So just because I now like it here, does that mean I can’t bitch about the things that drive me crazy anymore? I hope not because I have to get it out of my system. Normally when one lives abroad, one is surrounded by expats to whom one can bitch about the aggravating annoyances of life in a host country. It’s normal. We all have to discharge our emotions sometimes and other expats usually know exactly what we are talking about and lend a sympathetic year (plus, they need to bitch every once in awhile too).
The biggest downside (actually, in my opinion, the only downside) to my not interacting with expats on a regular basis (I have one expat friend who I see about once a month) is that I have nobody to complain to about the little annoyances of everyday life in Colombia, except my husband. And he just looks at me like “What did you expect?”. He was raised in Latin America after all so he is not very surprised by these things. He does get annoyed himself but that’s a different story.
The only place for me to discharge some of my complaining energy is in this blog (you are my family and friends, after all!) so I hope you will indulge me. I can’t complain to my Colombian friends. I wouldn’t want to offend anybody.
So here goes… they do things differently here. There is certainly less insistence on order, timeliness, not inconveniencing others. I could probably learn a lot from this. I could learn to chill. But it’s hard for a gringa like me.
Take for instance the fact that yesterday, I got up early to run an errand, only to get to the end of my street and find out that it’s closed to traffic because they are repairing it. Overall this is a good thing because the street has become little more than a dirt road full of huge potholes. Driving down this street, we always say a prayer that we will get home with our tires intact. But back to the street repair. Since the street is closed at the intersection with a major street, basically the only way in and out of town, we have to drive all the way around. This adds about fifteen minutes to our commute to…anywhere! Major annoyance for a gringa like me! Why don’t they work on half the street at a time so people can pass? Yes, I know I need to chill (part of what I am here in Colombia to learn) but it’s really annoying when your baby doesn’t like the car and screams as you drive. And your kids fight because they are squished together in the back of a very small car (“You are in my space. Mom, she put her toe over the line!”) Who wants an extra fifteen minutes of that?
OK, so back to my tale of woe… I have to turn around, drive to the other intersection (several minutes between each intersection) and this intersection is also blocked off with lots of yellow tape. I get it. This is to keep people out, but how are those of us who live on this street supposed to get out? Couldn’t they just put up a sign? Of course not. Everybody would ignore the sign. They have to put up an actual physical barrier to keep people out. And even that didn’t work for too long. Eventually somebody tore down the tape.
Being the good gringa that I am, it would never occur to me to tear down the tape. (OK, it did occur to me but I was way too embarrassed to do it. There were a lot of people around.) I had to wait until another car pulled up to the intersection. The guy from the other car got out of his car and held the tape up for me so I could pass and then I had to pull over in a busy intersection, leave Saige in the car, and run to hold up the tape for him. Really? In a country with very cheap labor, couldn’t they put somebody to lift the tape up when people have to pass? There I go again, thinking like a gringa.
But seriously, I think one of the hardest things to let go of here is my concepts of time and efficiency… and not wasting time. I have forty years of this drilled into me. What’s the quickest, most efficient way to do something? What’s the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B? What makes sense? And who begins a road paving project at the start of the rainy season?
On the flip side, Colombian business people have an expression that “gringoes don’t have hips.” We are not flexible. We don’t know how to go with the flow and adapt quickly and easily to changing circumstances. We bitch and moan and insist that things should be well run and efficient. Colombians just look at the obstacles in front of them and find a way around. They don’t dwell on whether it is right or wrong or fair. They just get on with it. There is always a way to resolve everything. Definitely something for me to learn here.
By the way, our neighbors were very happy that the road was finally being repaired. “It shouldn’t take too long”, they said. “Only a couple of months.” (What?!! A couple of months of driving through the yellow tape and adding an extra fifteen minutes to get anywhere?) “Or they might just be doing this for the elections to show that they care about the streets. The elections are in a couple of weeks and then they might just abandon this project mid-stream.”
OK, I give up. I just surrender. What else can I do?