Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My arrival in Bogota

I'll admit: I was very nervous to go to Bogota.  In part because of Colombia's reputation for being unsafe, but mostly fears about whether I'd be happy here.  I was worried that my still-imperfect Spanish would limit my usefulness at work and ability to socialize, that I wouldn't like the city, that I wouldn't be able to find friends.

Here is what I wrote the night of my arrival: 

I woke up in my parents' New Jersey home this morning, and tonight I am falling asleep in Bogota.  

I woke up with a splitting headache, stumbled to the bathroom to down some acetaminophen, and fell back asleep for a couple hours.  I showered, packed my toiletries and some other last items, bought travel insurance, dropped my guidebooks back off at the library, wrote down the embassy and other important contact information, hugged PJ goodbye and hit the road with my dad.  PJ stood in the driveway an we drove off, doing a one-person "wave" through the rearview mirror.  On the way to the airport I cried a little (nerves and sentimentality) and slept a lot.  

In the check-in line and in the waiting area, I eyed people who looked about my age, wondering how hard it would be to make friends once in Bogota.  On the plane I was seated next to a lovely young woman who turned to me almost as soon as I was seated and asked, "Do you speak Spanish?"  (in Spanish, of course)  I said yes, and we launched into conversation.  Her name was Diana, and she worked for the UN helping children in indigenous communities affected by the conflict.  She lived near Cali, but we exchanged contact info and she promised to connect me with friends of hers in Bogota.  I would have loved to chat with her the whole flight, but as we were preparing for takeoff, the flight attendant had her switch seats with the woman across the aisle so there wouldn't be two babies in the same row... which was ok, because then I got to sit next to an adorable little baby on her first trip to her mother's homeland, on her way to be introduced to grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  

After claiming my luggage and passing through customs, I wandered the pickup area searching for Lilia, the executive director of the organization for which I'll be volunteering.  After fifteen luckless minutes I began contemplating my other options.  I had Lilia's phone number, but no phone.  I also had her address, but it wouldn't help if she wasn't home to let me in.  I had the address of a hostel but I needed to be sure Lilia wasn't there waiting for me before I left.  I must have looked pretty lost, because a young man trying to attract people to the hotel he worked for asked if I needed to borrow his phone.  He dialed it for me, and after several times with no answer, Lilia picked up and told me she was on her way.  As I waited for her, the helpful hotel fellow checked back with me a couple times.  I asked for his contact info as well.  

Standing there outside the airport, I thought, I think I'm going to like Colombia.  We got off to a good start.  

Finally Lilia arrived.  In the car, she asked how tired I was, and mentioned that her friend who was leaving tonight was out dancing salsa for the next hour until her flight.  I said I was up for iy, so off we went!  There was a big group of people at the salsa club, most of them my age.  I spoke with a couple of them, and I'm hoping their connection to Lilia is not so tenuous that I can't hang out with them again.  Lilia's son, the English professor, was at the club too.  He speaks English very well, and we conversed in both languages.  He's about my age too.  I'm feeling a lot less nervous about making friends now.  

We got home at around midnight, and after a brief tour of the apartment (which is very nice!  It even has a balcony with a view out over the city), and a promise of a tour of the city center tomorrow, we said goodnight.  I am sitting in my low bed listening to lovely music PJ gave me (Bright Eyes, Cassadega) and remembering my day as a type this.  

I think this is going to be good. 

The following day, I took pictures of the view from Lilia's balcony:


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