Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Good morning from Colombia! Now that I’ve settled in a little bit, I thought I would let everyone know what I’ve been up to.

My last full day in the States was spent glaring at the movers, whose supervisors are going to get a piece of my mind as soon as I figure out how to make international calls from here. They showed up two hours late, left a crack in my window, argued all day long, and referred to my belongings as the S-word (and I don’t mean “stuff”). They also refused to properly pack my Aboriginal bongs. Bastards.

Once they left, Mike and I were presented with the challenge of cleaning the apartment before “The O.C.” came on. The solution was a game of “how many surfaces can be cleaned with a mop?” Windowsills: moppable. Bathtubs: not moppable. Ceilings: Moppable. Shannon: Not moppable. Mike: Eminently moppable.

The journey from D.C. to Bogota isn’t much longer than the one to L.A., unless you count my 3-hour delay changing planes in Atlanta. The pilot had to take his dad to the hospital, which meant Delta had to round up a new flight crew. All was not lost, as I got to spend some quality time in the E Concourse at Hartsfield, which looks like 1983's Vision of the Future. I can just see some architect in leg warmers saying, “In 2003, people will ride jet packs and live on the Moon!”

I finally arrived in Bogota, and the altitude is just plain extreme. I’m about 9000 feet up, which is almost as high as that time in college I took Dexedrine with a vodka chaser and watched TV static for an hour. I sleep between 10 and 16 hours a day, and usually wake up gasping in the middle of the night. I’ll adjust in a week or two. The buses here run on coal, so the pollution can get pretty strong as well. Maybe I’ll pop in to Los Angeles for some fresh air.

Although pollution can get bad, the climate here is quite nice. It rains a little most days, but the high temperature is usually between 60 and 70 degrees. It’s sort of permanently October here. No heat, no snow, no summer and no winter.

The apartment, like Colombia itself, is lovely and scary all at once. State pays for us to live well, so we have 3 bedrooms, 4 baths, a big kitchen, lovely views and marble everything. The only sore spot is the State-issued furniture, which is overstuffed, hunter green and in a terrible tapestry pattern. It looks like Ethan Allen threw up in here. What’s even funnier is that every Foreign Service family gets the same stuff, so this furniture will follow me to multiple continents. There’s no escape.

Our view is terrific. I can see most of the neighborhood and a lot of the mountains. I can even see into the British Ambassador’s compound, and sometimes I watch him play tennis. He’s pretty bad at it. He also has a guard with an AK-47, who carries an adorable red umbrella when it rains.

I’ve gotten a bit of a chance to see the neighborhood between naps, and so far I like it. We live in North Bogota, which is relatively swank and has a lot of shops and restaurants. It reminds me of Georgetown. Except in Georgetown, you probably wouldn’t see as many burro carts as you do here. It’s a bit of a surprise to see a Mercedes drive past, followed by a Fiat, followed by a horse.

The restaurants here are lovely and cheap. On Sunday night, Matt and I went to an Italian place near the apartment. I had gnocchi with a creme brie sauce, he had veal. We also had cocktails, wine, coffee and dessert (mango mousse, yum) for about $30. They also have a chain of coffee places called Oma, which is like a Xando. Fortunately, I speak enough Spanish to order food. But if the waiter asks me a question afterwards, I get flustered and have to elbow Matt to get his help.

My Spanish is coming along nicely. I can say a few pleasantries, introduce myself, and purchase eyebrow tweezers. On Saturday I had my first unsupervised conversation with a taxi driver:

Driver: “It’s hot out.”
Me: “Yes, it’s very hot out.”

Wow! I also spoke my first complete sentence to the maid this morning. “Elsa, if you would like some coffee, it’s in the kitchen.” Most people here realize that I don’t speak Spanish, and communicate with me using hand signals. I have a much clearer idea of how Coco the Gorilla must have felt. The porteros (doormen) wave hello when I come in, and point to the door to ask if I want to be let out of the building. I’ll start Spanish lessons next week, but in the meantime I’m learning the language the old-fashioned way. Television.

For more fun than a body has a right to, I recommend Colombian television. They show the most random movies, like "Breakin' 2:Electric Boogaloo" in Spanish, along with the entire Emilio Estevez ouevre. And the MGM affiliate shows soft-core porn on Saturday nights, called "Hot Ticket." This week's Hot Ticket movie was about a monkey who could write in Arabic. He was dressed in finery and brought to the a rich man in the village. The monkey turned into a man, and the rich man's daughter spontaneously combusted. Then the man played hide-and-go-seek, then went on a sea voyage. The ship sank, so he landed on an island and shot down an empty suit of armor with a bow and arrow. Then he found a teenage boy living underground and they took a bath together (I changed the channel, because eeeeew). Then he led a battle in the desert and a princess took off his clothes. It was in Arabic (I think) with Spanish subtitles. I have no idea what the movie was really about, but it was cool.

Fortunately, I’m able to get most of my shows here: The O.C., Everwood, Angel, and even Mutant X. So far there’s been no sign of 7th Heaven, which is a testament to the grace and class of the Colombian people.

When I’m not watching TV or sleeping, I’m attempting to leave the apartment. I went to a Halloween party on Friday night dressed as Hugh Hefner (paisley robe, pajamas, and cigar). We were supposed to go to the Marine Ball on Saturday, but we cancelled because I slept until 6 pm that day. Oops. This week we’ll probably go out for my birthday (I turn 27 tomorrow), but that’s about it.

Speaking of about it, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll try to post at least once a week.

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