Jul 17, 2011


Lydia Rose:

“We’re halfway there. . .”
But really, 4 out of 8 weeks, gonzo and what have I got to show for it? Am I really halfway through accomplishing my pre-trip goals? Hell, by the end of this trip I was supposed to be fluent in Spanish, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and practically the next Shakira.
But things don’t always go according to plan.
Because I still cannot get the hang of using “vos” to address people, step on every toe in my vicinity while attempting to salsa, and battle impatiently with iMovie when trying to insert audio from my ipod.
This learning curve is beginning to resemble my route in the field in Santo Domingo—up up up, down down down, a sharp turn— WATCH OUT FOR THAT BUS—down, up, down, down, oops—wrong turn, circle back, etc. etc.
Yet, while I’m still about a billion years away from being fluent in Spanish, I have made progress; I can ask “Que más pues” like a true paisa (ish) and toss about words like “chévere, bacano, aragan, and mañe.” While I’m no salsa pro, but I do now know the basics steps, plus, I’ve been taking some sweet Colombian hip hop classes. As for the film awards, those may have to wait a while, but for someone who had never used iMovie or flipcam before this trip, my ability to splice audio and, insert pictures, freeze frame, etc., is certainly an improvement.
And anyway, the point isn’t so much what I’m doing as how I’m doing it. This is Medellín, slogan: “obra con amor” (work with love). I’ve only got four weeks left, so I’d better make the best of it, obstacles and all.
I’m sure as hell going to be tired after an early morning start to a long day trekking about mountains and stumbling in Spanish through poorly-lit interviews as inconsiderate busses roar past into my microphone and inopportune times. My eyes will hurt from staring at my computer screen for too long trying to get the damn audio to line up, and my head will be spinning with Spanglish after hours of conversing with my super-patient compañeros.
But I love it! I’ve got to, right? This is an unbelievable opportunity, no matter how challenging or uncomfortable it may be at times. I can sleep in ‘til noon when I get home; in Iowa I won’t have to worry about hiking up mountains or hoping the metro; with my friends back at Duke I’ll be able to chat in English as much as I want; but for now. . .
“We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got . . .”



This week marks the half way point of our trip, and while most students are hinting at homesickness and allowing their weary heads to droop, I surprisingly do not feel as if I am separated from what I love. I feel like I have found it.
My generation has a word for girls who fall too hard, too fast, and want to be with their love every second of every day: “clingers”. And while I would be mortified if such a term were used to describe me in regard to my relationship with a boy, I whole-heartedly embrace the label when it comes to my courtship with Medellín. I am a clinger. I have fallen in love with this country, and as the group brought my attention to the fact that the trip was half way over, I began to hear a ticking timer on this whirlwind romance.
When I started to consider the implications of the visit’s inevitable conclusion, I was instantly terrified and devastated and thrown into a helpless panic, because what it means is leaving. Getting on a plane, taking off, watching the valley below grow unrecognizably smaller, and then out of sight altogether. It means perhaps never seeing the people I have befriended here again. It means not seeing the other Dukies for at least five months. It means not waking up surrounded by mountains blanketed in the color of bricks. It means not having fresh slices of mango and papaya for breakfast each morning. It means not being called beautiful by strangers a million times a day. It means voluntarily allowing myself to be ripped from my new home.
Four weeks down means only four to go. Only four more weekends to celebrate our time together and share each others’ company amidst cultural explorations. And as each day passes by fleetingly, taunting me mercilessly as I struggle to delay it with all my might, I cannot do anything but try to soak it all in and beg, plead, hope, and pray for just a little more time. Just a few more mornings of tropical fruit. Just a few more afternoons hiking up and down the slopes of Moravia talking to “Paisas”. Just a few more evenings hopping around Parque Lleras, laughing shamelessly at nothing at all. Just a few more café granizados with the DukeEngage crew. Just a few more.
Each night as I kneel down before bed and thank God for this experience, I also ask a favor: “Dear God, please slow time down and to allow me to cling- tightly, desperately, relentlessly- cling to the city that has seduced me so effortlessly. Cling to the people that welcomed me into their arms. Cling to the art sculpted flawlessly and casually displayed on a sidewalk. Cling to the trees and pure greenery that canopy even the busiest of intersections. Cling to the feeling of utter freedom in this culture that encourages me to be myself, unapologetically. Please grant me the time to cling. Amen.”


