As most of you probably haven’t realized, I haven’t posted a new blog in quite some time. This is not at all due to me not thinking about posting a blog, I’ve thought about it plenty. The problem has been having something that I deem worthy to post. I’ve had 3 other ideas for a blog post, one of which I actually wrote most of, but I ended up deciding that they just didn’t express the idea or theme I wanted to in the right way. I’ve been searching for an example in which I can really show or demonstrate some part of the Colombian culture. So here’s to hoping this blog post does that:
A fellow YAV, Jake Crowther, suggests music for his readers to listen to as they read through his blog. I’m going to steal his idea. And don’t you worry, it’s electronic music, so it shan’t have words to distract your reading experience 🙂
Now, I understand that plenty of you would probably say that you don’t like electronic music. I would respectfully reply that you probably don’t really know electronic music. The music that pops into your head when you think of “electronic music” is probably some type of hard-core dubstep or electro house, and you’re most likely picturing kids jumping up and down to it at a rave. The electronic music that I’m absolutely obsessed with and utterly love is generally nothing like that, but is much more smooth and slow paced. I truly believe that in every way it’s a form of art. At any rate, I’d ask you to give this music that I have such a passion for a chance before you judge it. I think it accompanies my blog nicely, so give it a listen: Still Linger In My Dreams – Cubicolor
As my incredibly insightful friend and fellow Colombian YAV, Sophia Har, put it in her “lightbulbs” section of a weekly devotional: Soy amada por la gente que conozco acá (I’m loved by the people that I know here). This feeling of being loved by my community here in Carepa, Colombia has never been so strong as it was on my birthday.
On my birthday, April 25, I had an interview with Peace Corps scheduled at 12:30pm, so I knew the entire morning would be spent preparing myself as best I could for my interview. Outside of that, I knew my project would buy me a cake and sing me feliz cumpleaños, but I didn’t expect much else. I prepared myself for it to be a generally normal day, accompanied by an interview and some cake. Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My project did indeed buy me a cake and sing me happy birthday, and even hooked me up with a new pair of shoes. I enjoyed celebrating with them for a couple hours, until I prepared to leave the project. My friend Sandra had let me know that she wanted to take me out for a surprise. So, upon leaving the project, I immediately walked to meet her where the bus stops in Carepa. From there, we headed for the mall in Apartadó, where I found my surprise. It was basically like a small Chucky Cheese’s packed with all types of fun arcade games and rides that Sandra had decided to treat me to:
Oh, and the most important part, they had the typical ticket winning and prize buying system setup. I’ll never be able to hold myself back from being a little kid again when there are tickets and prizes involved. I think the “hunter instinct” inside me gets brought out, and I want to earn myself a worthy prize to bring home. My hunting instincts availed me, and Sandra and I both walked away with a pair of yo-yo’s 😉 AND those beastly yo-yo’s were earned playing one of those basketball arcade games, WHERE I set a new high score for the machine! Can you say booyah?! I mean, setting a new high score on an arcade game is about the best birthday present anyone could ask for.
Anyways, I had a super great time with Sandra, and she treated me to an awesome picada dinner (basically french fries with all kinds of incredible meats, cheese, and sauce mixed together) to finish of the night. We then headed home, to close out what had turned out to be an incredible birthday.
That was until I got home, and my host brother, Carlos, told me there was something on my bed for me.
I walked into my room to find a black trash bag filled with what seemed to be paper. Carlos told me that a ton of people at his school had made birthday cards and posters for me, and had sent them home with Carlos to be given to me. I want to share that at this point, I hadn’t been working in Carlos’ school for at least two weeks, as I had moved to work at another school in Apartadó where they needed my help more. So, most of these kids hadn’t seen me in a couple weeks, they knew I wasn’t working at their school anymore, and they had no type of reminder for when my birthday was… yet, I still received 22 beautifully made cards and posters, that around 60 students had worked together to make:
That filled black trash bag is definitely the best birthday present I’ve ever received.
At this point, I want to take a little bit of time to share my opinion on the differences between a birthday in the United States, as compared to a birthday in Colombia.
In United States culture, we celebrate one’s birthday as the day that they were born. A birthday is a day of celebration in dedication to that day that you were born x number of years ago. Celebrating a birthday in Colombia is not so much a celebration of the day of your birth. Rather, it’s a celebration of the year of life that you have completed, and a toast to another year of life. Getting back to my teaching of random Spanish words, the verb for “to have a birthday” is cumplir, which literally means to fulfill, obtain, or accomplish something. So a more literal translation of saying my birthday is today in Spanish would be I am fulfilling or accomplishing another year.
In United States culture, we often give bought material goods to our loved ones for their birthday to celebrate that special date in their life when they were born. In Colombia, it’s more about giving time and special handmade gifts to show appreciation for the birthday boy/girl, and who they are as a person. Now, this isn’t to say that bought material goods aren’t given on birthdays here, but there isn’t a focus on it, as there is in the U.S. At that, Colombia (or my community at the least) doesn’t have such a focus on material goods in general, like we do in the U.S. Instead, I see them focusing more on enjoying the humans around them in lieu of enjoying some new cool toy or the latest and greatest smartphone. In turning what was originally a multi-paragraphed rant into a simple statement: it’s nice to live without that obsession on material goods all around you :o)
In summary, and in my humble opinion of course, I feel as if birthdays here in Colombia are more of people celebrating another year of your life with you, versus in the U.S. it tends to be more of people helping you to celebrate that special date of yours, by trying to make it as “special” a day as possible. I’m not saying either or is better, but am rather just trying to point out the differences I’ve come to recognize while living over here.
Contrary to our United States culture, I went to bed without any type of birthday party, with only small birthday presents, and without an alcoholic beverage. People didn’t celebrate my birthday with me by having a party, buying me stuff, or giving me drinks… and yet I had one of the best birthdays I had ever had. Why was that?
I think it’s because I got back to the foundation of what a birthday should be: a special time of sharing love. Colombia celebrated with me by showing how loved and dear to them I am. Whether it was through the quality time they spent with me, or through the handmade gifts that they had made with love and care, they made me feel truly loved.
And I’m not saying that having a birthday party, buying someone a present, or inviting them out for drinks isn’t a way to show people love, but I think that love can easily be confused and lost in those methods of trying to share it.
For example, we tend to focus on how our birthday party turns out and what we do at the party, instead of focusing on spending quality time with our loved ones that are there. Those that attend the party tend to focus on how much fun they are having, instead of on celebrating the life of the birthday boy or girl. We tend to focus on how much we like the gifts we receive. Does it fit us? Will we use it? How much did it cost? Instead of the thought, time, and effort someone went through to buy that gift. And above all, we let alcohol deceive us on our birthdays. It’s so easy to confuse having a drink to celebrate, and celebrating by drinking. And when we celebrate by drinking, we lose all sight of what a birthday should be: a time to share the love we have for one another.