The inocentes (+1) eat weight in Colombian fare; observe documentary in progress

11 Sep

After showing Brian around Medellín and it’s traditions (Hooters, NFL, Exito/Target of Colombia) we decided that we should really hit him with a one-two punch of FOOD.

Saturday morning, Gloria (the woman who runs our lives) came by to make us a traditional Colombian breakfast. It was a quasi-bandeja paisasans arepa, avocado, chorizo and fried egg…but, really, I think we made out ahead.

Our kitchen was full of the smells and sounds of things cooking and frying. Beans with chopped plantains were cooking on the stove; chicarrón was chopped, breaded and fried; plantains were sliced and…fried; meat was also cooked…in a frying pan; and–because we’re health conscious, y’all!–brown rice was simmering on the stove. We ate, Gloria yelled at us to eat everything, we cried because we couldn’t eat anymore as we wept over one more spoonful of beans and plantains, and then we had to figure out how we were ever going to eat again, not to mention eat again in just a few hours at our friend’s home.

Once Gloria felt that we had eaten enough, she left, and we were left to try to digest, shower and plan the next part of our day: sancocho with our friends Vanessa and Veronica in their barrio, Enciso.

Vanessa is an art student at the Nacional, and is also in Tam & Jota’s PBM. She will be headed to Boston (assuming Bogotá grants her visa) in October to present her current project: a documentary on her mother. Betty Vahos (Vanessa & Veronica’s mother) is a unique figure. There is so much lost in translation that I couldn’t really put it all into words for you, sadly, but we can operate by saying that she’s a little bit of everything: nurturing, crazy, thoughtful, loud, kind, tough, etc. She is an independent person who is not to be trifled with, but who also opens her home to children in the community with nowhere else to go. The picture below of the extended “family” is one that represents not only her own three children, but a number of others who are connected with Betty in some way; either they live with her, they lived with her at one point or she’s taken care of them in some capacity…all while being literally the most full of life and crazy person you have ever met.

At 3PM (an hour after we finished Gloria’s wonderful meal) we headed up to Enciso el Penal, a barrio where gringos are a rarity. We found the area on Google maps, and thought “that doesn’t look too far away”. The first cab we flagged down said he couldn’t take us there because he didn’t have enough gas to make it up the hill. Enciso: apparently uphill. The second cab we flagged down said he didn’t know where it was. Enciso: not a place where many people frequent. The third cab driver we flagged down not only was familiar with it, he would also take us there…after he talked to Veronica to find a place to drop us off. Enciso: ….where are we going?

Driving up the hill was like trekking up streets in San Francisco, and I understood why the first cab driver didn’t want to deal with it. If your car wasn’t in tip-top shape, it was going to take awhile. Our cab driver seemed to know where he was going, but eventually he had to stop to ask to get directions to the center of town, and we could understand how the second cab driver was able to pass on the opportunity to get us there: the streets were winding and steep, and it wasn’t that easy to navigate. Finally, we found Vanessa and Diana waiting for us in the center of their barrio. Diana, as Vanessa described her, was a “niña de la casa“, literally a child of her mother’s house…though I could never figure out to whom she belonged other than the house, itself.

As soon as we walked uphill…and stairs…and more hill to the Vahos’ home, I was reminded of Toni Morrison’s Sula. I’m actually reminded of Sula‘s setting quite often here in Medellín, given the Andes surrounding us on all sides. The setting of the novel is in a hillside community of poor black families who were “gifted” the land by a white landowner. The joke of the gift is that the land is untenable, but eventually the white people in the valley below realize “hey, those views are pretty great” and they want the land back. Medellín is at that place where the poorest folk live up on the sides of the Andes with truly stunning views of the city. At this time, the rich people of Medellín don’t seem to want to retake it and displace the poor to the valley below. Or, if they do, I’m wholly unaware of it.

REGARDLESS. Vanessa was filming part of the documentary of her mother. Greg and I got interviewed, we took pictures everywhere and we somehow found room in our stomaches for sancocho (though don’t ask me how; I’m still full typing this, 16 hours after I last ate).

I learned something really important, too: Greg is a magnet for Colombian children. A child would walk up to him and ask him a question (typically: “How do you say _____ in English?”) and then two other children would appear at his side. Over five minutes, he might amass a total of 11 kids touching earrings or his tattoo, marveling that he could speak Spanish and just sort of hanging around him, playing with his clothes or his camera phone. They were disappointed that Brian didn’t speak English, but that didn’t deter them from speaking to him in Spanish, despite his gentle reminders that he does not speak Spanish. Of no interest whatsoever was yours truly, just another brunette in Medellín.

By the time we headed home around 7, we were truly in the throes of a food coma. Just outside of Carlos E., our cab broke down, and Greg and Brian got out to push his car to the side of the road. We walked home through the neighborhood from there (after first getting into a cab and driving 20 meters before he said “guys, you’re here” and pointed across the park to our hood). And while there was talk of going out dancing, we curled up, had a few beers and watched Thor, instead.

Today’s plan: something about ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?! Our goal is to find a place other than Hooters to watch the games, but there can be no promises made, here.


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