I happily live up my role of being the baby of my family. At 19 years old, I can still be found snuggling up next to my mom as she reads, playing videogames with my dad, or asking my older sister to pick out my clothes and do my makeup. As comfortable as I am being a “dependent”, I’m slowly learning to live a more independent life. It started with my move across the country to continue my education at Duke in North Carolina. It’s been during this month in Medellín, however, that I’ve had the opportunity to amaze myself at how grown-up I really can be:
It’s been a challenge to communicate with my host family when I have no one at my back to prompt me with a Spanish word I’ve forgotten (i.e. when I audaciously attempted to explain the concept of neuromarketing to them at dinner).
On family trips, my mother is the one to remind me to take my waterbottle, apply sunblock, or make sure I wear appropriate shoes. She still attempts to do so from two time zones away, but I’m mostly managing alone.
I never knew I could be street-smart without the guidance of my parents, until Natalie and I were caught in a conversation with 3 men on the metrocable and we managed to wiggle our way out safely.
Although these are small examples, the idea that I am able to independently survive in a big city after being brought up (and babied) in the suburbs my whole life is something of which I can be proud. I know I’ll immediately curl up in my purple blanket next to my mom when I return home completely exhausted from this trip. But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Amrita (baby), mother (Nandan), and older sister (Anjali)


As the saying goes: “Don’t take anything for granted.” Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard it a million times and most of the time, even after the numerous, cliché times we’ve heard it, we still end up taking every little thing for granted. The way your host-mom would yell at you for not eating everything on your plate. The way your host-dog would greet you every day at the front door after a long day at work. The way classical music would constantly be playing in your host-family’s house. Literally, all day long. Each thing we take for granted is unique and personal to us and the minute we leave it on August 15th, we’re going to want to come crawling back to hold onto it forever.
That’s the thing about these kind of trips. I’m sure everyone has gone away to summer camp, or spent the night at a best friend’s house. Even if you’re only there for a week, or twenty-four hours, you still miss the way the house smelled different than your house. Or the way things were organized even. Or how everyone seemed nicer because no one truly knew one another.
I sense something different in this DukeEngage trip though. We’re all here for a solid two months, which three months ago felt like forever. Now we’re a month in, and I can’t fathom the idea of leaving. The idea of home, friends, and my family…all of it is numbed at the moment. Of course, we all Skype with our parents, and know that they’re still alive and well and overly interested in what’s going on. But for right now, this is our home. I can honestly say I haven’t been homesick at all. Usually, I’m pretty homesick the first three days. Then we all start to become better friends with one another and get comfortable with our environments…blah blah blah. Of course that happened. Of course, we knew it would happen. We experienced the downsized versions of leaving home our whole lives: going to our first day of school, sleeping over at a friend’s house for the first time, going to a hippie camp in the mountains of California for two weeks (well, that’s another story…), going to a residential high school for two years, three hours away from home, and finally college. This is all prepping us for the big leagues: the real world. When we have jobs and live in our own homes; when we have to pay for everything we put in our houses. Imagine bringing a foreign kid during all of that.
The point of what I’m saying is that I was extremely nervous coming into this. Just getting on the plane ride here, let alone the night before with all of that packing…I can’t wait to say I watched the last Harry Potter movie in Colombia. I can’t wait to see a Junior World Cup game. I can’t wait to present our videos to all of the families we interviewed. Maybe if you become too comfortable with a new place, you yearn for it even more afterwards. Maybe this whole “taking for granted” business shouldn’t rule our lives, and maybe we should just live in the moment?


