The War on Bugs

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The queen of the ants felt bored. Her colony was thriving; they had expanded to occupy every corner of every sidewalk in the land of Amalaka without obstacles, and there was nothing else for her to do but twiddle her thumbs, mate with the males and lay eggs. What a trivial housewife’s existence! The queen remembered her days of glory, when every expansion of her colony was a noble fight, when…

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Pijao: Rampant misogyny and no one seems to mind…

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On Sunday, there was a beauty pageant. Girls of fourteen, fifteen and sixteen competed for the crown of Miss Pijao. In the morning, they strutted on stage one at a time while a man with a microphone announced the color of their eyes, skin and hair as well as their bust, waist, and hip measurements – like cows at an auction.

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Later they paraded down the streets on the backs of decorated jeeps in…

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Pijao: Finally, the festival…and a lap dance

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The last few days of work were definitely strained. As it became clear to Victor that I wasn’t interested in him and his antics or his coffee shop, he started being affectionate with his girlfriend again and cold with me. He hardly ever came to the café, but when he did he would criticize everything I did: what I was wearing, how I was working and even how I smelled.

He asked me to transfer…

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Carmen and the Camera

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While meandering down a charming street in Salento, Colombia I noticed a British girl with a large digital camera in front of a cafe, attempting to communicate with an ancient Colombian woman seated there.

“May I take your picture?” she said over and over, gesturing with the camera. “Foto? Por favor?” The girl didn’t speak any Spanish and it was clear the woman didn’t speak English, so the two…

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Pijao: How young is too young?

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Early on, Victor confessed to me conspiratorially that he and his girlfriend were having problems. “She just doesn’t understand the things that we understand,” he said. “I’m not really together with her anymore but we still work together and I am ending things slowly.” Uh-oh. I’ve heard that line before. ‘We’re not really together’ my ass.

As for Ana Maria, it was obvious she was hopelessly…

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Nuestra Alegria Ya Es Mundial!

This commercial pretty much sums it up.

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Camisetas Amarillas: watching the World Cup in Colombia

“Futbol no es un deporte aqui; es un religion.”

As a local Colombian described it to me, soccer isn’t just a sport here; it’s a religion. After being in Colombia for the World Cup, I can safely say that truer words were never spoken.

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Futbol is the game of the people; from the time they’re three years old, every kid in South America is passing around a ball on their street corner. All you need is…

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Pijao: La Gringa Guru

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By my second day, I was ready to split. I spent all day serving coffee and being paraded around to every table so I could meet all of Victor’s friends, or more accurately so Victor could show off his shiny new Gringa to all his friends. Everything I said was like the word of God, and everything I did was perfect. Victor asked me questions about everything from food to personalities to yoga to…

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The Workaway page advertised an organic coffee farm in the mountains of Quindio, the heart of Colombia’s coffee production. Turns out I would be working in a coffee shop in a small town called Pijao that no one has ever heard of except people who grew up there, most of which still live in Pijao.

I had a funny feeling about the place the moment I stepped off the bus. The town square was small and simple, framed by a solitary clock tower and green hills in the distance. The buildings were characterized by traditionally painted, brightly colored doors and windows. I snorted out loud in a burst of laughter when the first sign I noticed read, “Almacen Jerusalem: Bueno, Bunito, y Barato.” That’s embarrassingSpanish isn’t even my first language and I know how to spell “Bonito”.

As I wandered through the square with my backpack, I heard someone call my name: Victor, the guy I would be working for. He’s a short man in his 50s with round glasses, white hair and an awkward demeanor. His mouth reminds me of the bad guy in the first Spiderman movie, the way it makes a thin line on his face and curls up at the ends.

Victor introduced me to a whirlwind of people, steering me from one group to the next and talking for me as if I couldn’t present myself on my own. “This is Amanda, from Oregon in the United States. She has come here to learn about the farm, growing and preparing coffee and our culture. We connected through a website called Workaway. She is a vegetarian and a singer and she likes to write…”

Victor’s friends studied me as he talked, then asked him questions about me perhaps assuming that I didn’t speak Spanish because I hadn’t gotten a word in edgewise. I suddenly felt like an odd species of animal on display at a zoo.

