Friday, 29 April 2016

Happy days

Now starts the time when we can count down the weeks until the semester ends. We already started planning our last weekend together and it is going to be amazing! But it also means that the time like I am spending it right now is coming to an end which makes me kind of sad. Funny thing: some of my friends here are not really sad about it and already looking forward to going back home. Sure, they said they would like to spend some more time together, but not here. So I was wondering why they experienced the time here so different than me.

 Sure, if you compare it with being at home, comfortable, able to do and eat whatever you want because you are at home and you are used to how it works, life is harder and more complicated here. But I must confess, I never think of it like that. For me, everything is like a huge adventure and also a kind of challenge - how do I manage to live in a country that's so different from home? And that's what I guess is the key to happiness. Because everything that happens that makes life more difficult is like a new challenge to conquer and everything good feels like you earned it. This makes you able to enjoy every single moment.

Even if I do have some trouble enjoying the cold shower on a cold day. Or the disgusting sweet bread they sell as "not sweet" to eat with ham or meat. Or the difficulties to find the post office ("Post office? What's that? No, I have no idea where we have that in Ibagué"). Or doing work for the university entirely in spanish. Or feeling pain in your stomage after trying something new to eat. It's really hard sometimes. But in the end I feel proud I did manage it.

They actually started calling me "la chica feliz", the happy girl, because I am always enjoying my time and find a reason to laugh in most of the situations. Also, I am "experta de chistes", expert of jokes, because I know so many jokes. Unfortunately, not all of them work here, like the one "what's white and disturbs you while eating? - An avalanche" that failed because nobody had ever seen an avalanche. I mean, how could anybody not know an avalanche? Strange world. I won't say poor people because I guess they can actually consider themselves lucky not to be bothered by avalanches.

Nevertheless, time is really great here! I mean I just need to count the times I was in the swimmingpool in the last months or some days ago someone told me I start looking like somebody from here, so no more the gringa that came from Austria. And everybody is impressed how fluently I can speak spanish already (it's not like I had a choice but I do agree now with everybody saying "it's just about the motivation to learn a language") and everybody is even more impressed when finding out I can actually speak german AND english AND spanish. I never mention that it's not that special in Austria because why should I?

And now that my spanish improved that much that I can also participate discussions and understand what's going on around me, life is so much easier. Also, we are going to San Andres tomorrow, so 5 days of caribbean feeling are waiting for me! How can it get any better?

Monday, 25 April 2016

Beautiful Austria

Last week I had a presentation about Austria and while preparing and as well while presenting it, I realized just how beautiful Austria really is and how lucky we can consider ourselves to be born there. So I decided to write something about it for all my fellow Austrians who forgot the beauty of their homecountry. (Also, it might be interesting for those considering to live in Austria some day.)

The truth is, we can easily stand competition to the countries all around the world. It starts with some simple facts. Did you know that there are really few countries all over the world that are free from Rabies (Tollwut) and Austria is one of them due to lots of measures that were taken for protection?

Except for maybe in some parts of Vienna which I don't know, you won't experience robbery in Austria. Might be that someone steals your phone or something similar if you are not careful but you won't need to experience somebody holding a knife against your skin to get your cash. Never to mention that there's no war that might take everything you own. You can even walk around at night almost wherever you want and nothing will happen.

Did you know that in many regions all over the world drinking water from the tap will definitely get you sick? Here in Colombia you have to boil your water and afterwards it still has a weird taste. Else, you can of course buy all your water you want to drink or even wash your fruits with, but just think about the amounts of water you have to carry home. This is really annoying!

Also, in Austria everybody has access to education. Actually, it's almost free. You don't have to pay a huge sum to enter a private university because the public ones are fine as well. There are lots of funds to finance your school life, your school books, your school trips, your semester abroad, everything. When I started to explain to the international office of University of Ibague that I get money from the country as a support for doing a semester abroad they just looked at me astonished and asked again if that money is really paid by like the government and not the university. So, well, if you want financial support over here you have to ask your university.

