As I step out of the taxi the aroma of cinnamon and filth dances in the air, cumbia (1) steps that seem to be choreographed for the smog. The smog that inevitably comes along with a developing city nestled in the valley of fourteen mountains, and that will without a doubt turn tissues black for people who don’t call this place home.
“Chiquita grande, agua: cien pesos, gringa, gringa, promoción, mona linda!” (2) Hundreds of calls fill the air, some people want to sell me things, and others just want to call attention to the obvious contrast I create walking down the street at five feet ten inches tall with pale skin and green eyes. It is enough to make people stop in their tracks and stare for a straight half hour, should the time and situation allow. But let’s be honest, it’s Colombia, and time always allows.
While my presence warrants double glances from every passerby, no one seems to notice the shantytown next to the river that is set against a backdrop of the latest government-built parque (3) complete with seven fountains, three sculptures, and a bamboo forest. This seems to create a more weighty contrast than my five-ten frame could ever carry. But, as a barefoot African woman selling fruit from a basket on her head brushes elbows with a man, briefcased and business suited, everyone continues their daily dance, unquestioning. Maybe it’s because they already know the steps, or maybe their feet just can’t escape the rhythm.
1. Cumbia: a type of Latin-American dance music of Colombian origin, similar to salsa and using guitars, accordions, bass guitar, and percussion.
2. Little, big girl, water: one hundred pesos, foreigner, foreigner, sale, cute light skinned girl.
3. Parque: Park
This was the submission I made to a new publication they’re going to have on campus about international experiences called Souvenirs. I had already written that piece for my creative writing class last semester, and I figured it’d be good marketing for AIESEC. All of you other UW AIESECers reading this, submissions are due by Feb. 22– and they can be writings or photos from any type of international experience…ask me if you want more details!