Monday, November 30, 2009

MCC Retreat #2: Santendercito

So much of our experience here has been about contradictions. This MCC retreat included many of these, and "filled us up" to return to our work in a very holy way. Our family is tremendously grateful to be a part of a nurturing team of fellow MCCers.

muddy legs

Flickr Slideshow

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fourth Month in Colombia

We do not yet feel like time is going quickly, probably because we are still wading through a fairly steep learning curve, and each month there is more that we discover about Colombian culture. These lists have helped us document what we have learned, and have pushed us to ask questions in order to learn more. Please understand that these are simply our observations. We want to share them with you, but we also do not want to contribute to stereotyping. This list does not apply to ALL Colombians.

Colombians decorate for Christmas very early, but do not turn lights on until December 8. Palm trees are included in nativity sets and other decorations.

Disposible coffee cups look like pudding/yogurt cups (with a little rim on the edge).

When showing how tall a child is, you put your hand like this.

When showing how tall an animal is, you put your hand like this.

When there is a red light, street vendors run out and place items for sale (cell phone chargers, candy, fresh fruit, pirated movies, drinks, newspapers) on the windshield, rear view mirror, or window of the car. Then, before the light turns green, then run back and pick up the items that were not sold. We are always amazed at their impecable timing for this task.

Toilet paper and bathroom lights are usually outside of the bathroom.

There are many dogs on the street. Bogota is a very dog-friendly place. However, they are NOT like the dogs we experiences in Mexico. They are very well behaved, don't bark or growl at you, and simply walk by, as if they were another being on the street like you. Dogs are taken care of by everyone.

Dog-walking is a common service here. We have heard that some will walk your dog for three hours per day. We have seen dog-walkers here with up to 10-12 dogs at once.

In our household, it was common to call one of the kids "chico" or "chica." We learned this in Mexico, and it stuck with us. Here they do not use those terms at all. Instead it is "Nino" or "Nina."

Colombians do not generally say "Adios" for goodbye. It is much more common to say "Chao."

Using grid/graph paper is more common here than simply lined paper. Jen likes this.

Goals and Objectives are switched around here. "Objectivos" are the more general, overall thing (like our goals) and "Metas" are the more detailed, "how-to" thing (like our objectives.

If you dream about snakes here, it means you have trouble with debt.

Hot dogs come corporately and individually wrapped in plastic. (Oops, Andy had to eat a bite of plastic in order for us to figure this one out.)

Adults sometimes do the potty dance.

Personal space here is very close. It is very common for us to feel crowded in a personal conversation because people are comfortable standing/sitting very close to you.

Jay walking is a very common occurrence here. People cross the street however, and wherever they can.

People are ALWAYS recognized/greeted, even if you are walking into a meeting late.

"Oracion" is a word which means both a prayer and a sentence. (hmmm.)

We think that it is more commonly accepted to do other things during meetings here. It seems like people talk on cell phones, text, check email, or make other connections, even during a work meeting.

When you hurt yourself (no matter how) you are supposed to pour water on it. We discovered this during one of Andy's basketball games when someone twisted their ankle, and they ran to get some water to pour on it.

Street vendors take anything with wheels (strollers, grocery carts, bikes, carts, even a remodeled porta-potty) and transform it into a mini-tienda to sell things. Usually they sell chips, gum, candy, drinks, individual cigarettes, cell phone minutes, peanuts, fresh juice, or fruit salad.

It is pretty common to eat cold hot dogs for breakfast.

Public display of affection is very common here (thought of you, Toby and Megan).

Colombians spell "haha" like "jeje" and it is pronounced "huahua."

Colombians believe in cooties. If a seat on the bus opens up, and someone unpleasant was sitting there, they kind of "hover" over the seat for awhile. We were told this is because they need to let the "hot air" of that person go away before sitting on it and absorbing it.

Recently our family took a picnic to the recreation center where we like to go swimming and skating. We ate sandwiches, veggies, chips, etc. We were stared at the entire time, and we did not understand why. Then we learned that upper and middle class Colombians do not go on picnics. Picnics are reserved for the lower class, and when they do go, they cook a large pot of chicken, rice, vegetables, etc and they all sit around the pot, each dishing out what they want to eat. We later witnessed this at the park.

The garbage trucks here play recorded music (like ice cream trucks in the US) to let you know they are coming.

Honking a horn in a car is used for communication. It can mean any of the following:
get out of my way
move, please
I am backing up now
hey friend, how are you doing?
would you like a ride in my taxi?
I am coming around this corner

Monday, November 16, 2009


Another day off school and work to be together, spent at the Parque Simon Bolivar and eating ice cream.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Daily prayers in Spanish

Angel de mi guardia
Mi dulce compania
No me desampares
ni de noche, ni de dia
Hasta que me pongas
en paz y alegria con todos los santos,
Jesus, Jose, y Maria


(Guardian Angel,
my sweet companion
do not abandon me
in the night or in the day
Until I am in peace and happiness
with all the saints,
Jesus, Joseph, and Mary.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Daily school prayers

Because our children go to a Catholic school, they have daily prayers. While I am opposed to this in a public school setting because of sensitivity to all who attend, it is nice to have them have this time as a routine part of their days, whether or not they choose to do so in the future. They say some prayers in English and some in Spanish. The older kids say the Rosary, or sometimes just the "Hail Mary" or "The Lord's Prayer." I find a sense of joy knowing they use their time saying these every morning instead of the "Pledge of Allegience." I don't have the Spanish prayers recorded yet, but this is what Abby says with her class every morning.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...
God made the sun
God made the three
God made the mountains
And God made me.

I thank you God for the sun,
I thank you God for the three
For making the mountains,
and for making me.

En el nombre del Padre, hijo, y el spiritu sanctus,


Plum Tart

My friend Elizabeth (who is an accomplished baker) made this for us. I ate three pieces and I am still thinking about it. In Colombia they have a wonderful, small, sour plum that we have been enjoying, and this dish works perfectly with it. I wish I had a picture, because it was so pretty too. Yum.

Jen, here's the recipe for the plum crumble. It's for a 9 inch pie plate. I found I didn't have enough topping, so I used another half as much topping. But I didn't increase the fact, I only used 6 T. Also, since I don't have ground/carmelized ginger, I just grated some fresh. Enjoy!

For the plums:
2 Tbsp. lightly packed brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger
12 to 14 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted

For the topping:
Scant ¾ cup granulated sugar (about 4 to 4 ½ ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 egg, beaten well
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Position a rack in the center of your oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the seasoning for the plums: the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and crystallized ginger. Add the plums, and gently stir to coat. Arrange the plums skin side up in an ungreased deep 9-inch pie plate.

In another medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping: the granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend well. Add the egg. Using your hands, mix thoroughly, squeezing and tossing and pinching handfuls of the mixture, to produce moist little particles. Sprinkle evenly over the plums.

Spoon the butter evenly over the topping, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is browned and the plums yield easily when pricked with toothpick. Cool.

Serve crumble warm or at room temperature, with crème fraîche, thick yogurt, or unsweetened whipped cream.

Yield: about 6 servings

Note: To reheat leftovers, it’s best to do it slowly, in an oven set to 300 degrees.

Monday, November 9, 2009

MCC Action Alert: Support Peace and Human Rights in Colombia

Issue: Rep. Jim McGovern (MA) along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL), Rep. Donald Payne (NJ), and Rep. Mike Honda (CA) is circulating a 'dear colleague' letter in the House of Representatives addressed to Secretary of State Clinton calling for a change in U.S. policy towards Colombia. The letter calls for a decrease in military spending and increased U.S. support for human rights and humanitarian efforts.

Background: Parts of Colombia have recently experienced an upsurge in violence. MCC partners are reporting that church and community leaders have come under increasing attack. The letter makes a strong case for why there is no time to waste in changing U.S. policies towards Colombia.

It paints a vivid picture of the Colombian government's failure to protect human rights, raising issues like the killing of civilians by the army, the persecution of human rights defenders, and the humanitarian crisis of over four million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Echoing what we have been saying for a long time, it demands a cut in military aid and an increase in support for victims and those who are working for peace and justice in Colombia. It also calls for an end to harmful and ineffective aerial fumigations of coca plants, suggesting that we invest instead in creating more drug treatment centers in the United States to do our part by decreasing the demand for illicit substances.

Faith Reflection: Peace is possible in Colombia; this is not an impossible dream. Communities and churches are coming together and taking bold steps for peace and reconciliation. In the most recent release of A Prophetic Call, Report 4, a community member states, "we are writing a new history, not one of kidnapping, slavery, misery and death, but of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace." Like the biblical prophets who looked ahead to a day when weapons of war will be transformed to tools for peace, the Colombian people are sowing seeds of peace and hope. U.S. foreign policy must change and support these efforts.

Action: Call your member of Congress and urge them to sign the 'dear colleague' letter to Secretary Clinton.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be put through to your member of Congress. Ask the receptionist if you can speak with the Foreign Policy aide. If he/she is not available, ask to leave a message. Below, we've provided a script that you can use in your phone call, but feel free to add any personal stories or thoughts that you'd like to share.

Call script:
"I am a constituent calling to encourage Representative ____________ to sign on to the Dear Colleague letter written by Representatives McGovern, Schakowsky, Payne, and Honda, which calls for change in U.S. policy towards Colombia. This letter to Secretary of State Clinton asks that our government be honest about the human rights conditions in Colombia and make changes in the aid package. The U.S. should stop spending taxpayer dollars on the military, which has been found to be killing innocent civilians and illegally wiretapping human rights defenders, journalists, and Supreme Court judges. Instead, we should be supporting refugees and displaced people, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, and small farmers who are trying to turn away from coca. And we also need to invest in drug treatment centers here at home. I strongly urge Representative ______ to take a stand for human rights and sign on to this letter today. To get a copy of the letter and to sign on, please contact Cindy Buhl in Rep. McGovern's office. Thank you."

Making a phone call to Congress is more effective, but you can also send an email to your representative.

Alert prepared by Theo Sitther, MCC Legislative Associate for International Affairs.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Show me how to love in the darkest dark"


My new car

The man who sold me this told me "Este carro no tiene pico y placa."

I feel a bit more like a "real" Colombian market shopper...

Friday, November 6, 2009

A lesson in Colombian Fruit (and a few Vegetables)

Chontaduro is grown on a tree and sold on the street topped with salt or honey. It tastes like a raw sweet potato.

Yucca is a common starch for lunch.


Tomate de Arbol. There are three varieties. This one was cross-pollonated with a Mora (blackberry) fruit, thus the dark seeds.


Sandia pequena (small watermelon)

Pitaya is considered good for digestion.

Papayuela is generally not eaten plain, but is eaten with sugar or cinnamon and panela.

There are many different sizes of papaya.

Marta cannot remember the name of this fruit. Any ideas?

Mora makes delicious juice.

Mazorca is a large, soft kernel corn which is commonly found roasted on the streets.

Maracuya (passionfruit) has a very strong, but appealing flavor.

Colombian apples are harder and sour...better for baking.

Lulo is good for lowering your blood pressure.

Higo is grown on a cactus-like tree (also called "Prickly Pear.")

Habas are a giant dried legume commonly found in soups.

Guayaba is considered the cheapest and most nutritous fruit of Colombia.

Guatilla has the same flavor and texture as a potato, but grows on a tree.


Granadilla (we call it booger fruit) is the first fruit given to babies in Colombia. They start eating it at 2 months, without the seeds.



Three common types of potatoes (for Ajiaco).

Coconut is commonly eated raw, fried, and shredded. Rice is sometimes cooked with coconut milk (near the coast).

Carambolo (we call it starfruit) is fun for decorating glasses of juice.

Arracacha is another member of the potato family.