A 2014 retrospective: my year in Colombia

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It was January 20 when I poured my black coffee into a cup and took a photo of it, my inner hipster couldn’t help itself. On the agenda with the key discussion points for my interview I wrote ‘rock it!’. Two days later, I was gathering the paperwork for my visa. I rocked it.

 

I came here for 6 months. They turned into 12 after just 4 weeks of dancing salsa with the city, the job, the locals. Now, eleven months after, I find myself in the 5th apartment that I moved to throughout the year (I insist that my weekend job is luggage carrier from a house to another), with one hell of a courage and zen mood to face it all.

I also find myself at the end of an amazing year that took me on a ride through every possible feeling and lesson. It hasn’t always been easy, but man, how I loved it. And I still do. At this point in my life, I don’t see myself leaving Colombia soon. I’m just not ready yet. But we’ll see how that will work out.

Meanwhile, I can’t help myself from writing down the major events and revelations I’ve had this year since my arrival to Colombia.

I stopped underestimating emotional intelligence. I used to take it for granted, thinking that everybody has it, you’d think it’s like common sense, right? Turns out it’s not. This is no longer a secret ‘weapon’ in dealing with cultural shock. I bumped into a lot of people who proudly and completely lack it, key people directly connected to my stay here. Watching soap operas and speaking Spanish is not enough for understanding the Colombian people. Although, telling them you watched Betty la fea will bring a proud smile on their faces.

I. ate. too. much. And only gained 10 pounds. Do not rush to envy me, I smell danger around the corner, in form of 100 pounds to say the least. What? Colombians know about food and I’m just living the complete local experience, ok? It is not my fault, no, sir. So, strange food combos, weird named fruits, wanna-be-strong alcohol, bring it on!

I realized crafting is one of ‘my things’. Be it a DYI Christmas tree, coasters, coffee tables and all, it’s fun and easy and fulfilling. Oh, the joy of passing by a handmade thingie and thinking ‘I did that!’. Ok, saying it out loud feels even better.

I got what I wanted. I wanted to go to a city where nobody can pronounce my name. I made it. Colombians have lots of names that are pretty common in Romania (no, I’m not talking about soap operas character names), but Ioana remains a mystery for them. So it’s basically Ivana, Iovana, Joana, and oh, yes, Iguana. But that’s a joke, got it?

Colombians made me understand that money don’t really matter when you have your loved ones close. I understood it but I’m still somewhere in between. I feel like I’m in that point of my life when I have the age, the mood and the energy to fight for whatever I want without thinking about tomorrow. But then again, time is passing and I’m gonna need that money I haven’t saved. Here’s a 2015 resolution to give a thought to. Meanwhile, I no longer take for granted the presence of my close ones in my life. I miss a bunch of them, but being here feels like the right thing to do.

Going back to never take for granted anything…just don’t it. It’s not fair and it’s a waste of precious time and people. Colombia is going through what is known as the longest armed conflict in South America. I recently visited a museum dedicated to the victims of this conflict and their families and I left there with goosebumps. It’s a horrible feeling to have thinking that yesterday you had your usual morning coffee with your son/father/friend and the next day police calls you to tell you they’re gone. Or worse, gone missing. For months. Years. One should never go through this and letting aside my zen view on life from my pink cloud up there, I truly believe that a human being should never cause such a thing to another. That’s not what we’re meant to be and do.

I learned that good things do happen. To every kind of people, not just to good ones. And that’s a good thing. I witnessed the power of second chances. The effects of breaking human rights. The importance of helping others, even if it’s giving directions to a foreigner or some pesos to a homeless.The importance of just doing good, whenever you have the chance and possibility.

I learned transformation can happen. The so called fulminant positive transformation of Medellín you keep reading and hearing about? It’s happening, folks, and it should be a lesson for many of the developed cities and countries out there. Just to give you one of the million examples, a high percentage of the population lives with disabilities, so every single metro station, many of the connected buses to the metro and most of the public and private institutions include facilities for people with disabilities. And no matter the percentage of such people in a city, this should happen everywhere.

Healthy diets and sports are important. I have a heart affection running in my family and you’d think I learned my lesson back in my childhood days I spent in hospitals. I didn’t. And now it comes to bite me right in the ass. Not fun.

People make the difference. Some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met are Colombians. They’re a perfect mix of ambition, troubled destinies, smiles and hard, hard work. And oh, yes, the joy they bring on the table. And it comes natural! It’s like their national costume or something.

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I can do more than I think I can. All of us can. Besides going above and beyond at my job, I managed to take the time to volunteer in other projects as well, either for TECHO or TEDxMedellín, I am writing for a travel blog, attending various events and extending my network, even taught a couple of English classes and offered consulting to a few small businesses to meet communication needs. I think I’ll get a cat next year. The point is, if you feel you can do it, go for it.

You don’t play with safety. I’m all about living wreckless, partying like there’s no tomorrow and living on the edge. But let’s face it, we all want to get back home safe and with our goods in our pockets. Colombia is generally a safe place to live in if you follow some basic safety rules that you should follow anywhere in the world anyway.

All in all,
I wasn’t as productive as I could have been.
I didn’t check off the list everything I wanted to.
I proudly rocked at not having it all together.
Aaaand no, I didn’t learn to dance salsa perfectly.

But all these take me to another level in the next year. In exactly 7 days I’ll turn 25 years old young. Being no longer in my early 20s makes it harder and harder to find excuses for the dumb things I do, but damn, does it make a perfect excuse to make the most out of it.

I leave you with my main 2015 resolution (you’ll observe the others on the social media channels I use, as the happy hipster-ish social butterfly that I am): deja que todo fluya, meaning let everything flow. As the control freak I am, I would add to guide that flow, it’s more challenging this way.

2014, you have been the year that mixed my feelings the most. Ah, and when you think it all started with ‘I love the feeling of being anonymous in a city I’ve never been before’. Great start, great end. I guess I was #madeforMedellín after all.

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