Molly came to Colombia to learn Spanish and further experience the culture she was introduced to as a child. Now she’s working with flood victims in Cartagena. Here are her thoughts on her adopted country.
LCO: Let’s start with the basics: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in Colombia and what brought you here?
MW: I am from the United States, from a wonderful town called Charlottesville, Virginia. Once I graduated from college in the spring of 2010, I moved to Bogotá, Colombia in September to learn Spanish, live abroad, find adventure, and eventually get a job. The job is what brought me to Cartagena, Colombia, which is where I now live.
LCO: How are you supporting yourself while you travel?
MW: On scraps.
LCO: What is your big dream?
MW: To become the next Paul Farmer, or to just accomplish 1/4 of what he has, and if that fails, to grow a vegetable garden.
LCO: Give us a short introduction to your water project and how it relates to your time in Colombia.
MW: The water project is a simple photography project. I take a photo of water in some form each day, and post it online here. The goals are numerous, some personal and some public. It is a way for me to engage myself in a creative process each day and to learn more about water itself. My work here in Colombia is with a foundation devoted to helping those displaced from the recent and serious floods. I deal with water in many different ways at work, from researching water purification systems to learning about skin bacterias resulting from months living in floodwater. This project compliments my work with flood victims and it also is a way to visually inform people about water in Colombia, both through it’s powerful beauty and it’s merciless force.
LCO: What is your favorite way to spend your free time in Colombia?
MW: Dancing! Salsa, Merengue, Champeta, Reggaeton, Vallenato…
LCO: What has been your biggest challenge since arriving in Colombia in September 2010 and how did you cope?
MW: Adjusting to the different cultural understanding of time here in Colombia as compared with the United States. I’m still trying to figure it out!
LCO: Having been to Colombia with your family in the past, how has your experience been different now that you are here alone? Is it what you expected?
MW: Living here alone is a totally different beast. I don’t spend my time in a bathing suit, going to the islands, and eating lobster with my family (ok, just occasionally), but living here alone has meant getting to know this place through more every day experiences too, such as grocery shopping, finding favorite eating spots, talking to cab drivers, exercising. It becomes much more like normal life and less idealized, although the paradise I knew from vacations still occasionally pops it head out. Colombia is a beautiful place.
Additionally, working here, not just coming for a vacation, has pushed me into parts of Colombian culture I never would have encountered, which has been both difficult and wonderful. One thing I didn’t expect about living in Cartagena, because in Bogotá I rarely encountered this problem, is the level of street harassment females are subjected to walking around during the day by themselves. It’s really incredible, and frustrating, how prevalent it is.
LCO: What has surprised or shocked you most about this country since September?
MW: The insanely high import taxes! I never realized before, but when my cashier rang in a tiny container of blueberries at the grocery store, I was flabbergasted. It has it’s down sides, but I’ve realized it has it’s benefits as well. It’s helped Colombia build up it’s own industries and it also means that if you shop more economically, you’re shopping local as well, which is a win-win! I never realized how much I’d miss almond butter, but I have wonderful family who usually come bearing food gifts.
LCO: What have you learned from the local culture that you wouldn’t have if you had stayed in America?
MW: How truly varied Colombia is, especially for it’s size. I’d read all about how diverse Colombia was biologically and geographically before I started living here, but different areas have such distinct cultures as well, different dishes, different accents, different vocabularies, different handicrafts, different music, different attitudes towards work, women, and life in general. No matter when I leave I know I’ll never have gotten to the end of my travel to-do list for Colombia alone.
LCO: Favorite moment in Colombia so far?
MW: A trip to a friend’s farm in los llanos. Not only was it a fun weekend with great people, but the place was so foreign to me. After arriving on the bumpiest dirt road of my entire life, I woke up to water buffalos, birds, enormous palms, we galloped around on horses, found hidden swimming holes, picked oranges off trees and drank fresh coconut juice; it was surreal.
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