Romance in Colombia
I’m sitting across from a boy. In Medellin. At a romantic dinner. I’m staring into his American eyes, dealing with all of the feels I have in the pit of my stomach. Something is off in this scenario…isn’t he supposed to be a Colombian? Shouldn’t we be speaking Spanish? Gosh… How did I get here?
I have been in Medellin for almost two months now and I still feel unsettled, or maybe it’s discontent. I knew this would be a test for me to find out if I’m cut out for the field of international development. Like on the ground, in the weeds, roughin’ it development. As it stands, my boy left me 2 days ago, I have my performance evaluation at work next week and I have a call scheduled with my academic advisor to deal with the crisis that is my life.
We’re young, lost is our home
The dilemma is grappling with the three tiered struggle that the not so normal girl in her mid 20’s has to figure out during her second year of grad school in a field in which she isn’t sure she is cut out for. Is it the job, the country or the entire field altogether that is making me so lost?
Sometimes I question if I have enough skills to be back in the field again. Should I have just shelled out the dough, to soak up all of the American graduate school I could? Maybe then I would have felt saturated enough, itching to get back out there. But then again, the grass can’t be that much greener right? I have to remind myself, I miss Boston because of the people. Most cases, it’s not the place you actually miss, it’s the people you experienced the place with that you miss. I need to eliminate “what if” from my vocabulary once and for all.
Despite these thoughts, I am still incredibly uncomfortable being located on the outside of Medellin culture. I go to bars, and no one is actually standing at the bar ready to mingle. Everyone is sitting at a table with the people they came and will leave with. I still question if I should have my headphones in and iPhone out. I want to feel like I belong somewhere, and I’m not sure if anyplace will give me that feeling at this point.
Medellin is still teaching me things, for which I am grateful for and I use as my silver lining. I now have a pretty good routine with work, Spanish lessons, the gym and mini indulgences on weekends. Oddly enough, I still haven’t mastered grocery shopping or cooking here yet. I have even taken a vacation to the beach! However, it was far from typical.
Is it possibly for one to be lost at the beach?
Traveling to the coast, by plane since it’s the only way to get out of the Medellin bowl, was quite easy and inexpensive. The taxi ride to the airport cost one-third of what the plane ticket cost. We were seamlessly scooped up at the airport from the airbnb owner and promptly shown the scarcities of Santa Marta. It was unavoidable. The entire city is impoverished, but nothing like I had ever seen before.
This place looked war torn. These people were forgotten about. The children don’t stand a chance. Animals with dead souls peering out of their eyes. No jobs, no water, no houses. But to my disbelief, tourism was able to barrel it’s way through. In rubbled alleys, you will discover a gourmet French restaurant or an artisan barbecue cafe or a pristine airbnb with an infinity pool and comfy lounge overlooking the slums.
I don’t mean to be ignorant, critical or naive, but this was obscene. Drugs were the main form of employment and economy. Electricity had been exported to a company in Spain to control, often leaving the town without for long periods of time. Water was limited to how many buckets you could fill when the water truck passed by your house. Children’s cries filled the streets instead of laughter. I just don’t understand how a whole population could be simultaneously dying and surviving at the same time.
Do I want to live in America?
The trip to the beaches of Colombia made me thankful to get back to Medellin. It made me appreciate the network of people I do have through work and it made me realize how much I love my home here. That is where I find comfort. But on the other side, it made me feel so helpless, yearning to go back to the comforts of America. I question how much this is worth…Am I learning enough, the right things, is it the right time?
Ever since I finished my Fulbright in Thailand, I set my sights on a career abroad. I decided I never wanted to live in the U.S., and nothing could keep me there. I’m still not sure if this came from my selfish ways of pushing those around me to their limits to see what they are willing to do for me (as in following me around the world) or possibly my stubbornness in my professional goals. Maybe I just truly, genuinely wanted to travel and explore my whole life. Never did I ever question my ability to do so. Until now.
I started this whole journey telling everyone, including myself that I never wanted to live in the U.S. Or that the only city that could keep me in the U.S. Is DC, which is still a thing, but now I can’t keep from picturing myself in Boston, NYC, or even Rhode Island for gods sake. I thought I loved living uncomfortably. It meant that I was learning, but this just feels painful. I just can’t put my finger on what is making me feel this way. Is it the boy sitting across from me? Is it the difficulty of my job? Is it Colombia? Why am I not in love with this place yet?!
On paper, it’s a match!
I know how to use public transportation. I have a nail place. I have a waxer. I have multiple coffee shops. I have a couple favorite foods! The two major things I’m lacking is language and friends. However, I doubt my ability to change both of these things. Learning another language is of course a slow process, made harder by me being me (I have attempted to learn four languages and am fluent in none of them) and also by the fact that I have no friends to practice with. What does it take for a girl to make a friend?!
I turned to signing up for groups in which those with similar interests meet up within the city. I enlisted a co worker to be my wing woman, plus she is dying for some social circles too. So off we went to a Meetup for those looking to practice English. My hope was that I would meet non-gringos here. Again, my goal for coming to Colombia is not to meet other gringos. I can do that in America. The event was at the big brewery in the city center, complete with 6 complimentary beers, the national soccer match playing on the big screen, a tour of the brewery and a live band!
We had 4 beers, watched half of the game, partook in 5 minutes of the tour and made 2 new friends. As we drove away in Alejandro’s range rover, I was giddy with excitement because I kept thinking, this could be it, the turning point. Despite the warnings of how forward Latino men are, Alejandro and I only exchanged a few whatsapp texts before he dropped off the face of the earth. Damn. Maybe he was gay? And again, I am found on the outside, wondering why I can be inside.
Either way, I feel as though I am trying my hardest to be out there to make friends, without displaying stalkerish desperate characteristics, yet nothing. I can’t live like this. Gosh, that sounds pretty desperate. But seriously, I think I’m a city girl with cultural needs. So what does this mean for me now? Maybe my whole life, I felt that being abroad has always been the greener pastures, but now I am realizing it’s too brown here…
The boy is gone. I’m not sure if we will ever see each other again or if we are meant for each other. These are the things I know I have little control over. My crisis hotline call to my advisor is tomorrow. I still feel like I could cry at any given moment. All I know is that I cannot freaking wait to laugh uncontrollably with my friends again, to drive a car, to go to any of the cvs’s on every street corner, to go to a fancy office and have my own desk and computer, to do so many of the things that make my body hurt with nostalgia. I am painfully and blissfully aware that these things are intensely American and this might mean I can’t continue on this path. I might have to create my own road leading to the green grass that I grew my freaking self.