Well nothing could have prepared me for Girardot’s heat. In the weeks leading up to my arrival, every single person who I met in Bogota would react the same upon hearing the name of my new home “ayyyyyy pero que calor!” “but the heat!”. They also pretty much all told me that I will definitely get Zika. That is yet to happen, but thanks for the heads up y’all, wasn’t aware of this global problem. It’s only all over the news. Anyway, regarding the heat. I would nonchalantly brush it off, because I’m one tough lady, nothing is a problem for Anna.
It’s a funny thing. Bogota is actually pretty cold. Pretty fresca. When you begin your approx. 3 hour drive out of the mountains, down to Girardot, you start your ride feeling totally comfortable in your jeans and maybe a light cardigan. As you descend and your ears begin to pop, the air suddenly changes, gets sticky, heavy, and suddenly any amount of clothing is too much clothing. This is the climate I am currently dealing with daily. As soon as I go outside in the morning, I get a layer of shine on my face. I am already used to the fact that I look like an absolute molten trainwreck every hour of the day here. I’m Girardot’s biggest hunny, what of it?
Girardot is an interesting place. I know it will take a bit of getting used to, but it grows on me every day. It has approx. 100,000 population- and coming from a reasonable sized city, you definitely notice the difference. Things just move at a slower pace here, which I guess is a blessing, and a direct result of the heat here. It is bustling and lively, with fruit markets, street vendors, stores blasting loud music (of all different genres, all at the same time), bread shops, super clubs, and swimming pools. What I love about Girardot is the fooood- firstly, Cholao- a SWEET cold treat, which consists of fruit salad, shaved ice, sweet syrup, ice cream, condensed milk, and milo powder. You can buy one of these diabetes-inducing badboyz for about $2 in the square downtown.. one of our favourite Girardot afternoon activities. The other wonderful thing is the almuerzos. For lunch, you can go to pretty much any little restaurant and ask for the menu of the day, and for about $3, you get a yummy soup, a salad, a natural juice, and a plate which usually consists of the meat of your choice, rice, patacon (deep fried plantain), beans, and a variety of miscellaneous carbohydrates. I definitely will not go hungry here.
I wouldn’t say it is a super pretty city, but it has something endearing about it. It would appear that life here starts pretty early in the morning (for example, my day starts at 6:15, which is when the first class starts at school), then people go home for lunch, everything closes down for a couple of hours during the hot hot afternoon, then things start livening up again around 4pm. I am yet to get on board with this siesta thing, but now after weeks of early wake ups and too-late nights, this routine has finally taken its toll on me and not only do I have a cold (who the hell gets a cold in the tropics?!), but also a cute tummy bug which doesn’t want to go away. So the moral of the story is that Anna needs to take naps during the day.
The day after we arrived in the sauna, we had a cute event at the Girardot secretary of education, where we met important people, ate almojabanas, drank tinto (the hip drink of all of Colombia- a small cup of black coffee, with 1200000 spoonfuls of sugar), and laughed together at the fact that I am so tall. Never gets old that one, amirite.
After our brief encuentro, my wonderful mentor (that is, the English teacher who is like my “buddy” in the school), took me to visit my school, and meet the other staff.
My school is like nothing I am used to. A man stands at the front gates all day, checking who is entering and leaving the school. All the pathways are made of mud, and none of the buildings, except the principal’s office, have glass in the windows. “Windows” are basically just holes in the walls with bars over them. This is typical of Colombian schools in such hot climates. There is no air conditioning, which makes for an extremely sweaty day. Yes, there are ceiling fans- but when you are in such a hot, breeze-less climate, all the ceiling fan does is whirr around the hot air a little bit more, as well as create a lot of extra noise. Classrooms are somewhat basic. The school is made up of approximately 8 brick blocks of 4 classrooms. The classrooms usually have a teachers desk, then a bunch of those seats-with-attached-tiny-desks. And that is the extent of what is in the classroom. All of the paths around the school are a clay-like consistency, so that whenever it rains, it turns into a muddy mess, or, more exciting, a muddy river, which makes it almost impossible to make your way around the school (more on that later!). Stray dogs roam around the school, and wander into the classrooms like they own the place- and no one even bats an eyelid. The first day this happened in my classroom, I almost lost the plot with hilarity, LOL THERE IS A DOG… IN A CLASSROOM… LOL LOOK GUYS A DOG JUST CAME IN HERE HAHAHAHHA. Nope, no one even flinched, and they simply carried on with the class, while the dog slept next to a student’s desk.
What the school lacks in resources, it certainly makes up for in heart. Everyone is LOVELY. Admittedly, the students can be a little crazy. And my first few days teaching I was seriously doubting my new direction in life. But it took no more than two days to really begin to love teaching these students. Yes, they’re crazy, but it’s all in a light-hearted, kind way, that makes it really hard not to have a little giggle when one guy gets up in the middle of the class and holds his leg up to his ear, because he is a cheerleader. What also is a brand new experience for me is that I am basically famous in this school for the simple fact that I am foreign. Girardot doesn’t see many foreign visitors, and for that reason, living here makes me a bit of a spectacle, not only in school, but also around the streets. Tall, pale, blue eyed people just do not frequent the streets of Girardot, so every second person has some kind of buzzy remark for me as I pass by. What this means in the schools, is that every student, whether I teach them or not, always yells across the school “HELLO TEACHER!” as I walk past. Or I will sit and eat lunch, and a small mob of students will all be whispering, telling the most proficient English speaker in the group to go and talk to me, who will eventually mosey on over and force out a strained “hello”, followed by giggles and more whispers from their friends. And it is here that the amazing value of this program presents itself- having a native English speaker in the school is so clearly beneficial and motivating for all the students, and that is just made so clear to me in the excitement that it brings the students, to be able to put their learnings to use, daily. I’m so pleased to be in a job where I really feel like I’m doing something useful for society! I’m not even being sarcastic Anna when I tell you that it warms the cockles of my heart.