Like the steamy fragrance and happy bubbly sound of a good cup of coffee being made in the morning, this story has been brewing in my imagination for a while. What is life REALLY like, in the Coffee Axis? The good, the great and the pain-in-the-ass realities of life abroad are all part of the expat experience. For me Life in the Coffee Axis of Colombia, started as a curiosity, turned into a fantasy, and is now my reality. I never thought I would stay here, much less settle down and start a family!
Life in the Coffee Axis
I have spoken of my quarter-life crisis before, about how I sold my material “things” to chase what was a dream since childhood to travel the world. Now I live that life. And it couldn’t be better if I dreamed it up during the hours spent imagining while avoiding bitchy customer service calls during my past life in the corporate world.
Every morning around 5 am I awake to the Megabus passing my apartment building during it’s first loop at 5:15 or so. Time is never as linear in South America as it is there. When coming or going from my building I greet the vigilante patrolling his night shift at night, or say hello to the doorman if it is daytime. Vigilante’s are men who are paid by businesses and residences to patrol at night. They usually carry a club or machete to help them deal with drunks or trouble makers. When you arrive in an area at night without one standing by be aware and don’t be alone because robbery and assaults are still common.
Many apartment building’s here have a doorman either in the daytime or 24/7 in the fancy areas. I always greet Julian with a friendly banter before jogging up the 5 floors to our apartment. Old buildings here don’t come with extra amenities like an elevator. Psshht! Who needs the wonderful rest of pushing a button and rising like the afternoon heat from equatorial sun? Ok, I’m not going to lie. That would be nice.
I typically walk 3-4 blocks to go to the produce stall I favor for tropical fruits and veggies which mostly come from the mountains above and around my city. I nod at “el Peludo,” the guy with a pony-tail who owns it and banter with the employee who always asks me about my life in Colombia. “Are you happy here?”, he always asks. “Claro que si!,” I respond. (Of course!) The big bag I can barely carry only cost me about $10 USD. On my way back I pass the guy who stands in front of my building all day selling avocados. He hassles me to buy something and I placate him with “proximo vez!” (next time)
Meals are a beautiful wedding of two cultures. A typical breakfast might be protein pancakes, traditional Colombian hot chocolate in panela, fried plantains and local honey. This is just one example of American meets Colombian tastes. For lunch we have beans cooked by my husband Jaime with quinoa instead of rice, steamed veggies and fresh carrot juice. Yeah, I’m a bit of a health foodie, but it works with Colombian culture because our daily staples are beans and rice. Sub out the rice for quinoa, add in some veggies and “Voila!,” a healthier meal is born!
In between all the craziness I have my daily quota of writing. Unfortunately, I can’t just earn the big bucks by writing for my beloved blog so I collect copywriting gigs through eLance, and the maturity of my blog has opened up new opportunities too! For almost 2 years I have been working for a Canadian app developer writing content for their personality quizzes. I love it because I don’t have to work full time and it’s flexible around my life instead of having to live my life around a schedule set-in-stone by a boss at some regular 9-5 job.
After lunch is the siesta hour(s) from 1 pm until 2 pm. Most of the city closes shop during this time in the traditional way. Families may eat lunch together if they are close to home and almost every one, even construction workers at their jobs site, lay down for a siesta. Except me. It drives me nuts but it’s rare that I can shut down and actually rest, American habits die hard.
As the day winds down I warm up leftovers for a light dinner. I have learned to follow the tradition of a large lunch and a small dinner late in the evening around 7 or 8pm. Around this time of day many of my other expat friends go to salsa classes. I go to karate 2-3 times per week. Because we periodically visit a red zone, I train hard to learn self-defense in the hope that in case of bandits or trigger happy guerillas I can knock their block off and protect my son. At the very least I work hard to learn skills that help to protect me from petty thiefs and the regular gamut of criminals which populate any middling to large city anywhere in the world.
I am happy here. This is my home. The Colombian Andes Mountains are my watchful protectors, who wrap us in their evening shadows, and shake us up with the occasional earthquake. The equatorial weather means that it is like late spring or early summer, all year. Sometimes I switch languages so much that I mess up my own grammar. And there are the inevitable culture clashes between my desire to be an American career woman while trying not to be too much of a Colombian housewife. To be fair though I must mention that in my city there are many Colombian women who are in prominent positions and respected careers. So watch out, because stereotypes were meant to be broken! As an expat I have my issues with the language and customs, but as the Brazilians used to say to me, “Everything can be resolved over pizza.” And I wouldn’t have Life in the Coffee Axis any other way!