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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Happy Spring From La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera!



Yesterday, I was teaching English to some local students here in Medellin. Our topic: ¨Me gusta¨ ... or ¨I like¨. My example was, ¨I like the weather in Medellin.¨ The students were intrigued about this new word, ¨weather¨. When I told them what it meant, one young man commented about how he doesn´t even think about ¨el clima¨ or the weather here in Medellin because it is always the same. Yes, with year round temps between 65 and 85 degrees and the sun always shining (except for a brief afternoon rain), Medellin is truly ¨la ciudad de la eterna primavera¨. But for our ¨winter-weary¨ friends in the north, spring may still be buried under those piles of snow,


... but beauty awaits!

Happy First Day of Spring from the City of Eternal Spring!




As the sun starts to tip to the north ...


patio gardens will start to bloom,
artists will transform the sidewalks,

¨hot rodders¨ will hit the streets,


a bicycle or two will pass by,

and kids of all ages will enjoy the parks!


As daylight hours begin to lengthen ...

flowers ...


will ...


begin ...


to ...

bloom!

As average temperatures increase ...


the snow will flow into rivers,
ponds will be adorned with water lilies,
and creatures of all types will
start to work on their tans!

We are grateful to be able to spend time in this beautiful place where the locals don´t think about the weather.


 Where fresh flowers greet us,

local produce feeds us,
and beautiful smiles sustain us!

Hasta luego ... Make every day a SPRING day ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

Monday, March 11, 2019

From Garbage Dump to Garden: Moravía Blooms With Life


In our quest to become more fluent in Spanish, Doug has hooked us up with a local hiking group. On the weekends, we explore different parts of the city while conversing in English as well as Spanish. I am grateful for all the patient local ¨tutors¨ and friends that we have met during these outings.  Whether it is a walk through the forests to beautiful vistas or a stroll through the streets to local cervecerías (craft breweries), we enjoy to chance to practice our Spanish while learning about our current hometown.



But it was our visit to El Cerro de Moravía (the hill of Moravía) that once again showed us that even when faced with a difficult past, the Colombian people are working together to build up a neighborhood that blooms with new life. 



Our guide, Gloria is one of the local volunteers determined to build up the culture, customs, music, and food of her beloved neighborhood of Moravía from a difficult past.



As she points out is this picture, Moravía is located near central Medellin not far from the Medellin River. Up until the 1970s, this area was sparsely populated pasture lands. Because of the undesirability of the area, many of the city´s poor set up a shanty town on the flat, swampy area. Beginning in 1977, the city of Medellin decided to use this land for their municipal garbage dump. Over the next seven years, a mountain of trash over 30 meters (100 feet) high and 7 hectares (17 acres) wide arose on the once flat plain.


Pictures of the ¨mountain of trash¨ in 1984 (top)
and the ¨garden of Moravía¨ in 2014 (bottom)

Despite living in the close proximity of the toxic garbage dump, poor families continued to migrate to the area. Rummaging through the garbage became their means of survival. Discarded food, clothing, metals, and other ¨treasures¨ provided a way for them to support their families.



Although my Spanish is not good enough yet to completely follow Gloria´s narrative, I tried to understand her stories of growing up in the midst of this open-air mountain of trash. During the terrors of the Colombian drug wars in the 1980s, people fled the countryside violence and settled into Moravía making it the most densely populated neighborhood in Medellín. In 1984, the city stopped dumping garbage in this area, but the problems persisted. In 2005 this neighborhood was proclaimed a ¨Public Calamity¨ as the continuous emission of toxic gasses and instability of the soil presented great health concerns for the people living near ... or in some cases, on the mountain of trash. City and community leaders began to work together for a solution.


¨No more garbage - Nature is sacred - We care for our neighborhood

What we saw during our walk through Moravía´s neighborhood streets were signs of resilience, urban development, and transformation that have continued since 2005.




In 2008, the Cultural Development Center opened to provide classes and recreational space for the neighborhood.




Neighborhood homes and streets have been spruced up and local restaurants and businesses have opened to provide services and employment for the local community.




Local fútbol teams compete on beloved sports fields,




and children play on grass-covered hills that used to be dangerous garbage pits.