Halfway done with DukeEngage and I’m halfway satisfied with what I’ve accomplished here. There is so much to see in this beautiful city that I’m afraid I’m going to miss something important. I’ve made so many new friends, not only from Medellín but also from Duke. While the weeks can be stressful, it is such a rewarding feeling to see how grateful families are when I interview them. Simple questions like where they are from, what they do now and how many people are in their family, mean so much to them. Originally, I had no idea what kind of filming we would be doing for this trip. I was intimidated by previous years’ videos and I am still nervous about the quality of my own work. Today that changed. My cogestora Luisa took me to a small wooden house painted green and pink just to interview Gloria. There was not enough time to run through the whole visit, but Luisa knew the interview would mean a lot to Gloria. She was overjoyed to see us, although sweaty and out of breathe after climbing up the mountain; she welcomed us into her beautiful house and made space wherever she could. It amazes me how warm and hospitable the families we visit are. Many of them have almost nothing, yet they offer me arepas, they offer me a warm home cooked lunch. I now understand my purpose on this trip. It is for people like Gloria that we do the interviews. It is for her and her family that these interviews are presented to the local community and to others so that they can see the amazing people that make up this city. Still, I am only halfway satisfied because I know there are more stories to be heard and more places to visit. It’s hard to say if I’ll ever feel completely satisfied. If only I could stay longer.


I think it may a little of an understatement, but I don’t think I will ever be confused for a paisa. Especially because the people in this country have absolutely no idea how to pronounce my name. (They normally just make a “guh” sound and then mumble something). But after living in Medellin for a month, we are not entirely still tourists. Once you buy a gym membership in another city you kind of relinquish your tourist badge. Our almost complete immersion in Medellin life did not really strike me though, until my cousin came to visit this past week. Rafi and her boyfriend have been travelling around South America for around 4 months, visiting numerous cities and staying in numerous hostels along the way. I learned a great deal from visiting her hostel – aside from how to give Jota a minor heart attack. The Pit Stop hostel was full with young travelers from the UK, Israel and numerous other countries. Hearing so much English outside of my Duke Engage bubble was a weird change of pace. As I visited the hostel more and more, I began to realize that these people were not truly experiencing Medellin. I was thrown off by the tackiness of the posters inside, one of which advertised a Pablo Escobar tour. I looked at one of the room names that read “Valderrama” and cringed a little bit inside. Is this all they were going to witness of Medellin? Cocaine and football? The hostel made me appreciate the benefits of living with a home stay and the companero/a program. While I may not be able to travel around the continent or the country for that matter, I am getting to immerse myself in the culture here and get to know the city inside out.

Nonetheless, Kendall and I (quickly putting our tourist badges back on) decided to accompany them on the Pablo Escobar tour. However, the entire time we felt somewhat guilty. As if by going on the tour we were somehow aiding the Colombian stereotype we are not only trying to shed ourselves but to shed in America as a whole. I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed the tour, especially since we were also able to meet his younger brother, Roberto Escobar. I just hope that when I return to the states and tell my friends about my time here, that they are just as excited to hear about the Pablo Escobar tour, as they are to watch our videos.


As we approach the end of our fourth week in Medellín, fluxes of emotions roam around my head. For some reason, I feel like I have been here forever, but part of me feels like time is running out and we haven’t been here at all. Yes, I know, what a paradox. How could I possibly feel like I have been here too long, yet no time at all? Well, we have done and seen so much in the last four weeks that it feels like an eternity, but we have yet to finish what we came to accomplish, and we are already half way through with our time here.

Yes, homesickness has plagued me a bit…..I mean the food isn’t too different at home, but I miss my family, my friends, MY home. Although Medellín has been my home for the last month, and I do feel like I am back in Miami with my home stay mom cooking for me and looking out for me, the similarity brings back memories. My home stay mom actually reminds me of my grandmother; I can picture my Abuelita at home ranting and yelling “E-stephanie te tienes que comer la comida completa porque hay niños en Cuba muriéndose de hambre.” Oh, I can hear her right now pleading me to eat my food while pointing her finger at me and waving it around frantically until I obey her every command. That is the reason why I am homesick; not because things are so different and I miss the uniqueness I have at home, but because of the similarities between my situation at home and in Colombia. Every similarity reminds me of home, of my family. Every similarity leaves me more homesick as everyday passes by. Every similarity is a part of my past at home; a past I cannot wait to return to in four weeks.