Written By Jermoyah Parkinson (Bowdoin College), Student Correspondent for CET Colombia, Spring 2022
I would have never thought that I would be in Cali, Colombia after all of this time. Surviving a global pandemic has been a difficult transition for everyone, especially those who wanted to travel abroad. For the first year at least, I worried over whether or not I would be able to participate in such an opportunity. Alas, the day finally came. I boarded the plane with apprehension, nerves, and the ever faithfully surgical mask. Because of this, it did not truly hit me that I was in a new country with new customs, cultures, and a language I had only studied in school. On the way to my new home, my cohort and I passed by the sugar cane fields and saw the plethora of motos in the street, the vendors, the street art, and anything my eyes could grasp. The hustle and bustle of the city were beautiful and full of life, albeit new to me. Once I got to the apartment, I got a chance to relax and soak in the wonder and amazement of being here.
Representing CET at the Cali Zoo right before a huge rainstorm moments later!
This continued for the next few days as CET kept us busy with orientation and getting to know our surroundings and neighborhood. We learned about the best routes to take to the Plaza; how to order a taxi, and just general tidbits about life in the barrio Ingenio (which all took place in a mix of Spanish and English). Everything was going as well as it could be…. And no this is not the part where I start talking about something terrible that happened. Instead, this is when I began to think about my positionality here in Cali.
Even before the program started, I knew that being intra-perspective would be imperative to the overall goal of this program. For myself, I knew that I identified and I am perceived as a Black woman almost everywhere I go. And although the thought of race did start to plague me during the first few days, I was surprised that I noticed that despite being a Black woman in a country with a strong African-decent population I still held a bit of privilege.
At the base of El Monumento Cristo Rey
It was strange at first to associate being in Colombia as a privilege. I viewed my time here as a cultural and educational journey. However, one thing that my cohort loves to do since our first day, is to eat. The cuisine and styles of food in Cali are divine and we are very willing to indulge. For example, one day we took a trip to the zoo and decided to have lunch in the surrounding neighborhood. As we looked at the prices on Google we saw that the restaurants were at least three dollar signs. However, after we enjoyed our meal we realized that our idea of expensive did not necessarily align with the Colombian equivalent. This led me to think about my position in the U.S. Even though I would not classify myself as wealthy in the U.S. I have to acknowledge that I have the privilege to experience Cali in a way that many of the locals cannot.
It may be as simple as going to the ATM and having ready access to my bank back home. However, on my trips to the Plaza, I have noticed many Caleños having issues with withdrawing their money. I may not know the exact details, but I know that the pandemic has affected every area of our lives. It is important to recognize that parts of my identity have shifted in Colombia. Even though it is better that I can afford certain things during my stay, it’s still an area for self-reflection. Because if this is how I see myself, how else am I perceived? What else is sets me apart from the rest of the people? How does my identity change from the time I leave the apartments to when I am exploring the city?
At the Cali Zoo in front of a flamboyance of flamingos
This is the question I will continue to ask myself as I move through my course and different places and communities in Colombia. This is a personal journey I believe everyone has to undergo, even if it will feel very different for everyone. As the semester continues I may find answers to my questions and some may remain unanswered, but it is all worth it to be able to call Cali for just a little while longer.
The view outside CET apartments for the first day of orientation
CET students having their first Desayuno Colombiano with fresh fruit, pastries, juice, and coffee.
Representing CET during our tour of the city of Cali we stopped to take a picture in Cali!