But a walk up to the hilltop garden reveals the greatest sign of new life for Moravía. What was once a huge mountain of trash is now a lush foliage-covered hillside. Community members maintain the thousands of plants that will slowly purify the years of waste buried under the mound.




Sculptures of art replace the piles of trash.


A walk through the hillside garden of Moravía reminds us that ¨Todo quedará en nuestra memoria¨ ... Everything will remain in our memory. For, as the community of Moravía knows well, if we forget our mistakes of the past, we are bound to repeat them.



Moravía still faces many difficulties, but it is through the determination of community leaders like Gloria that the neighborhood of Moravía will continue to rise up from its troubled past and bloom with new life!



Hasta pronto ... bloom with happiness ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!


Monday, March 4, 2019

Culture Shock and Settling Into A New Norm


Sunshine and blue skies ... flowers in bloom ... temps in the 70s and 80s every day. What could be better than spending the winter in Medellin??  We were confident that we had arrived in paradise as we enjoyed our first few weeks here.


But as our time progressed into the third, fourth and fifth week, my view of our current situation began to change. I wasn´t catching on to the Spanish like I had hoped. The noise and traffic of this large city was a bit nerve-wrecking at times. And as hard as Doug tried, I was missing those special friendships of ¨home¨.  I started to question our decision to spend four months in Colombia. And I was feeling a bit guilty, especially after hearing about the ¨abundance¨ of snow that our northern friends were dealing with.

Yikes!!! That´s a lot of snow in front
of our former Minnesota home!

It was a blog entry of another couple that we met here in Medellin that helped me realize that my feelings were best diagnosed as a simple case of ¨culture shock¨. Marc and Kathy are even more adventurous than us ... they retired, sold everything, and are living in different Spanish-speaking countries for periods of three to six months. They had been living in Medellin for three months when we met up with them, and Kathy´s ¨advice¨ and support came at the perfect time for me.


Over dinner one evening on a beautiful roof-top cafe, Kathy reassured me that my feelings were ¨normal¨ and gave me suggestions to help me adjust to our new surroundings. Her best piece of advice was to not be afraid to get out of my comfort zone. With Doug´s help, I have done that over the past few weeks ... and am grateful to feel like I am settling into a new and different ... but also wonderful ¨norm¨.

We are connecting with a few local hiking groups and discovering ...

serene mountain trails,

beautiful urban gardens,

and the chance to practice our
Spanish skills (or lack thereof) with hikers
from Medellin and all around the world.

We are hopping on the Metro and discovering ...

serene town squares with wonderful
people-watching opportunities,

orchids in bloom at the Botanical Gardens,

and a friendly iguana just soaking in the sun.

We are walking around our neighborhood and discovering ...

a medieval castle,

modern art,

and a Colombian coaster for Doug´s collection.

We are attending language exchanges and discovering ...

new friendships with enthusiastic
young people desiring to learn English,

new cooking skills as I learn
to make empanadas,

and new opportunities to share ideas
about healthcare as I converse with
a fellow RN from Medellin.

But what I was really missing was a connection to the Medellin community that is best found through volunteer opportunities. Two weeks ago, I found that missing part. During one of our hikes, Doug and I heard about a volunteer organization that was looking for teachers to work with local students wanting to learn English. We decided to take the chance and volunteer with Proyecto Prime

It was JUST WHAT I NEEDED!!



Every Wednesday afternoon and on Monday and Friday mornings when we aren´t taking Spanish classes, we venture across town to work with children and adults who want to learn English. It is the ultimate WIN-WIN situation. The students are able to work on their pronunciation of the many difficult vowel sounds that English has to offer while I get valuable practice time listening to and speaking Spanish. Some of my best Spanish ¨profesores¨ have been the children at Proyecto Prime who want to learn English.


Living in another country hasn´t been easy. If it were, Doug frequently reminds me, everyone would be doing it. Yes, there have been quite a few culture ¨shocks¨ along the way,

but it is the smiles ....





... reflecting the joy of our ¨new norm¨ 


... that makes it all worthwhile!

Hasta pronto ... embrace the ¨new norm¨ of every day ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!