|To be honest,
I had the “willies” my first time too. Now I’m an “old hand” who
buys’em by the bag when they’re on sale in the Spring.
INSECURITY AND DRUGS
But what of
the crime, violence and insecurity? Problems, yes – but not of the “run-screaming-to-the-hills”
intensity. At least, not yet. But then, how secure is it where you live
problems occur in the countryside, between the military and right or left-wing
factions. While this can make intercity travel risky at times, residents
inside the major cities of Bogota, Cali, and Medellin, feel little impact
from most skirmishes. These larger cities and mid-sized population centers
like Pasto, Popayan, Manizales, and Armenia, are reasonably well policed
and usually not unsafe if you’re careful.
The FARC, ELN
and AUC, Colombia’s three largest non-government military groups, fight
principally in strategic regions of the North or deep South of the country.
People in the big cities continue to live quite normally, adjusting to
the infrequent power failures, rare phone or water outages, and winter
rainy season flooding that is more of a nuisance than life-threatening.
These annoyances are typical of many third-world countries. To help insure
your safety however, you should keep abreast of the local news by radio,
TV and newspapers, avoid intercity travel at night, keep a low profile
politically, not blatantly advertise your foreign national status or earnings
and stick to public places in good neighborhoods for your nightlife activities.
If you’ll adhere to these guidelines you should be just fine.
Most of the drug production is actually for export, so except for warring
drug factions in the Coca-growing areas of the country, there’s little
everyday impact. Colombia’s current President, Andres Pastrana, has adopted
a “get tough” attitude with guerilla forces. President-elect Alvaro
Uribe won his upcoming August inauguration based on his hard-line stance
on Guerilla and Para-military forces, as well.
No longer does
the sound of helicopter gunships firing into the suburban brush greet your
ears in the evenings as in times past. The Colombian peso has stabilized
and inflation is single-digit. During major holiday periods like the Christmas
season, New Year, and the Holy Week preceding Easter Sunday, government
military patrols of principal highways, seaports and vacation resort areas
are stepped up to insure protection and safer travel for vacationers. Conditions,
although they slow to change, seem to be improving. Life in Colombia, however,
can continue to be an adventure for the unwary. Here especially, you must
Cali, or just Cali for short, a modern, bustling metropolis of more than
two million residents set alongside the 12,000-foot-plus green peaks of
the Farallones, makes a respectable showing in its offerings of art, culture,
entertainment, shopping and nightlife. Crowned “Salsa Capitol of the World,”
a title wrenched from post–Fidel Cuba, there’s no shortage of discos and
“viejotecas” catering to the young and not-so-young. Juanchito, an
eastern suburb, houses 120 of the city’s hottest dancehalls where about
200,000 residents go to party each week. The Municipal Theatre, Tertulia
Arts Complex, and Jorge Isaacs Theatres offer regular productions of musicals,
dance, ballet, orchestra and drama in Spanish.
The two largest
shopping malls, Chipichape and Uni-Centro, house multi-cinema complexes
featuring first-run films from the USA in English, usually with Spanish
subtitles. Publications such as Time, Newsweek, People, National Geographic,
Atlantic, USA Today, and the New York Times, along with dozens of other
magazines and newspapers in English are readily available at Libreria
Nacional bookstores and local newsstands.
specializing in Chinese, Japanese, Vegetarian, Brazilian, French, Argentine,
Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, regional and typical cuisines continually
tempt the palettes of Cale?os. A plethora of shows, programs and courses
provide creative outlet and pleasure for the soul of even the most discriminate
of residents. Check out the links below for numerous year-round holiday
celebrations. Judges even elected a black woman as Miss Colombia for the
first time in the pageant’s 60-year history. Bored? Not in Cali, even if
your Spanish is a bit sparse.
TASTE OF HOME
judge their new home on the quantity of familiar names that abound around
them. There’s always a need for that “little taste of home” no matter where
you are or how well you may have adapted. McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, Coca
Cola, and Domino’s all have a presence here in Cali so you won’t feel stranded.
If you travel to Bogota, the capitol, there are more of these recognizable
names to greet your homesick eyes and slake your thirst for the familiar.
Many back-home style fast-food establishments have Latin counterparts which
will shortly become all too common as you adjust. Culture shock should
remain at a bare minimum. Remember though, that among other things you
are here for new experiences, right?
IF YOU DON’T
No hablas en
español? Not an insurmountable problem. If you come here and search
for a job, you’ll typically interview in English, but as a working resident
you’ll likely want to pick up more than just tourist Spanish. Fluency in
the language is essential for long-term dealings here. Both the Universidad
Santiago de Cali Institute of Languages and the Pontifica Universitaria
Javeriana have affordable Spanish programs for foreigners called “EPE”
or “Español Para Extranjeros”. Berlitz (see link below) has a presence
in Cali, too, with Spanish classes available. A private tutor is fairly
easy to come by and is an inexpensive option. Likewise, the British Council
maintains an extensive list of English-Spanish tutors and teachers. Cali
British Council Director Jonathan Deer, himself a London transplant, landed
in Colombia in 1995. The council (see link below) offers a host of services
to Colombians and foreign nationals alike. Spoken Colombian Spanish is
clear, well pronounced and has a high grammatical level, making it one
of the more desirable versions of Castellano to learn. Even the most rudimentary
Spanish speaking skills should get you through customs and immigration
and allow you to get set up for starters. Not to worry, you’ll be just
fine. Colombians are very friendly and sociable. Most people who can will
help you. Anyone who knows a little English will be glad to try it out
on you, often much to your amusement.
English teachers are scarce here, and excellent salaries attest to the
high demand. To qualify for most teaching positions, an applicant should:
be a native speaker of English, have a university degree (any discipline
is OK), and apply for a temporary visa to work. Patience, a sense
of humor, a positive attitude and a generous dose of enthusiasm also help
greatly. If you have a teaching certificate and some experience – even
volunteer teaching, it’s a definite plus. Work is available on several
school levels including language institutes, trade schools and universities.
I sent out a dozen or so resumes which landed me half that number of interviews
the same week, culminating in several on-the-spot job offers. Most
companies will assist you with finding accommodations and doing visa paperwork.
job options include major hotel positions in administration or hospitality,
administrative, public relations or technically-oriented positions with
multi-national corporations. Companies like Colgate, Firestone,Goodyear,
Michelin, Esso, Mobil, Shell, Pirelli, Western Union, DHL, Fuller, Xerox,
Canon, Siemens, Whirlpool, Brother, MicroSoft, Sony, Coca Cola and Mazda,
have a presence here, to mention a smattering of names. These welcome stable,
bi-lingual personnel with a strong work ethic. “Ma?ana” is an all too common
concept with local staff. It’s especially brutal coming from supervisory
personnel. The U.S., Canadian and British Embassies maintain lists of multi-national
companies, bi-lingual physicians, dentists, attorneys, translators and
other professionals to help start off your search or address your personal
needlessly over the politics and news reports. Never mind the Arnold Schwarzenegger
movie. Contact your country’s embassy for lists of business entities. Call,
write or e-mail some of the universities or institutes to get a specific
feel for their needs and requirements. Check out websites. Assemble your
diplomas, certificates and letters of reference. And don’t forget to collect
sample materials like photos, maps, posters, postcards, magazines, music
and other memorabilia related to your state or hometown. These will be
indispensable for your interactions with locals. Live, travel and
work in Colombia? Yes, you can. Just remember to prepare yourself for the
adventure of a lifetime when you do come. It’s up to you whether Colombia
becomes the heart of heaven or the heart of hell.
Holidays and Celebrations