Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Why I Love and Hate Colombia


***(Ver la traducción al español abajo)

Recently, in the span of about an hour, I experienced the best and worst of Colombia.

My phone was stolen 2 weeks after I moved to Medellín. That’s not the “worst” part of this story; it’s just the context for the rest of the story. Shortly after buying a new phone at a fancy electronics store, I began to receive messages from my service provider, informing me that I needed to register my phone by Nov. 4th or it would be disabled. I guessed that it was new anti-theft law, so I accepted that I needed to register my phone. I tried to do it online, but the system rejected my passport number.

So on Nov. 3rd I went to one of the three “help centers” in this city of 3 million. I took a number, waited about 25 minutes, and then approached the desk where my number was shown. The representative, a young woman, greeted me without a smile and asked, “What can I do for you today?”
Me: “I need to register my phone so that it's not shut off. I received a message that I needed to register it by Nov. 4th.”
Woman: “Of course. May I see your local ID?”
Me: “I don’t have a local ID, but I have my passport.”
Woman: “We can’t register your phone with a passport.”
Me: “Of course you can. I purchased the phone with my passport number and foreigners are legally allowed to buy phones here.”
Woman: “We can only register phones with local IDs.”
Me: “So you’re saying that I can buy a phone here but not register it?”
Woman: “You didn’t buy it here, in this store. Did you?”
Me: “No, but I bought it at an official store. I’m certain that you can register it with my passport.”
The woman sighs to display her annoyance at my insistence, turns to the representative on her left and asks, “Can we register a phone with a passport?”
The other woman responds with a simple, “Yes.”
The woman turns back to me, with no apology, smile or sheepish look, says, "Your passport."
 I hand it to her. 

Then I sign a series of documents that give the company the right to do whatever they like with my information. Once again, perhaps for the hundredth time, I reflect on how Colombian laws provide almost no protection for consumers.

As we’re finishing, I feel the need to validate what we’ve done.
Me: "So now that I have registered my phone, it won’t be shut off tomorrow, right?”
Woman: “Oh, no. You’ve only begun the process of registering your phone. It will take 10-15 days to finish the registration process.”
Me: “What? How can I have until Nov. 4th to register my phone when really I needed to have registered it 2 weeks ago? I didn’t even own this phone 2 weeks ago!”
Woman: “That’s not our fault. You came to register it, and that’s what we’re doing.”
 In my frustration I repeatedly try to explain to her the unfairness and illogic of all of this, but she merely shrugs. It’s not her fault, not her problem. 
I fume and then I leave.

As I’m riding my bike home, my head swirls will all the arguments against such a ridiculous process and complaints about the lack of professionalism displayed by the woman. Then my bike chain falls off the chain-ring. I stop on the sidewalk and flip my bike over to put it back on.

While I’m putting the chain back on the ring, a pair of senior citizens stop beside me. They’re tiny, with white hair and they’re holding hands.
The woman puts her face close to mine as she whispers, “You shouldn’t stop here. They could rob you.” She motions with her head toward some men in the park next to us. As I turn to look, she quickly adds, “Don’t look at them!” I’m not in the best mood and now I feel like I’m being criticized for choosing the wrong place to have my chain come off. I whisper back, “I’m sorry, but I need to get my chain back on before I can leave.”
The woman takes in my words and looks concerned.
“We’ll stand guard then,” she states, matter-of-factly.
 I glance at the man and the woman again. Now it seems like they’ve locked arms and have managed to create a defiant air. I smile. They couldn’t fend off a stiff breeze, but the gesture is melting my heart.

Moments later my chain is on, I thank the couple for their kindness, and we both go on our own ways. But my pissed-off attitude is shattered.
They didn’t have to stop and warn me.
Once they had warned me and I ignored their warning, they could have shrugged and continued on their way.
They didn’t have to stay.
They didn’t have to do anything and nobody would have criticized them.


In Colombia there are a million ways that life is more difficult than it has to be because of senseless laws, stupid regulations, and endless corruption. Then there are millions of people who set aside their interests and extend a hand to a stranger like me.




------------------------------------PORQUE AMO Y ODIO A COLOMBIA-----------------------------------------

Hace poco, en solo una hora, experimenté lo mejor y lo peor de Colombia.

Me robaron el celular 2 semanas después de llegar a Medellín. Eso no es “lo peor” de esta historia. Solo es el contexto en el cual se desarrolla el resto. Un poco después de comprar un celular nuevo en una tienda en un centro comercial, me empezaron a llegar mensajes de Claro, informándome que tenía que registrar mi celular antes del 4 de noviembre or sería bloqueado. Supuse que existía una nueva ley antirrobo y acepté que tenía que registrar mi celular. Intenté hacerlo por internet, pero el sistema rechazó el número de mi pasaporte.

Entonces, el 3 de noviembre fui a uno de las tres Centros de Atención al Cliente (en esta ciudad de 3 millones de personas). Cogí un número, esperé unos 25 minutos, y me presenté en la ventana donde se mostraba mi número. El representante, una mujer joven, me saludó sin sonrisa y me preguntó, “¿Cómo te puede servir el día de hoy?”
Yo: “Necesito registrar mi celular para que no se bloquee. Recibí un mensaje que decía que lo tengo que registrar antes del 4 de noviembre.”
Ella: “Claro, ¿puedo ver tu carné de identidad?”
Yo: “No tengo carné, pero tengo mi pasaporte.”
Ella: “No podemos registrar el celular sin un carné.”
Yo: “Claro que pueden. Compré este celular con el número de mi pasaporte y los extranjeros estamos permitidos comprar celulares aquí.”
Ella: “Solo podemos registrar los celulares con carné de identidad.”
Yo: “¿Me estás diciendo que puedo comprar un celular pero no puedo registrarlo?”
Ella: “No lo compraste aquí en esta tienda. ¿O sí?”
Yo: “No, pero lo compré en una tienda oficial. Estoy segura que lo puedes registrar con mi pasaporte.”

Ella respira profundamente para mostrar la molestia que me tiene por la insistencia, gira al representante a su lado y le pregunta, “¿Podemos registrar un celular con solo un pasaporte?”
El otro representante le responde con un sencillo, “Sí.”
Ella me vuelve a mirar y, sin pedir disculpas, sonreír, o mostrarse apenado por su error, me dice, “Tu pasaporte.”
Se lo entrego.
Y empiezo a firmar una serie de documentos que le da a la empresa el derecho de hacer lo que quieren con mi información. Una vez más, por lo que puede ser la centésima vez, pienso que las leyes colombianas favorecen siempre la empresa y no protegen nunca al cliente.

Cuando casi terminamos, se me ocurre que debo validar lo que hemos hecho
Yo: “Ahora que hemos registrado mi celular, ¿no lo van a bloquear mañana, cierto?”
Mujer: “No... Apenas empezaste el proceso de registrar tu celular. Puede demorar 10-15 días para terminar el proceso.”
Yo: “¡¿Cómo?! ¿Por qué me dicen que tengo hasta el 4 para registrarlo cuando realmente lo tenía que registrar hace 2 semanas? ¡Ni siquiera tenía este celular hace 2 semanas!”
Mujer: “No es nuestra responsabilidad. Viniste a registrarlo y lo estamos haciendo.”
En mi frustración, una y otra vez le intento explicar la falta de lógica y la injusticia de lo que está pasando. Ella se encoge de hombros. No es su problema, no es su culpa.
Me enojo y salgo de la tienda.

Mientras estoy manejando mi bicicleta hacia mi casa, todos los argumentos en contra de ese proceso ridículo me dan vueltas en la cabeza. Silenciosamente me quejo de la falta de profesionalismo de la mujer. Y, en ese momento, la cadena se me sale de la bicicleta. Me paro en el anden y le voy una vuelta a mi bici para tener mejor acceso a la cadena.

Mientras intento devolver la cadena a su lugar, una pareja de ancianos paran a mi lado. Son súper bajitos, con cabello blanco, y se toman de la mano.
La mujer se acerca su cara a la mía y me susurra, “No deberías parar aquí. Te pueden robar.” Con su cabeza indica a unos hombres en el parque a nuestro lado. Giro a mirarlos y ella me dice rápidamente, “¡No los mires!”

No estoy de buen humor y ahora siento que me están criticando por escoger el lugar equivocado en el cual permitir que se me salga la cadena. En voz baja le digo a la señora, “Disculpe, pero necesito arreglar la cadena antes de irme.”
La mujer me escucha y se ve preocupada.
“Entonces nos quedamos aquí hasta que termines,” ella dice, directa y francamente.
Le doy una mirada al señor y la señora. Ahora parece que se han entrelazado los brazos y tienen un aire de desafío. Me sonrío. Son tan débiles que no podrían con una brisa fuerte, pero el gesto me hace derretir el corazón.

Poco tiempo después la cadena está en su lugar, les agradezco a la pareja por su amabilidad, y todos nos vamos por nuestros caminos.  Mi mala actitud está destrozada.

No tenían que pararse y advertirme sobre el peligro.
Después de advertirme y cuando ignoré su advertencia, podrían haberse encogido los hombros y seguido el camino.
No tenían que quedarse conmigo.
No tenían que hacer nada y nadie les habría criticado.

