Monday, August 31, 2009


Our Spanish lesson today involved learning how to prepare the traditional Ajiaco soup, which originated in Bogota. Our language tutor Marta was kind enough to share with us her family recipe. Our friend and fellow MCCer Elizabeth joined us for this lesson, and all the while Marta quized us on vocabulary and verbs associated with cooking.

Colombian Ajiaco

Boil approximately 3 quarts of water.
Add two cloves of garlic (diced) and two carrots (whole, but cut in a cross on the end.)
Add two chicken breasts and 6 ears of corn, cut into segments and continue to boil.

Wrap a bundle of cilantro, parsley, large green onion, and spinach leaves together with twine.
Add the bundle to the pot.

Slice three different kinds of potatoes and add to the pot.

1. 6 criollas (small, similar to a new potato)
2. 6 pastusas (round-shaped potato)
3. 10 sabaneras (round, bumpy, red skinned, hard potato)

Cook until the potatoes are soft.
Add two cubes of chicken broth and two teaspoons salt.
Remove the carrot, bundle of herbs, and chicken.
Take our some potatoes and smash or puree them. Return to the pot.

Shredd the chicken (in very small pieces) and return it to the pot.

Add guascas leaves (this is a herb you can only find in Colombia, so it will have to be made without in the US....we tried to think of a substitute, but could not find one.)

This soup is traditionally topped with heavy cream, capers, and picado.

Picado is made by mixing chopped large green onions (only the softer, bendy kind because they are not as "macho"), the whispy part of the cilantro leaves, a small amount of olive oil, water, and salt. If you want, you can add a pepper to spice this up, but that is not very common.

Ajiaco is also commonly served with a small portion of rice and a 1/4 of an avacodo, which you scoop into your spoon before dipping into the soup.

It was delicious!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

One weekend, three Colombian birthday parties

Our dear friends who have served in Latin America before us assured us that our children would be the first to make friends, and that we would get "hooked in" through these friendships as well. This weekend, our children were invited to three different birthday parties. While it would have been easy for us to decline the invitations, we knew it would be good for us to branch out and try to connect with other folks. Incidentally, our children go to school far away from where we live, so this posed some complications when it came to the logistics of finding these parties. Not only did we have to navigate our way through a Spanish R.S.V.P., but we also had to ask the parents, our language tutor, and sometimes others how in the world to get to the correct locations. The following post describes some of our experiences.

Party #1
Abigail was invited to a party for her friend Maria Angelica. The party was at a private club way north of Bogota. We first asked our friend the cab driver if he would be able to take us there (knowing he knows the northern part of town pretty well). He said that he could not because technically this location was beyond the city limits, and his cab was not allowed to drive there. So then we resorted to looking up Transmilenio maps and consulting with others to try and figure out how to find this place. Finally, our dear friends Oscar and Lilianna (Colombian MCCers who are waiting to start a term in Brasil and also live in the north) agreed to meet me at a northern Transmilenio stop and help me navigate a cab driver to the correct location.

For those that know me (Jen) well, you will know that it is extremely easy for me to get lost. I will admit that I got lost in Akron, which is incredibly hard. And navigating around a city by myself causes me a great deal of anxiety and stress. Incidentally, Aaron had another party at the same time and we could not go together. So I loaded up Lydia, Abby, and myself and we crammed (literally, there was no room) ourselves into the train, hoping that we had written down the right stop to meet Oscar and Lilianna. We only got (a little) lost, and were grateful to find them. We were on the train for probably 20-30 minutes, and then in the cab with them for another 25 minutes.

We walked into this VERY fancy country club. There were flowers everywhere, and it looked like the fanciest hotel we had ever seen. There was lush grass and an amazing view of the mountains. After asking several staff people where the party was, we were directed to a side area for "los ninos." There was a beautiful playground, a miniature ice cream/refreshment hut, and several elaborate play structures. We were 1/2 hour late, but only one other family had arrived (not even the birthday girl). We waited for about an hour, awkwardly playing around this other family. Gradually, others started to arrive...dressed in very fancy clothes.

This party was staffed. There were people there in uniform, just to facilitate games and activities for the children. There were blow-up games, kareoke, and an elaborate pirate treasure hunt (all with costumes for the kids). There were waiters and waitresses walking around with trays of Coke, Colombiana, Scotch, and water, swooping up any extra dishes along the way. We were served a lunch of cheeseburgers and french fries, and all the adults ate them with a knife and fork. The staff handled everything, and the parents just sat around and visited. There was a big display box for all of the gifts, and beautiful kid-sized place settings with folded napkins and candy on every table.

The hardest part about this party is that Abby and Lydia did not play with the other kids. Sure, they were speaking Spanish, but they did not go out of their way to play with Lydia and Abby. In fact, in was incredibly painful to see the other children AVOID them....whispering and going to sit elsewhere (for a long time Abby and Lydia sat alone). Needless to say, my girls did not join in the group games, and tended to go off and play somewhere else as well. I had a similar experience. Two people tried to make conversation with me, which only went so far because of language difficulties, so for most of the time I sat alone, not knowing how to connect with this crowd of fancily dressed elite.

After the cake and party favors (all the children who attended got character slippers to take home) we took off. Another long cab ride (this one ripped me off). Another long train ride, and we finally got home. We were gone from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Exhausted, I fell into bed and listened to "Prairie Home Companion," trying to recover.

Party #2
This was Andy's first party invitation. We had to travel by Transmilenio (the newest form of public transportation in is quite nice and pretty easy) to the northern most stop and then take a taxi for about 20minutes. We arrived at "Multiparque" (Multipark) 35 minutes late and to our surprise the birthday boy had not arrived nor most of the other guests. Multiparque was a fantastic party place. They have go-carts (los carts) and a harnessed trampoline jumping game (jumpin), which allows the kids to jump about 10 ft in the air safely. Besides those thrilling attractions the kids get to take advantage of about 200 square yards of green space filled with every play ground structure you can imagine...including zip-lines. Yes, Andy was in heaven, even though he was the only kid there who crashed the go-cart. It was a spectacular crash. He actually went headlong into and over the railing and landed on top of a two-foot embankment, only to be smashed by another car. Lest you think he was severely injured; he was wearing a very protective helmet and visor, with a neck brace, and five-point harness. He is sore today but perfectly fine. Besides, he already survived falling of a horse in the rainforest!

Andy has been amazing to observe this weekend. His friends really like him and he has no inhibitions about interacting with his peers. His physicallity allows him to get by without much need for a lot of clear verbal communication. Right now it is a gift that is serving him very well.

This party had its paid staff attending to the kids too. However, the families were certainly more engaged with me, each other, and the kids than they were at Abby's party. Several people tried a bit of english with me. Mostly, however, they were very intentional about speaking clearly and slowly to me and including me when possible. I spent a significant amount of time talking with one of the father's about the kids' school, hockey (Andy starts hockey with his son on Tuesday at school) and the world of soccer--that went on for a while...surprise, surprise. In general, I found everyone to be very welcoming, genuine, and interested in helping us in any way possible. I took advantage of this and got a ride back to the train station.

Party #3
This was another friend of Andy's from school. His family sent an invitation home for a "family baseball party." This one was a lot closer to our apartment, so we did not have worries about transportation. It was a simple cab ride away. The family called us before hand to explain that the party was for the whole family, and we should all wear tennis shoes to play "beisbol." They called again, this afternoon to see if we needed a ride, or help finding the place.

When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by all the families there. It was a smallish party, with 4-5 family friends together and a Grandma and Grandpa. The offered us chips and coke as we waited for the beautiful field to open up. Andy ran off immediately with his friends and several of the parents gathered around us and tried their best at English,** asking us about our jobs, our involvement in church, our families, etc. They enthusiastically organized us into teams to play on the field. Then they "warmed us up" with stretches and passing exercises, shared whatever gloves and bats they had with us.

The game started, and those that were not playing got to watch in the dugout. There was a lot of laughter, including Abby who played with ferver in her skirt and bare feet. After the game, there were ham and cheese sandwiches, chips and more soda, followed by a pan of jello with candles in it.

When the party was over, they insisted on driving us home, and on the way asked us how we found the school, how we were finding ingredients for cooking, more about our family, etc etc. They were warm and caring, and insisted on giving us their phone numbers for future ball games, doctor referrals, questions about school, or whatever.

It was great to connect again with some people I had met the previous evening. We enjoyed more conversation and a nice ball game. We now have several standing invitations to call people if we need rides to hockey games, school activities, or the regular friday evening "beisbol" games.

We arrived home dusty from the game, full of good food, and hopeful for future friendships.

**When I was in the states, I knew a bit of Spanish, but was too timid to use it. Now that I am here, I realize what a gift it is when people even try to speak a little bit of English to me...and I wish I would have done that too. So I urge you, if you know a little bit of Spanish to try and talk to someone who does not know English. It is an amazing gesture of love (even if you sound foolish).

New Family Activity

So, we saved our garage sale money, hoping to purchase something special for our family in Colombia. We agreed with the kids that the money we earned should not go to paying off a bill, or the expense of moving, or some other (probably more needed) thing. We decided that since we all sold things at the garage sale, we would purchase something together that we could all enjoy. So thanks to all of you who bought something at our garage sale, and thanks to my parents for an additional donation, we bought these...

More practical at this point in our lives (and location) than bikes, yet just as fun. We have plenty of parks and beautiful places we can ride together, and on Sundays and Holidays Bogota has "Ciclovia" where major streets are closed for riders. We are really excited for all five of us to make memories riding around this big city!

So I guess a family that rides together.....

(you fill in the rest)

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Sweet Darlin'

"Be good, be kind, be careful
Learn lots and have fun
Be good, be kind, be careful
Learn lots and have fun
And always remember that I am loving you."

(and give every situation your best thought)

...trying so hard to remember THIS look on her face, as opposed to the look when she left.

Friends of Relatives and Relatives of Friends

We had heard of Neil and Elizabeth before we joined the MCC Colombia team. She is the cousin of one of my campers at Friedenswald. She was a camper at Friedenswald in my sister's cabin. We have mutual friends. She baked a cake for my cousin's wedding. She is a housemate of a friend from Newton. Anyway, we were astounded by the many connections we had before even meeting each other....and from the moment we sat by them at our first ever meeting in Akron, I knew we would be friends.

They are playful. They engage our children in meaningful conversation and play. They make cookies just for fun at eleven at night. They are not worried about eating on the floor at our house. They volunteer to take Andy out to run around, and they tolerate the HIGH energy that our children exude....mostly because the kids are so very excited whenever Elizabeth and Neil come over. They are smart, and easy-going, and adaptable.

Elizabeth and Neil found out that Lydia's favorite restaurant is Chipotle. They found a knock-off restaurant at the mall in Bogota. So, as a surprise to the kids, we all went to the mall for supper and pretended like we were at Chipotle. Everyone was thrilled.

Thank you, Elizabeth and Neil for embracing our family. We love you, and look forward to many more fun outings together! We are so blessed to call your our friends.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

As soon as I buy myself a guitar,

I'm gonna sing this song.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Month In Colombia

Today marks our first month in Colombia. We decided to celebrate with honey-baked chicken, new potatoes, zucchini, tres leches cake, and one Club Colombia (a type of beer highly recommended to us by our dear language tutor Marta...she even suggested we mix it with a sweet soda to give it to the kids, but we declined. Apparently it won the highest prize in the world of beers.) During supper, we all made a list of the things we have learned during this first month.

Every lunch in Colombia includes a potato, rice, meat, and some sort of fresh juice.

Saying hello and goodbye (usually with a kiss on the cheek) is extremely important.

It is also important to eat all your food (if you can).

When a teacher enters the room, all the students stand by their desks and say "buenas dias."

People here are nice, respectful, and helpful (nicer than a city in the US).

We have learned to like plantains, especially platacons.

Fresh fruit is everywhere, including coconut.

Colombians don't point with their finger, but they do point with their lips (which is really strange).

You have to be very careful of cars. They drive wherever they fit, and drivers are crazy.

We have five bakeries in our neighborhood, and we have figured out which is the best.

Hot dogs (perros caliente) sometimes come with crushed potato chips and pineapple sauce on top.

We found some really good pizza.

We know the difference between a "tinto," "cafe con leche," and a "cappachino."

Attending to all your relationships simultaneously is extremely important.

There are kids at school with disabilities and they are not teased. Kids go out of their way to help them.

We found a special park, just for roller-blading.

There are lots of motorcycles, bikes, roller skates, scooters. Aaron even saw two delivery motor cycles drive right into a restaurant to pick up the food at the counter.

It is pretty common to see a poor (possibly displaced) person driving through the city with a horse and cart.

You don't put toilet paper in the toilet in Colombia.

Everybody plays together at school. No one is bullied or left out.

We learned a new kind of tag/hide and go seek called "Uno, Dos, Tres, Parame."

Appearances are very important.

Students are expected to be on time, and their homework must be just right, with perfect handwriting.

People write in cursive right away.

Notebooks, paper, and electronics are extremely expensive.

Colombian ketchup does not taste like regular ketchup.

Milk and drinkable yogurt comes in bags (and tastes very good). We also found soy milk.

They have a tiny chocolate bar called a "Jet bar." In the wrapper there is a sticker of an animal, which the kids collect in a book.

You are expected to respect anyone older than you.

Colombians eat out a lot. It is often cheaper than cooking at home.

There are a lot of dogs, stray and not. We also have dogs at our school.

We learned how to clean the outside of a window on the seventh floor of a high rise.

There is no blasting music in the mall, and we found a Baskin Robbins.

Dunkin' Donuts is really big here.

Some people sleep on the street, in parks, and under bridges.

Bogota is cold and hot, cloudy and sunny, windy and calm, rainy and dry every day. The weather changes really quickly.

When we see the mountains, we know we are heading east.

Colombians have lots of locks (we have three in our apartment).

Never slam the door in a taxi (they will make you get out).

Birthdays are really big here. (We have two invitations for this weekend).

We have to tell the taxi drivers where to go, which is sometimes really hard in Spanish.

The buses have numbers to tell you where to go.

Silverware is brought to the table on a tray and passed around before the food arrives.

