trying to give it a little spit wash, Edwin opened the water bottle and poured it over my hand, providing a much better wash for the stone that while I could feel the dirt crunch in my teeth was a more palatable type of dirty than the streets of Bogota.

I expected it to work instantly, of course. Perhaps more strange was that I actually believed that it would work. Edwin is quite a persuasive orator and I had come to believe that in the face of a stitch, all I needed was a pebble.

“It’s not working, I can still feel the stitch,” I stated, disappointed.

“Just give it some time,” Edwin responded, keen to keep moving and not have all the other passing walkers stare and wonder what his weirdo foreigner was on about. I forced him to take a photo of the stone under my tongue so I could post it here, but lucky for all of us, it didn’t show the stone, so there is no gaping dentist’s-view of my mouth for you to be grossed out by, because really, that would have been stretching the relationship.

I started walking again, this time downhill and over time the stitch faded. I think it faded mostly because that’s the normal course of these things, not because I was sucking on a rock under my tongue.

So the pebble under the tongue cure for stitches has been debunked, but if you want to give it a try, I’m not about to stop you from looking like an even stranger foreigner.

Have you heard of any other Colombian home remedies for common ailments? I’d love to hear about them.

The pebble I tested the stitch theory on

This pebble has been proven to not work at stopping a stitch, no matter what they might tell you.

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.

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.

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 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. 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: