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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Market

Sunday we went to the market with our friends Danni and Steve. It was while they shut off some of the streets for a few hours, so there were a lot of people out. We stopped in a store with lots of plants, then found a mall further down. Next to it we entered the market. There were some Chinese shoe things (which we thought were funny), and lots of other stuff. We walked down streets just lined with people selling things. There were clips, jewelery, candles, tea, food and more. We stopped by a little stall and picked up some food. They made crepes with nutella and strawberries on them; they were delicious! Dad and Damon also had these bread things with rice and meat in them, which were also good. We kept wandering through the market – there were quite a few rows of people selling things. Soon we came to the “puppy corner”. There were a few people standing there holding the most adorable little puppies, with people petting them, and some buying them, but we went on to the rest of the market. After we looked at a few rows, we found a good place to sit down, and Mom found some drinks and Dad and Damon found some food. The sausage was really good. There was some pork on the plate too, and that was okay. There was some really nasty looking sausage on the plate as well, but only Dad and Damon tried it. Apparently it was blood sausage. They didn't like it very much. The three drinks we got were fruit drinks. One was white with black seeds. The fruit in it came from a huge yellow fruit, and it didn't taste too bad. The second was green, with yellow and green fruits in it. The fruits were a little sour, but it wasn't too bad. The other one was red, and it was sweet and tasted really good. We decided we need a little dessert after that, so Elena and I went to get some churros, with Dad making sure we had enough money. I said “tres churros” and he handed them to me, then waited for the money. Of course we didn't have enough, so Dad added some to what Elena had given him already. The churros were very good. We finished looking at the market, and passed by puppy corner again. There was a very cute puppy that we held and petted for a while. Then we had to go. By then the streets were open again, so we had to use the sidewalk. We were very tired by the time we left. We had gotten some tea and a very good smelling candle (which, funnily enough, came with a stand). I got some really cool earrings that were origami cranes with hardening stuff on them. We also had some cherries. On the way home, we saw a man selling really pretty purple flowers, so we got those too.

By Maddie

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Doing it Myself

I have made a goal for myself to accomplish one new or major thing per day. That is pretty much what I can handle before I flop on a chair done in.
Today Chad was out of town and there were a few things I needed to take care of at the Embassy. I have only been into the Embassy twice up to this point and both times I went in with Chad. I wasn't brave enough to tackle this 100% by myself so I begged Maddie to come with me. The Porterio of the apartment called us a taxi. (Thank goodness, I will have to do another whole blog at some point on getting a taxi here!) I told him I wanted the "buscar" or employee entrance. "Si, Si" he says. I have learned that this is not a very reliable confirmation. He got us within the vicinity of the Embassy and pointed it out. I kept my eye on that American flag flying high as it took another 15 min. through the traffic to make it to the entrance.
Well "buscar" must also mean "I am a Colombian needing a visa into America" entrance. We paid, got out and stood there on the sidewalk looking forlornly at the long lines of people on the outside of the fence just waiting to get into the Embassy. I pulled out my badge and walked past all the lines straight up to the gate. I waved down a guard inside and pushed my badge through the bars. He squinted and sauntered over realizing that I was not a poor, helpless person on the outside but rather I was actually supposed to be on the inside. He let me into the courtyard which was filled with lines of people waiting for an open window to speak to a consular. I still had no idea where I was and had to wander around asking 2 more people how to get to the inside of the Embassy.
Of course I made it in and found my way to the bank, post office and medical office to take care of business. It was so refreshing to get into the medical section and see a few familiar faces. Just the warmth of their smiles gave me the encouragement I needed. After 10 trips back and forth between the Clo office and the Commissary express I had Elena correctly signed up and paid for to go to a kids summer party. Last stop was the Commissary to stock up on a few things I can't find in the grocery store then on to Motor pool to have a taxi called. Amazingly many employees in the Embassy don't speak English. Isn't this the one place I am supposed to be able to get around without waving my hands all over the place to communicate? Anyway, he told me where I was supposed to go to get the taxi. I had no idea how to get there. I tried to ask, but no English. I walked to another desk with someone in a uniform who of course didn't speak English either. After much head shaking he picked up the phone and called someone who did speak English. Seriously???? How in the world am I supposed to ask someone to give me directions from where I am when I don't know where that is to the place I want to go? Maddie and I eventually made it out of the Embassy and into the taxi. I handed him my address not even having the energy any more to make an attempt at pronouncing it.
Nothing feels as good as home after a morning like that!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Food Festival

On Saturday there was a food festival that was called Aimeniarte. We walked a couple of blocks from our apartment to a park were the Food Festival was, we could already smell the food. We had left just before lunch so that when we got there we would be hungry to try some new food! We started on one side of what looked giant circle of little tents with different restaurants housing all different kinds of food. This weekend and the next weekend were the only weekends they were doing it, this weekend was international foods and next weekend would be all Colombian foods. We found some special tents to buy tickets that we payed for the food with. As we walked along we found a place with a picture of a big yummy looking brat with melted cheese on top. The place was called Divino Swiss House. We got in line and Dad ordered to the guy in Spanish for one brat like the one in the picture. After they cooked the brat they stuck it in a bun and another guy with a huge block of Swiss cheese, then put the cheese under a special heater, when some of the cheese melted he scraped it onto our brat. It was very crowded so we had a hard time finding an empty table and five chairs. Eventually Maddie and I had to go up to some random people and ask with one Spanish word meaning chair, and a finger to point at what we were talking about, to get a couple extra chairs. We all gathered around and each took a bite of the delicious cheese covered brat until it was gone. This was the way we decided to eat all of our food, because we all wanted to try a lot of different things. When we saw something that looked plain good, or just new and interesting we stopped to get one and experimented to see if we liked it! Soon we were ready for dessert. We all picked out our own thing that looked good and got it. Mom, Maddie, Dad and I all got ice cream, while Damon got some chocolate moose. Colombia was playing against Peru, but unlike the other Colombia game we watched here it came to a disappointing end when Peru won 2-0. Colombia came very close to scoring multiple goals but after Peru scored the second goal everyone watching got up and left the game.

Several times while we were walking around the big circle of tents we found other tents that didn't have food in them. One of the tents was a circus tent that we went into. Inside was a bunch of things that are at a circus, we tried stilts, hula-hooping, walking across a balance beam, balancing on a board which was on top of a big tube, and hanging from ribbons. This turned out to be a very fun stop for all of us! While we were walking to look for some food, a guy who spoke English stopped us and asked if Damon, Maddie or I, wanted to trying throwing some baskets to get a prize. It was free so we decided to go for it! We each would get three throws into a droopy looking basket attached to a board. Damon threw first and it bounced off the rim, but on his seconded try it swooshed through the hoop, we all smiled and he went over to get his prize. He chose a frisbee. I was up next and when I threw my first shot, it bounced off the backboard. I picked up the ball again, and Damon said “aim lower!” I did this and it flew through the hoop. I walked over and also grabbed a frisbee. Maddie stepped onto the platform, picked up the basketball and threw it, it swooshed though the hoop on her first try and we all cheered, “you should have played basketball!” Dad exclaimed. Maddie went over to pick out a prize and selected the slinky, which came in very useful when she got board at the soccer game! After the soccer game we packed up and went back home. Wednesday came and it was a holiday, Colombia's Independence Day. Normally they wouldn't have the food festival on Wednesday but because it was a holiday it was an exception. We liked the Food Festival so much that we came back to try some more new food and enjoy more activities!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Flying Solo

Church camp ended on the 9th, my 16th birthday was on the 10th, and we were to fly to Bogota, Colombia on the 8th. Events on my calendar conflicted with few solutions that pleased everyone, and I refused to let all my driver's training to go to waste and not get my driver's license. That is how we decided that I was going to fly separately on the 12th to Bogota.

When I got back from camp I stayed with the Elzinga's and waited until it was finally the 12th. It was not long and I filled my time with last goodbyes, friend filled afternoons, and birthday surprises.

Grand Rapids airport is nothing new, I have been through there a dozen times and the layout is simple. We had gotten there early and they made Mrs. Elzinga wait until I the plane took off. They let her into the terminal and we waited, what seemed like forever, until I finally boarded. I listened to my ipod and watched part of a movie, this was the easiest flight.

I arrived in Atlanta and started to search for the big tvs with the flight listings. I found them, but the only flight labeled Columbia had a different flight number than the one on my ticket. Across the hall was a Delta employee at a desk and I went to ask her. She typed into her computer and started to tell me something when I remembered - I had looked under Columbia instead of Bogota. When she finished I said “thank you” even though I hadn't heard what she had said. Straight back to the computer screens I went and easily found the only Bogota, and this time it matched my flight number. To get to the terminal I had to go down the hall and on a train. “Terminal T” announced the overhead voice. I stepped out and suddenly everyone was hispanic, except me. I found my gate, T7 and then went to buy some food. I had an hour or two so I listened to my ipod and went into a store. The flight was delayed, but not too long. We boarded and I had to go back 3 rows before I could find an open overhead compartment for my suitcase, I knew this would make getting off difficult. I got a window seat again and after awhile a lady sat down next to me. Soon everyone was on and still the aisle seat was open. She moved into the aisle seat and both of us put our bags in the seat in-between. On the back of the seat in front of me was a tv, and I watched that and (again) listened to my ipod. Closer to the end of the flight I started to talk to the lady that I shared the row with. She was from Bogota (along with everyone on the plane except me) and told me about the city. We landed and I had to wait until there was gap big enough for me to go back against the flow to retrieve my suitcase. There wasn't, so I had to ask someone to get it and pass it up to me. I walked through the plane towards the door and felt a soft pat on my side. A little boy, four if I had to guess, was gently patting my side with a toy T-rex. I smiled at him and he smiled back, obviously shy. I talked to him and his mom a little. We got off the plane and walked to a bus which took us to the actual building. Inside I got into the immigration line. It was long and I passed the time talking to a man in line, lucky me he was American, but had a horrible southern accent. About 15 minutes had gone by when I saw a way that split off. The sign read “diplomats”, I saw it and booked it through, cutting off who I had been speaking to with a short “goodbye”. There was no line. I looked over and saw the line I was skipping. It would have taken at least another hour to get to the front. I walked to the man at the desk, handed him my diplomatic passport and some other papers. A few minutes later I was walking down a hall towards a man holding a piece of paper that read “Damon Faber”. He took me to get my luggage and and then passed me through customs without them even scanning or looking into my bags. Outside was a small metal gate holding back a lot of people, they were practically overflowing. I spotted the rest of the family at the front of the mob. The man helping me with my luggage led me to them and eventually to the van that drove us to the apartment.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Grocery Shopping We Go

I love stopping in grocery stores when we are in foreign countries and having a poke around, but the situation is quiet different when I know I must walk out of the store with enough food so that we don't starve for at least 3 days. Before we left I dutifully made my list of three meals – tacos, spaghetti & stir fry – and the needed ingredients. Then I looked up every ingredient I could find in Spanish and wrote that down as well. I figured how hard could it really be to find the basics? I should have known better because when Meijer switches things up for the fun of it I am lost and frustrated for a month!

Our new friend, Joe, picked us up and drove us to Carrefour, one of the major supermarkets in Bogota. He parked in the underground parking warning us that it is better to pay for parking in the city than park on the street as your side mirrors are likely to be swiped. Attendants with nifty little carts were walking around asking if you would like your car washed while you were shopping. How brilliant, because everyone lives in apartments you must rely on someone else to wash your car for you.

I began passing out lists as we walked into the store. I had broken up my list and given Chad, the girls and myself items to look for. Chad and Joe were off. I knew Chad would be lost in the aisles filling his cart with many interesting things to try. The girls dove into their task, passing me with smiles and waves. I began on my list. Walking up and down the aisles, looking at the pictures and packages trying to decide if it was the item I was really wanting. Ironically the items to actually make healthy dinners were quiet difficult to find whereas every aisle seemed to have Oreos. Two aisles of rice (are there really that many varieties?) and one aisle of beans and another of corn flour later I was frustrated out of my mind. Do they seriously not use white flour in this country? Thank goodness I had written the Spanish words on my paper. I walked up to an employee and after listening to a string of words I didn't understand I simply said “harina”. The employee kept on talking not seeming to realize that I had no idea what he was saying (thank you Orlando for teaching me proper annunciation). Fortunately he was the type that talks with his hands so I just followed the arm waving over to a very small section a few aisles over. Not much choice but I am just happy to find the powdery white stuff. I have since learned that flour is one item we can not have shipped from the USA because of the similarity of another powdery white substance. It seems to me they have their trafficking directions a bit mixed up!

We were fairly set with the grocery items so now it was on to the personal items which we were informed were on the second floor. This would be interesting as we had 2 carts ½ full. Nifty electric moving ramps took us, carts and all, up to the second floor. We found our items quickly (due to my insistence because I was tired and didn't really care at this point if I had soap and shampoo to use in the shower). We wheeled back over to the nifty ramps and I told the girls to be careful because I hadn't seen anyone actually come down on one. Amazingly the cart wheels locked and gripped onto the ramp. We grabbed a few items out of the center aisle of the ramp as we were descending.

We wheeled over to the check-out area. There was no “paper or plastic” choice and I didn't see a single person there who brought their own bags.

We never did find baking soda, taco seasoning or shells, and garlic bread. When I went to put the soap in the dishwasher that evening I opened the tub and found some hard gritty stuff. Chad read the package for me and turns out it is some other sort of dish soap. Not too bad for the first trip. In a few days after Damon has arrived I will take him and let him read the packages for me.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Colombia vs. Bolivia Soccer Game

On our 2nd day here in Bogota, Colombia, we decided to walk around a little bit and see if we could find a good place to eat breakfast. We found a restaurant called Crepes & Waffles which happened to be recommended to us by some friends here the day before. We sat down to eat and half way through breakfast we noticed a group of about 10 men, wearing all black, throwing beanbags in a line to each other. But these were no ordinary beanbags. They were gigantic beanbags for people to sit on, and they also looked like Fifa cup soccer balls! All of us turned and watched as they lined up about 150 beanbags in front of a huge TV screen outside. After breakfast we wandered down to where all the beanbags were and in Spanish Dad asked what was going on. The men replied that at 2:00p.m. they would be playing the Colombia vs. Bolivia men's soccer game on the giant screen. We walked away amazed that so many people were already seated in front of the screen on the beanbags 4 hours ahead of time. After walking around town and exploring the mall we brought Maddie back to the apartment because she had no interest in watching a soccer game, and headed back to were we saw everything happening earlier that day. We were about 3 blocks away from where the game was playing when we heard scream coming from the direction of the game, we immediately new what had happened, Colombia had scored a goal! We knew we were already late but we didn't want to miss anymore. When we got there it was packed, we didn't expect there to be any beanbags left to sit on knowing from earlier that day that people had arrived 4 hours early for this game, but we didn't expect what we found. People were sitting everywhere covering the ground all around the screen. We took a seat at the back and looked at the screen. It was 30 minutes into the game and the score was 2-0. Colombia was winning and it wasn't quite halftime yet. Bolivia didn't end up scoring the rest of the game and neither did Colombia, but there were quite a few times were they came very close to scoring and the crowd erupted in cheers, blowing of very loud horns and clapping. We decided that you didn't want to come to Colombia and cheer for the wrong team, Colombia is very serious about their soccer! When the game was finished everyone packed and went home.

By Elena Faber

Friday, July 8, 2011

To Bogota

On the 8th, we stuffed the cats in their handy little carriers, loaded our suitcases into the cars and went to the airport. It was in the morning and we had to check in all of our seemingly one thousand suitcases. Damon was at camp, so Elena and I decided that I would take care of Len for the day, and Elena would cart around Ike. Both cats each had a toy in their carriers, but neither really played with them. At first they meowed a lot, but eventually they realized their attempts at making us so guilty of making them unhappy we would take them out, were being more or less ignored. So they quieted down a bit. At the airport, our grandparents, the Elzingas, and the Buists were there to see us off. Finally we said goodbye and walked down the hallway to security. We had to take the cats out of the carriers and walk through with them. They each had a harness on, but we only had one leash and they wouldn't let us take it back through for the second cat. We decided Elena would hold Ike, but the leash would be hooked on as back up, because he was the most squirmy and unhappy of the two. When I went through with Len, he kept trying to get away, but I somehow managed to keep him in my arms and not on the floor running away. We found our terminal and sat down to wait. A lot of people stared at the cats, and everyone liked them. On the plane, we stuck them under our seats, and they didn't make too much noise. When we took off on the other hand, they meowed like crazy. Everyone turned and looked at us saying “are those cats?!” We just kind of laughed and nodded. It was an hour and a half flight, so in the air it was pretty uneventful, but, once again, as we landed they meowed a bit. In Atlanta we dragged all our stuff to the train and took it to our part of the airport. We had a bite to eat in the food court type of place, then put our stuff by our terminal. While Dad stayed with our belongings, us girls went in a few stores and looked at the 'airport art', which was clothes made out of reused materials, like plastic bags and pop cans. We got on the plane, and a lot of people were speaking Spanish. The cats went back under the seats and I took a little nap and watched a movie. The cats weren't quite as noisy during take off or landing, so that was an up. When we got off, we had to stand in a line until we saw a sign for people with diplomatic passports (like us!). We sped past all the other people and went to the desk. They didn't ask at all about the cats, even though a few people came up and looked at them (like the pilot of one of the planes). A man with a sign that had Dad's name on it was waiting for us. We picked up the rest of our luggage and went outside. While we were waiting for our van, a big German Shepard came up and sniffed Len's carrier. Len poofed right up, and he definitely didn't like the dog. Luckily, the owner pulled the dog away pretty quickly. We drove to our apartment and lugged our luggage into the elevator and then into the apartment. We did a little bit of organizing/unpacking in the roomy apartment, then went to bed. We were tired, and it was late.

By Maddie