First Fortnight and Other Firsts

It’s not easy to get a blog rolling in a new place because there’s that inevitable need for a backdrop for future blogs. So, I’ve started out as simply as I could, with a list of “first experiences” that I have had in my first two weeks, since arriving here. So much has happened already, but I’ll try to make it easy for you to keep up!

1. First concerns.

Well yes, a quick Google search for “Colombia” will present you with pages of articles full of enticing words such as “paramilitaries”, “guerillas”, “prostitutes”, “arms” and many things related to the infamous drug baron, Palbo Escobar (or Pabby E as I have taken to calling him). But I have to say it wasn’t until I had been here for a few days that someone told me that Colombia was the only Latin American country with landmines. Fan-bloody-tastic. They tell me that after I get off the plane. Oh and there have been a number of revenge attacks with women having acid thrown in their faces. Not to mention the fear of Scopolamine, the drug that, once blown into your face makes you lose your free will. Criminals walk up to people in the street pretending to be lost with a map and ask the victim for directions. Then once they have their prey close enough the blow the powder that was lying on the page into the victim’s face, and with that the person is drugged, and unable to control their actions. I wont go into the details of some of the horror stories that I had to hear in the security briefing. Let’s just say if anyone comes to me asking for directions imma pepper spray them in the face and run away screaming like a banshee. (Although I’m considering gas-mask idea my friend Tess gave me…). Oh, and be careful with taxis, they might whip you round the corner where two of their hench mates will get in either side of you with guns and frogmarch you to the closest ATM machine. Do you think I’m concerned yet?? Nah not really, it’s gonna be fiiineeee.

2.  First Oral Class

Well this is basically what I’m here for so this “first” had me even more nervous than the thought of getting mugged at gunpoint in the street. I have 15 students in my oral class, most of them Law or International Business students. Many of them have been to the States and London before and there was even someone in my class who had lived at a language school in Brighton for six months. Most of my students are 22 or 23, taking English so that they can get super sick internships abroad. I am not letting on that I am younger than them.

So this ain’t no campo, teaching’s got to be serious. As fate would have it, the chosen book which the class follows is one which my mum edited whilst she worked at the Cambridge University Press, a something that got my new boss very excited – especially when he found her name in the credits page. The class I gave was about pronunciation and it went really well, I got the students to listen to exercises about different accents in English, and then I made them debate which was better, British English or American English. Clearly I was quite biased but it turned into quite a laugh and I even showed them the trailer for Snatch and a clip from Ellen Degeneres with Hugh Laurie where they discussed different slang from the UK and the USA. All in all it went down pretty well. But I realized 4 days later that I had left the audio CD in the computer. It almost certainly wont be there any more. At least I can get my mum to send me a replacement…

3. First time in a private institution

Those who are familiar with me are familiar with my general rejection of private education. And yet the Fate Fairy strikes again and drops me in one of the swankiest universities in Latin America, Universidad del Rosario. Now, I grew up in Cambridge, a city which prides itself on its educational institutions, but I was not prepared for how nice my university was going to be, especially because of its location in the notoriously dangerous centre of Bogota. The university gym is as nice as the state of the art one we have at Leeds, and there are statues of the founder in the central cluster which itself is pretty impressive. The students roam around wrapped up in their Ralph Lauren and Armani polos – one of my students even turned up to class in a suit and another was wearing limited edition Team GB Adidas trainers! I’m already seeing the differences between private institutions in this country and those in the UK, but that can be the subject of another blog. Right now I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience a part of the world I had never previously been exposed to.

4. First time in the Ministry of anything

No, it had nothing to do with Harry Potter. On my second day all of the British Council assistants went to the Colombian Ministry of Education to get the lowdown on exactly what we were going to be part of. CNN was there, so we felt quite fancy and they treated us nice. It was also interesting to see how much of an investment Colombia has put into the project with it’s English program and the British Council.

5. First time working in an adult office

I have my own computer. At work. And a work ID. And free gym membership. And my name is on the door to the office. And people address me formally – I’ve had Professora, Señorita, even Señora (I didn’t really like that though).

6. First time on the public transport

In Bogota there is a Trans Milenio system which is something like a guided busway that has platforms around the city which you need and Oystercard-type thing to get onto. There are also propa latino style little buses with tassels across the dashboard, and little trinkets around the reverse mirror saying “In God We Trust”. There is a reason why Latin Americans are so fond of their vehicles blessings… the bus I was on struggled to get past the aftermath of one accident where a girl was struck by a motorbike… So we can add transport and crossing the street to the list of concerns then. But, I have to admit, I managed to reach my destination by grabbing one of these buses on the side of the road. And it was nighttime, and I was alone. And I managed the return journey in the morning. Two of the more stressful journey of my life – and I’ve conquered the C1 from Fulbourn to Arbury!

7. First run-in with the po-po

The less said on this the better. Some drunk policeman in a car, some fighting policemen in a club and some corrupt policemen by the side of the road. Let’s just say things could have turned out a lot worse.

8. First Colombian night out

A whole new set of rules. Amazing dancing and the best music for it!

9. First family get-together

Colombians have been incredibly welcoming (|’m not just saying that, they actually do have Arab standards of hospitality), especially my boss, Manuel. I’ve really lucked out with my placement, not just because of the institution, but also because my boss and his family have taken me into their fold. Manuel’s sister-in-law is my tia Colombiana, and has helped me sort out my ID, and we’ve been shopping and for sweet treats (another first was a fruit salad with cheese and coconut…). I was also privileged enough to be invited to Manuel’s house to celebrate his son’s 5th birthday. The highlight was probably having a deep and philosophical chat with the Grandpops who is in his 70s and tried to encourage me that I should get myself a Colombian boyfriend. He went upstairs briefly and came hobbling down the stairs shouting that Algeria had won a gold medal in the 1500m in London. His wife had her own endearing qualities – she told me her secrets to keeping her svelte figure into the 70s, and got out the recipe books to share with me. Overall it has to be said that this family are repping Colombia well!

10. First time in student accommodation abroad

I am living with 44 latina girls (and one Jamaican). All you boys out there be jealous. It’s like student accommodation at home just sexier.

Anyway, thanks for reading, keep in touch and let me know how things are at home, slash, where you are. Besos!! xxx

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About Imani Amrani

Algerian Brit, with some Latina in me (I once ate an arepa). Freelance journalist. This blog is my double bed that I don't have to share, where I can take all of the duvet and spread myself out. Find older blog posts at https://theshakirahunter.wordpress.com In the meantime find 140-character nuggets from me at https://twitter.com/ImaniAmrani

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