viernes, 9 de marzo de 2012

International Women's Day

Yesterday, March 8th, the whole world celebrated International Women's Day.  The idea for International Women's Day was tabled by Clara Zetkin at the second International Conference of Working women held in Copenhagen. The idea was born from the desire to unite women across the world to help them press for progress and equality. Since it's birth, International Women's Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration in countries across the world. In fact, it is an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia. This years theme's included, 'Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,' 'Equal Pay For Work of Equal Value,' and 'Empower Rural Women--End Hunger and Poverty.'

So, those are the roots of International Women's Day.  Women's empowerment and celebrating women as people, not, I'm going to tell you all about how we celebrated, or got celebrated rather, in Colombia.

I liken International Women's Day in Colombia to another Valentine's Day.  Only this go 'round, everybody loves me, not just my boyfriend!  It's customary to buy little gifts of flowers and chocolate for the women in your life.  For weeks the 11th grade boys at my school had been planning the 'celebration' for the 11th grade girls.  It included powerpoint presentation, songs, poems, gifts, and a final karaoke sing-along.  It also proved to be a  fun and formal way to find out which students have a little crush on their gringa English teacher...

All the 111th grade girls!

All the boys who took charge and planned the celebration

After receiving my flowers and chocolates and learning a whole boat load of new love songs in Spanish from my students... the male teachers had another celebration for us! More of the same really: flowers, candy, cake, gifts, and more serenading.  (And where were the student's you ask...well the got sent home clearly!)

Basically this says Happy Women's Day...and then has a picture of a bottle of whiskey at the bottom...
My stories are tame compared to those of some of my fellow volunteers.  One of my friends had her male teachers during their teacher celebration ask the crowd which female teacher was the sexiest and then proceed to show a slide show of swim suit models with female teacher's faces superimposed on them.  Safe to say, I think the point of women's day was lost.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate being appreciated, and I loooooove flowers and chocolate, but telling me that you're celebrating women because they're so feminine and delicate is kiiiiiiiinda missing the point folks!  It was a fun day, but I'm looking forward to next year to planning some women empowerment activities :)

Also, as a side note, my camera, after witnessing the vast majority of carnival, and putting up with entirely too much foam and flour and other unknown substances, is a goner.  SO SAD!!! So I apologize for the rather poor photo quality, but it's going to take me *quite* a bit of time to save up for a new camera on my Peace Corps salary.  Sorry folks, looks like it's going to be more writing and less eye candy for awhile. 

viernes, 2 de marzo de 2012


Carnival.  Amplifiy Mardi Gras 10 fold (and take out the flashing!) and you might just be able to begin to understand what Carnival in Barranquilla is like!  Barranquilla has the second largest Carnival in South America, second only to the Carnival in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.  Carnival festivities can be found round the clock the Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Fat Tuesday before Ash Wednesday when Catholics begin to celebrate lent. (And that doesn’t include the weeks of pre- and post-carnival activities the lucky Peace Corps Volunteers living in Barranquilla have been enjoying). I arrived in Barranquilla on Friday night and by Monday, after surviving only half of carnival, I had to leave…I just can’t party like the Colombians!!

Friday night we went to a Cumbia circle. Cumbia is perhaps the most popular and well-known folk dance of Colombia.  It has its origins with the black slaves brought to Colombia, and at its origins was in fact a dance of courtship.  Over the years it has evolved from using just drums and claves to using more European instruments and musical characteristic.  It is by far my favorite Colombian dance!  Sadly, I didn’t take any video of cumbia, and the stuff I found on line isn’t great either, but check out this link to get the jist:

Colombians dancing Cumbia

All fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

Vanessa, in the red dress is wearing the most typical Carnival costume.  It is of  'la negrita' or the little black lady.We all find it offensive, but race in this country is an interesting topic.  Check out her matching 'lad negrita' purse.

If you can balance something on your head, you're dancing
the Cumbia correctly!  In the original dance, women balanced
candles on their head, but more often than not
soda and beer bottles double for the candles!

WHITE FACE!  As if I needed to be any more white!  There's a carnival tradition of throwing a flour-like powder in people's face.

After dancing well into the wee hours of the morning, we all got up bright and early to go to the biggest parade of Carnival on Saturday morning: The battle of flowers.  We paid a little bit of money to get seats and be able to sit alongside the parade for the 5+hour extravaganza.

We arrived plenty early which allowed time for some pre-parade shenanigans...

The parade had plenty of live, I’m told very famous, musicians, dancing , and costumes galore.  Some of them fun and fanciful, some of them more offensive than anything!

He's famous.  Trust me.  I trusted the person sitting next to me...

Hitler.  This was the only offensive thing the crowd saw because several of them
started shouting, 'out! out!'
Bush and Osama Bin Laden walking down the road together...

Black face.  Much like 'la negrita' you can't go very far during Carnival without seeing a brown person
who has painted themselves black...and although we se it through offensive eyes, I have been told time and again
people dress up like this as a celebration of the afro-decendientes. 

Colombia is a country of ‘queens.’  Every brand, store, and city have a ‘queen.’ You walk down the street and the most common cat-call is My Queen!” So naturally there were dozens and dozens of queens to be seen. But I'll just leave you with a photo of the overall Carnival Queen.

After the parade, me and three friends had quite the evening.  Before the parade we were at a store buying some water and snacks, and this guy got in line behind us.  Turns out he was from the states and working on the production crew for Marc Anthony, the Carnival headlining show.  After a about a 25 minute conversation in line, lines in the country move very, very slowly, he offered us four free tickets to the show!  It was an incredible opportunity, and we gladly agreed.  When we got to the concert at night and met him for the tickets, we were in for even more of a shock: the seats we front row tickets with VIP backstage access!
The only person closer to the stage than me, was this police officer!

That's not me taking a picture of the jumbo-tron.  That's literally how close we were to the stage!
Political offices just turned over about a month ago and it turns out we were sitting next to the ex-mayor of Barranquilla. Alcalde Char is a huge supporter of the Peace Corps and gave a moving speech at our Peace Corps swearing in ceremony. So I of course walk right up to him, exchange hugs and besitos, and even got to dance with the mayor a bit J

After the Marc Anthony show, and going out to a dance club with the crew afterwards, there was nothing ‘wee’ about the hour of the morning we got home.  However, Carnival is about stamina so we were back up and at it in our neighborhood on Sunday night!  Every neighborhood tends to have Carnival parties, and by this point in the weekend, my energy was waning, so I decided to stay in the neighborhood and spend time dancing to the live music with friends there. 

Colombians dressed up in all sorts of crazy costumes for Carnival, but living in Cartagena there weren’t any venders selling Carnival costumes, so I had to wing it a bit with impromptu wigs that turned me blue, and this borrowed mask.

My personal Cumbia's all in the hips!!

I had planned in staying in Barranquilla through Tuesday, but due to several factors I had to leave on Monday.  Next year, I plan on doing some training for Carnival though to see if I can make it all four days…and I suggest those of you who plan on visiting for Carnival do too J

Thanks, y’all.  Miss you and can’t wait to catch up in person one day…