En Colombia hay un millón de maneras en las cuales la vida es mas difícil de lo que debería ser debido a muchas leyes sin sentido, reglamentos absurdos, y corrupción extensa. Pero también hay millones de personas que se olviden de sus intereses y les extienden la mano a desconocidos como yo.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fear Paralyzes

I’m afraid. And that scares me. Fear paralyzes. It makes us stay when we should go. It keeps us silent when we should speak. It keeps us running when we should stop.

This isn’t my usual state. Despite regular failures, I try to live fearlessly. But too often I let my fears cage me. Right now I fear not finding a job that I love, not finding someone to share my happiness with, not finding the right place to put down roots. That’s a lot of fear.

Luckily, at this point in my life, uncertainty is not a rarity. A quick look back provides a lot of perspective:

10 years ago (2007): I was in university and I didn’t know what I’d do with my degree (International Studies) after I finished.

5 years ago (2012): I was teaching in Colombia. I love teaching, but I wanted to do something different in the area of education. I just didn’t know what or how.

Now (2017): I’ve got the degrees and experience necessary to do the work that I’m passionate about. 

If this trend continues, in 5 years I’ll probably look back and wonder why I let myself worry or stress about the next step. Whatever it is, it will help me continue to grow. Between now and then I might have many relationships or I might have just one.  I may live in just one country or a half dozen.

There are a lot of things that we can’t control. But we can control how we live each day.
I want to be more kind, curious, knowledgeable and courageous each day. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, whoever I’m with – there’s nothing that can stop me from reaching those goals.


Fear paralyzes; hope strengthens.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Time Travel

There’s a folder in my old computer’s D-drive that’s titled “Smart.”  It’s between a folder called “SamsungRecovery” and another called “SMART Notebook 11.”  Curious of its contents, I clicked it open.  Inside reads: “This folder is empty.”  Figures.  ;)

Solo existimos por un momento porque en el siguiente, ya somos diferentes: cambiados por el momento que vivimos.


I keep a journal.  It's a Word file that I’ve kept it since 2007 and it's my most valued material possession.  It turns out that we don’t remember things as they were, because we aren’t who we were.  Our memories are tainted (airbrushed, embellished, whittled down, etc.) by all the experiences that separate us from that time, that moment.  My journal allows me to step back in time, into a world written by my former self.  It’s not objective, and that’s the point.  It is my history, as I perceived it, as I experienced it, unaltered by subsequent knowledge and perspective.  

I haven’t written in the journal since January, marking the longest stretch of time without an entry since I began writing.  These last 4 months have been a whirlwind.  I was taking 5 classes and doing a 16/hr./wk. internship during my last semester.  I only needed 3 ½ credits but there were too many classes that I wanted to take and I couldn’t resist.  So I was caught up in dealing with Boston’s snowiest winter on record, writing papers and doing projects, socializing, and suddenly, one by one my classes ended and final project were submitted and it was over.  My year at Harvard – finished.

It was a great run!  The International Education Policy program pulled people from all corners of the globe together; people who’ve seen, experienced and done amazing things and know how to live hard: people who imagine a more perfect world and believe that education can take us there.  People who, by birth, breeding, or dumb-luck, have learned to be shameless in their celebrations of life and full of love for people known and unknown.  While sometimes too ambitious, sometimes too diplomatic, sometimes too traditional in their ways of thinking and ways of being, they are kind and exuberant to the core. 

I went to Cambridge with many prejudiced expectations.  I thought that I’d find myself surrounded by students of privilege, self-importance, and arrogance.  I worried that I wouldn’t belong, that I would rage against this school for the elite, while nevertheless secretly feeling lucky that I had been accepted by it.  What I found was that many others had those same fears.  Many were, for better or worse, a lot like me.

I won’t summarize my experience here.  Summarizes are like inkblot images compared to the real thing; they never do it justice.  I will, however, offer some highlights:

- Dancing a choreographed Bollywood-style dance at the HGSE Multicultural Celebration
- Pre-gaming, gaming, and post-gaming the Harvard-Yale football game
- Singing “A Whole New World” and playing games around the Thanksgiving leftovers
- Performing “Stay with Me”- a rendition of “Stand by Me” that we wrote for our economics professor
 - Crashing every Kennedy School Friday Social during Fall semester
- Crashing every Design School Friday Social during Spring semester
- Freezing, being ambushed, and planning an emergency evacuation during a humanitarian disaster simulation in the national park
- Dancing at the Latin America Learns conference after-party
- Editing the “Greatest quotes” surprise video for Prof. Felipe’s spring course
- Preparing for and pulling off the IEP graduation flash mob


So another chapter in my life is over and while time will alter my memory of it, it represents another amazing experience that I feel overwhelming grateful for.