This became a pattern throughout my two-week stay at Pijao, each introduction speech exactly the same but with added details about Victor’s new pet (“She plays the flute! She does yoga! She can teach us English!”) as he learned more about my habits and interests. And no, it didn’t get any less annoying.

The first person Victor introduced me to was Ana Maria. “Mi novia,” he added, and I’m glad he specified she’s his girlfriend because I assumed she was his daughter; she looks like she could be 13.

My first night we spent talking at the café, Victor appeared overwhelmingly delighted at everything I told him about myself. (“You don’t eat chicken? That’s incredible!” “You like instrumental music? Wow, me too!” “You want to learn stuff? That’s awesome!”) “I’m so happy you’re here,” he said over and over again, staring into my eyes. I just thanked him awkwardly, feeling more and more uncomfortable.

“Where am I staying?” I asked finally, since night had descended and that hadn’t yet been addressed.

“Oh, well I don’t have any room in my house but there is a nice hotel nearby,” he said. “Do you want to take your stuff over now?” …

I volunteer while travelling for three reasons. One: to learn new things. Two: to experience the local life that I wouldn’t experience at a hostel, and Three: to save money. The point of Workaway is that my accommodation and food are provided for in exchange for my labor. So needless to say, I was a little put off and a bit perturbed when I arrived at a private hotel room whose only price tag was a laugh and off-hand assurance, “Don’t worry; it’s reasonable.”

When I finally got the bill, it was not cheap by my standards. Later, Victor was presenting me to another new person and they asked where I was staying. I said I was at the hotel but I planned on moving because it was too expensive.

“Why didn’t you negotiate the price?” Victor asked me.

“Because I had already slept one night there. I can’t negotiate after already staying; that’s something you do beforehand,” I said. Victor laughed like an adult does at the cute antics of a child.

“Isn’t it great?” he said to the other person with us. “They’re so particular that way.” ‘They’ I guess referring to those of my particular and peculiar species.

To be continued…

Pijao: False Advertising The Workaway page advertised an organic coffee farm in the mountains of Quindio, the heart of Colombia’s coffee production.

Screaming Birds and Ant Butts – travelling Colombia with my mom

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In the months of April or May, after a hard rain and a subsequent fierce sunny day, the giant ants of Santander, Colombia spiral into the atmosphere to mate with the queen and start a new nest. On this fateful day, the people of Santander flock to these nests and scoop hundreds of ants into bags so they can fry and sell them for ridiculous prices. Yes, fried ant butts are a delicacy in this…

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Guys, I’m Famous!!

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Okay, not really. But I do appear in an official Original Premier Cast Recording of Ablaze! An A Cappella Musical Thriller which will soon be famous. And now that recording is available for purchase!

Buy the CD!

The recording features me screaming at some asshole, pushing all my fictional friends away, and eventually coming to terms with my life. All amist a bone-chilling plot and incredible A…

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Meat, Sugar, and Barefoot Climbing – adventuring Colombia with my sister

Initially, I felt nervous bringing my mom and sister (the two most important people in my life) to Colombia for a visit. I have no problem travelling through such an unfortunately infamous country alone, but putting my family at risk is a different story. My mom and sister don’t speak much Spanish, and the three of us together I worried would be more of a target than me by myself.

The potential…

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La Gatita Machita

Photo Credit: Alfred Magelly – ahhfred.com

The guys at the hostel in Costa Rica affectionately called me La Gatita Machita or “Fair-Haired Kitten” because I have “the eyes of a little cat” and light skin/hair.

For the longest time I thought “macha” meant masculine…but it is really Costa Rican slang for people with light features. Either way, I embrace the nickname: Macho Kitten! Sounds like the…

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Dialogue with a Truck Driver

The second day on the organic coffee farm behind Pijao, I wanted to go to town for a dance lesson one of the baristas invited me to.  Silvia, the caretaker of the farm, offered to accompany me as far as the “bus station” or rather, the jeep station. Old American jeeps leftover from war-time are the form of public transportation here.

Silvia reigns over the rag tag mob of sweat-drenched male…

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