And then there's also what we learn: It is not common all over the world that people learn to swim when they are children. It also isn't common to learn a second language that early and even a third one later that you can improve after finishing school. If you want to. The choice is always yours, you can also just start working which is actually a quite unique system, very few countries offer their kids to start working that early.

Another aspect: we do not have street dogs. They are actually not that bad, but still some kind of health risk especially for children playing outside. As well, people do not need to sleep on the street. There are various places where they can seek help, get food, sleep for a night. To tell the truth, beggars in Austria look more healthy than some people here that actually have a job.

Which leads to my next point: If you do want to work, you will find work. You might not like that work but it will be sufficient to live from it (at least if you don't have a family to feed - for which there are family assistance payments). And you can always continue looking for a better job - you can even do paid trainings for another job and receive money for not working (unemployment pay).

And then there's the infrastructure. We have a functioning train sytem that takes you almost everywhere. And the places the train does not reach are connected by bus. As well, our streets are actually really really great. No potholes, you can actually go 100 km/h and even more on the highway and such stuff. Nothing really special, until you do not have it anymore.

Of course, our nature has a lot to offer as well. When I look at the picture above, I can almost feel the sun, hear the crickets and smell the flowers. Because it is just like a typical view you get somewhere in Austria. We have all these beautiful lakes with clear water where you can swim. And in the mountains you can even drink the water directly from the stream because it is so clear. Yes, we also have these beautiful mountains with these nice alpine cabins to stay and eat Kaiserschmarrn.

And not to forget, we know how to enjoy a coffee! We can make cakes, cookies, also the bread here is quite unique all over the world. And never ever forget the wine and the beer and the schnaps! Whatever you need, you can find in Austria, the only thing ever missing is the sea. But fortunately we have really great chocolate to compensate that as well.

It might not get better from now, but we are actually already really really far on our way to perfection, so I guess it's time to start appreciating what we already have, stop complaining all the time and be a little more thankful for that, don't you think?

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

La Candeleria de Bogotá

After being here for almost two months now, I discovered that I obviously adapted to living here because I started to get bored. So I decided it's the perfect time to do a short trip to Bogotá, and because no one had time/money to accompany me, I went alone.

Bogotá is way colder than Ibagué and I could finally use my long jeans and my scarf I brought from Austria for the first time. Unfortunately, the cold weather also triggered my throat that was already a little scratchy to get even more scratchy and on the first night I felt really unwell. That was also a reason why I didn't use my time to visit anything outside the center and kept my trip shorter than I initially planned. But it also gave me the opportunity to visit some museums I definitely wouldn't have visited while trying to efficiently use all my time to see as much as possible.

The candeleria which is the oldest part of the city is filled with stunning street arts which impressed me instantly. That's not just some drawing somebody thought would be nice, that's defintely art and absolutely beautiful. Also the houses that are not decorated with stunning art are pretty colourful, still with colonial charm.

This particular photo above was taken on the plaza where Bogota was founded. Today, it's a place for young people (mostly punks) to meet and drink but nevertheless it hasn't lost its charm. I just didn't understand how they could just sit there because it was actually raining gently all the weekend but it seemed not to affect the youth here. But I did see some people walking around with winter jackets while we had almost 20 degrees. I just thought "you poor boy, let's hope you never experience real winter".

Directly next to the candeleria there's a mountain with a church on it at 3150m altitude where you can get up and look at the church or just enjoy the beautiful view over the city. There are actually pilgrims that walk up all the way on the weekend for the mass but there's also a funicular for those who don't want to do the 1 1/2h climb and I definitely didn't want to, not after a really bad night and especially not in the rain.

The church itself is not as spectacular as you would expect from a church that has its own funicular but the panorama was really stunning. I did not realize how big Bogota really is. And I didn't see all of it. of course, but I guess as an Austrian that's not living in Vienna, you get stunned by big cities pretty easily.

Afterwards I went to the museum of gold and it was absolutely surprising how old the tradition of using gold actually is here in Colombia. Some rooms looked more like a scene of a horror movie but there were also sculptures and jewelry. And since it was my day of museums I also visited the museum of Botero that was for free.

Fernando Boterois an artist from Medellín that specialized on fat people, animals and even fruits. There are lots of his sculptures in Medellín (like the picture above from Medellín where I - of course - found the cat to take a picture with) and so in Bogota I could discover the paintings he also made. It was really weird to look at.

For me the trip was quite interesting because it was the first time since arriving to Colombia that I actually did something just on my own. After arriving, I kind of missed having company while walking around. Also, there was this great nightclub I read about and wanted to go to on saturday night but I didn't want to do it alone. But after a really bad night of feeling completely sick, I rearranged my priorities and started to enjoy being just by myself. I had some gread insights and even started to think about what will be when I come back home (except for that I will probably bake a chocolate cake everyday because I really miss selfmade cakes and I miss delicious chocolate even more!).

Also, my friends seemed to really miss me which made it easier to convince them to go on the next trip with me which will be the Tatacoa desert in two weeks (except if I get bored earlier or need some new insights.. who knows?)

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Daily Life

More than a week ago it was Easter and, as I found out, the traditions here are nothing like Easter traditions in Austria. They almost didn't believe that there's actually a tradition to eat something green on "Gründonnerstag" (Holy Thursday). And why would someone paint boiled eggs in different colours? And put sweets and even presents in a basket, call it easter nest and hide it for the kids? Must be strange for people from a country where Easter is a highly religous celebration only for as highly religous people at the church. Also, it is common not to eat any meat or drink any alcohol in the Semana Santa, the Holy Week. It's like a shorter period of fasting than we have (in Austria: from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday). Also, Easter Monday does not exist here in Colombia. But, on the contrary, almost all people have holidays in the whole Holy Week except from those working in restaurants, shopping centers and such places.

Living in Ibagué, we already established some kind of routine. Everytime we meet at someone's home or at least every weekend, somebody else cooks something typical for their home country. Until now we had Argentinian Tortillas, Mexican Tacos, Brazilian Risotto and of course Wiener Schnitzel mit Kartoffelsalat (Potato Salad / Ensalada de Papas) and Kaiserschmarrn. It's really hard cooking something here because nobody has a functioning oven and there's no mixer. I always have to evaluate if what I am trying to make is even possible.

Everything tastes so good I really started to enjoy those cooking nights and I already learned some new receipts that I will definitely use sooner or later. And sunny, hot days we spend at the pool playing Uno. And, well, since everyday it's hot, we just have to wait for a little sun. Some days ago we had a really cold day. It was so cold, I had to wear a thin west over my shirt at night because else I would have felt a little cold.

Since the easter-trip to Medellin I haven't left Ibagué and I already get a little jumpy because, to tell the truth, not much happens in Ibagué, the capital of music of Colombia, that, to tell some more truth, doesn't have music. It's kind of located perfectly to get to most places in Colombia quickly (in less than 10 hours) but the only choice you have to do something in Ibagué is to go hiking and even that's kind of complicated because the only interesting route is to hike around at the Nevados but there's no bus there. And if you just walk up you need almost the first day just to reach the National Park.

Therefore, I am already planning to leave again this weekend, let's see how this works out. Because when trying to leave with my friends, they seem just not used to make up their mind if they really want to go until the last possible moment and then it's quite hard to find a bus, someplace to sleep and everything necessary. I really have to surpress my reflex to just say "if you don't want to go then just don't go and don't wait for us to convince you" or something like that and just be patient with however it turns out in the end. Really, how do anybody ever achieves anything like that? But also, it's totally worth being patient because it's just more fun with friends!

Considering the food, I really miss baking something. I started making Palatschinken (~pancakes) almost every day because without oven there's no way to bake anything else. I even thought about adding some chocolate to the receipt and just put some chocolate pieces on the hot Palatschinken and folded it for the chocolate to melt - but it turned out to be quite bad because while the chocolate tasted quite okay when cold, the molten taste was nothing I would like on my Palatschinken. How do Colombians even survive without good chocolate? So I am back to Palatschinken - I might try it with ice cream next time or maybe consider some arm training so next time when trying to make Eischnee (beaten egg whites) for Kaiserschmarrn my arm does not feel like dropping off.