Category Archives: Daily Life

Of God and Gabriel García Márquez

Sunday Mass at Barranquilla's Buenavista Mall

Sunday Mass at Barranquilla’s Buenavista Mall

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my nearly three years in Colombia, it’s that you can go to church almost anywhere. And I’ve learned this despite my non-church-going ways. How? Because it’s obvious. In Colombia, church very nearly comes to you.

There’s Mass in the mall. Big services occur every Sunday morning in the same place you go to see a movie on Saturday night, bringing new meaning to an old Jimmy Buffett song lyric: “There’s a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”

People crowding in for Sunday Mass at Santafe Mall in Medellín

People crowd in for Sunday Mass at Santafe Mall in Medellín

There’s Mass at the water park. I can’t show you photos because Continue reading

What message does your city send? This is Medellín’s.

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As 2015 rolls on, Medellín is still enjoying its reputation for innovation and urbanismo social (social urbanism)–an inclusive form of urban development famously manifested here in the use of cable cars and outdoor escalators as public transit and the placement of major public works like the España Library in poor areas. The city exudes an inspiring insistence on making sure that the tide of urban development lifts all boats.

But a question that comes up on occasion is whether Medellín’s reputation is based on reality or is merely the product of great marketing. (That Medellín resuscitated itself after years of violence toward the end of the 20th Century is not a subject of debate.) This Next City article, “Latin America’s New Superstar: How Gritty, Crime-Ridden Medellín Became a Model for 21st Century Urbanism“, and this This Big City piece, “Medellín: Miracle or Marketing Ploy?” provide a point-counterpoint.

As a new resident of Medellín, I’ve come to see the debate as a little beside the point, as long as the marketing is accompanied by sincere actions and significant progress. Living in a city that holds good values and repeatedly asserts them in a visible, pervasive way matters. Messaging can’t take the place of hard work and actual successes in helping people out of poverty and designing communities with a decent quality of life for all; the marketing would be downright offensive and frightening (nobody wants to be brainwashed or feel like they might be) without efforts in those areas. But, as the author of the “Medellín: Miracle of Marketing Ploy?” article alludes to toward the end, city leadership that expresses real concern about the needs of all its residents and acts on it, even if insufficiently and imperfectly, is better than city leadership that isn’t concerned at all. Besides, the good marketing ideally helps create a positive cycle in which saying the right thing and doing the right thing–at both the leadership and grassroots levels and on the individual and collective planes–feed each other.

For me, nowhere is Medellín’s messaging more notable than in the small text that appears just below the vast majority of billboards in the city (sponsored I assume by the Alcaldía, the Mayor’s Office). Continue reading

8 Ways that Medellín and Barranquilla Differ

Not too long ago, a reader considering a move to Colombia wanted to know more about the differences between Barranquilla, where I lived previously, and Medellín, where I live now. As I told her, in many ways the two cities could not be more different. Prior to my own move to Colombia, I heard from others that the cultures of the country’s four major cities – Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla – are very distinct. So far (without having visited Cali – that’s on my list!), I’ve found that to be true, though I’m only qualified to talk about two.

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For others who may also be wondering how Barranquilla and Medellín line up, here are a few key differences to consider:

1. As Colombia’s second largest city (after Bogotá), Medellín feels like a big metropolis.

Continue reading

The Divided Life of the Modern Day Expat*

I used to dream of writing a novel called Halfway to India. I envisioned the book as a stylized version of the life I was leading at the time – a life married to a quintessentially American guy who had lived in the US for decades, but whose ties to his country of birth remained very strong. The “halfway” part alluded to my frustration that I could never work out the opportunity to actually go to the place that exerted such a powerful, pervasive influence on my everyday life. It was definitely a case of so close and yet so far.

Today, the tables are turned. I am not in India, though I eventually did visit.

Borders, identity cards, and legalities fail to convey a more complex reality.

What does moving to another country really mean in the age of the internet?

Instead, I am very happily in Colombia, the home turf of another culture that I love. But in many ways I am still only “halfway here”, in this country that I have made my home by choice. This is the blessing and the curse of the modern day expat: the ability to live with one foot in your country of birth and the other in your country of residence.

This divided – or integrated, depending on how you look at it – life that my husband and I lead is definitely a product of our technology-driven lives. Continue reading

The Pace of Change: My Post-Holiday Barranquilla Redux

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!

I spent a truly lovely few years of my life – longer ago than I care to admit – living in Seattle. I don’t know whether Seattle is this way now, but back then, even though it was (and is) a big city, it offered a level of “sameness” that one might usually associate with a small town. One could go away on vacation and feel confident that Seattle would be waiting, basically the same as before, when one returned. Even after I had been living in Miami for two years, when I went back for a visit to Seattle I was still able to get coffee at Café Ladro and Espresso Vivace, and a big, fat peanut butter cookie from Cinnamon Works in Pike Place Market. I swear the same guy even checked me out at Bartell Drugs. (Whether this is good or bad is a question for that guy, but the fact that Bartell’s still exists is actually a little remarkable in and of itself.)

This isn’t to say that nothing changed – like any big city, there were always new developments in the urban landscape – but the changes were usually additions to what was there before, not replacements. This made Seattle sort of a comfort food of cities for me, which was important at the time since I was going through a divorce and other seismic life changes. Seattle was not always perfect, but there was a lot of security in knowing exactly what I was going to get.

This feeling stood in sharp contrast to my experience of Miami, the next place that I lived, this time for nearly a decade. Continue reading

Five “Normal” American Things That Can Seem Pretty Weird

Por fin! Finally! After nearly a month Stateside (can you say “Stateside” if you aren’t in Europe?) — plus a frantic week preparing to go and an extraordinarily drama-filled week upon return — I’m happy to be writing again. For now, I hope you’ll put it in reverse with me to explore a few of the wonders and woes of an expat’s trip home. “Back it up!” as my son says, quoting his toy Caterpillar trucks. And with that, I bring you five “normal” American things that seem pretty weird if you’ve been out of the US for a long time:

  1. The astounding variety of stuff available, for better or worse, in an average US grocery store. My mental dialogue while browsing goes something like this: “Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch? I’m not sure I understand. Snack chips made with chia seeds? Oh, let’s try that! Take-out sushi? There is a God, and he has chosen to put heaven in this place.” And this is the way that I feel when I go into Kroger or Publix. Put me in Whole Foods too soon after re-entering the US and I might pass out. Seriously. Continue reading

Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla

Readers, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Paige Poole, a fellow Barranquilla transplant. Paige’s own blog, Transatlantic Adventure, includes fun and useful regular features like “Word Wednesday”—a must-read for people looking to bone up on Costeño (Coastal) Spanish. Paige also writes regularly for Uncover Colombia, a great source of destination-related info.

Brightly painted blinged-out buses are a common sight.  Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!

Brightly painted buses, often tricked out with special lights, are a common sight in B’quilla. Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!

After my family and I scored cheap plane tickets to Medellín based on Paige’s insights, I realized that she would be the perfect person to demystify what can be a challenging prospect for newcomers: figuring out how to get around. Believe me, if you’re moving here or even if you already live here, I know you’ll join me in thanking Paige for her incredibly helpful post, which follows below.

– Courtenay

Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla

When first arriving to Barranquilla, public transportation can seem daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. While at its core you can find similarities between public transportation in Barranquilla and public transportation in other big cities around the world, you’ll also find there are many differences and peculiarities that can cause chaos if you are not aware of them!

First of all, you need to know that the main methods of transportation within the city of Barranquilla include: taxis, buses, “busetas,” and Transmetro. Continue reading