"Micro-futball" is everywhere. It is type of soccer played on a really small field (like for 3 v 3 in the US) and it is usually cement. One plays with a heavier ball as well.

Cookies are often dry and not very sweet.

You can make juice out of any fruit.

We learned how to make jugo con leche, and we often have it for breakfast.

We all like Ajiaco, which is a traditional Colombian soup make with three different potatoes, chicken, and an unusual herb. It is also served with a chunk of avacado, rice, and arepe on the side.

Passionfruit is incredible, awesome, and wierd.

We found a fruit that looks like tadpoles, or dinosaur boogers. It has a name, but we call it "booger-fruit."

Avacados are huge, creamy, and perfectly ripe.

You can get an incredible vegetarian meal for only $3.

You can see monkeys in the wild (on our list to do).

In music class, we are learning "We all live in a jello submarine."

Happy Birthday, Mother Teresa

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

“It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.”

“The fruit of silence is prayer
the fruit of prayer is faith
the fruit of faith is love
the fruit of love is service
the fruit of service is peace.”

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Culture Shock and the Pace of Life

I recognized it as depression: loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, pacing by the window, biting my nails, a deep pit in my stomach, which desperately called me home, fear for my children, for my marriage, mourning the loss of routine, yet feeling paralyzed like I could find no routine, concentrating to get up out of a chair, or to talk to someone...

Then my brother recognized it as classic culture shock. He explained that some people get so physically ill they feel like they cannot move when immersed in another culture.

Then my sister told me, "It's like a vision quest...a way of stripping you down to deal with the basics of life, and nothing else.

I am reading Henri Nouwen's journal from the time he spent in Latin American (thank you, Fremont and Sarah), and he says,

"We can use this new opportunity for our own healing. When we walk around in a strange milieu, speaking the language haltingly, and feeling out of control and like fools, we can come in touch with a part of ourselves that usually remains hidden behind the thick walls of our defenses. We can come to experience the basic vulnerability, our need for others, our deep-seated feelings of ignorance and inadequacy, and our fundamental dependence dependency. Instead of running away from these scary feelings, we can live through them and learn that our true value as human beings has its seat far beyond our competence and accomplishments...culture shock can open up for us a new understanding of God's grace and our vocation to live graceful lives."

And so I focus on the most basic pace of life.

We have no meetings, no music lessons, no soccer practice or gymnastics, no late night meetings with students or cramming for class. We have no potlucks, get-togethers, play dates, babysitters, child care coops, or spontaneous trips to Wichita.

(And part of me misses those things fiercely).

We are down to the basics.

We make breakfast and eat together. We drink tea. We do the most basic work of the day, involving learning a bit of Spanish, and connecting with others when we can. We peel potatoes and boil the beans and eat together in the dark, washing dishes by hand, letting the clothes dry in the air, reading together, maybe a game of cards or Scrabble, and then cuddle to sleep. No where at this point to go.

And I know God is here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Celebration of the Ascension of Mary into Heaven

(our first Colombian National Holiday)

School Uniforms

At first, I was nervous about school uniforms. My primary concern was comfort (because of sensorily-sensitive children) and my secondary concern was keeping them clean in a timely manner. As it turns out (so far) Lydia, Andy and Abby are quite pleased with them. They like that they don't have to worry about what to wear, and that everyone seems to be on the same level at school. They have a casual outfit and a more formal outfit. As soon as we break in the shoes, it will all be good!

Creating cozy spots

Spaces to nurture and remind us of home.

Abby's first day

Do you notice anything different about Abby before she went to school and when she came home on her first day?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Morning Grace

I feel your breath upon my skin
As the morning light finds your face
Love blows ‘round us like a sacred wind
And I say a little morning grace

Tears like a blessing, love like the light
I touch you like a prayer every single night
I don’t know who to thank every single day
I sing a little song, say a little grace
Thank you to the breathing
Thank you to the sun
To the moon and the morning
Every song ever sung
To the sky and the ground
The goddess in the trees
The angels and the afternoon
That carried you to me

Your smile makes me want to sing
As you lead me barefoot to the door
You show me all the fragile flowers of spring
That have never dared to blossom before

The night wind blows so silent and so sweet
And you gather me gently in your arms
I hold you in reverence as you sleep
And I whisper my thank-yous to the stars
I whisper my thank-yous to the stars

(© 2004 Leela Grace, BMI)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Street Views (what Aaron thinks people want to see)

MCC Colombia Kids

We were fortunate to join an MCC team with five children on it already. And with our coming at the same time as the Walker Wilson family, we doubled that number to 10. Fortunately for all of us, they all get along. I feel fortunate that our children have kind kids older than them and little ones younger than them that they can play with. While we will only all be together 3-4 times per year, it is so good for them to get to know each other and share this experience.