On the way to the gym, in a small square outside a church, the Red Cross had set up a small awning under which they planned to encourage people to donate blood. Having donated blood on various occasions in the past I stopped and asked if it was okay to give blood after doing vigorous exercise, and they said it wouldn’t be a problem.
After an hour and a half of cardio and weight training aimed at increasing the prospect of my being able to survive the up and coming trek without looking like a weakling, I left the gym and headed back to the nurses with their needles and syringes. The first question they asked me when I arrived was, when was the last time I had visited North America, to which I replied that it had been four years ago. I also clarified that I was in fact British rather than North American or a Gringo, which is the common word used here for most foreigners. To say that I am Welsh would have confused them unnecessarily.
The term Gringo is said to be derived from the chant of the Mexican people at the North American soldiers in Mexico who wore a green uniform, “Green Go, green go,” which over time became Gringo. Here most foreigners, whether they be from, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Europe are bundled into the same category and referred to as Gringos.
Oriental looking visitors are usually diverted into another category, that of Chinos, irrelevant of the possibility that they may be from a country other than China. There is a video on YouTube of the Miss Panama contestant answering a question about Confucius. She said he was, “un Chino Japones,” a Chinese Japanese. She then goes on to say that he invented confusion!
I don’t know why in beauty contests they tend to ask the girls questions which are usually difficult for them to answer based on their education level or the time given to answer the question. Another classic is the answer of Miss South Carolina who says that most North Americans can’t locate North America on a map because the majority of U.S. citizens don’t have maps.
You can see the video of both contestants here.
When I returned, the man who appeared to be the head nurse, called me over and asked me more about my times spent in Britain and proceeded to show me a regulation in his blood donors guide book which made it clear that I wouldn’t be allowed to donate blood as I had lived in Britain during the outbreak of mad cow disease, and so that was that. I mentioned that I had given blood in Colombia on previous occasions, but he said the regulations change from time to time. When I asked why he had told me to have breakfast first, bearing in mind that I couldn’t give blood anyway, he said they weren’t accustomed to having British people offering to donate blood.
Tony Hancock would have been satisfied with the outcome. Hancock was a British comedian who did a sketch many years ago about giving blood.
You can watch the sketch, which was transmitted by the BBC in 1961 and hence in black, white and various shades of grey here.
At the time my brother in law owned a holiday home or finca as it is called in Spanish, up in the mountains about an hour from the city near the town of La Ceja, (The Eyebrow). The whole family, about fifteen people, went there for about two weeks, those who had to work during Christmas and New Year commuting back down to the city. For me the pleasure was being in the countryside and able to share its peace and beauty rather than being resigned to the opposite in the city.
It was strange to be celebrating Christmas in warmth and sunshine, and as such it didn’t feel at all like Christmas for me. The other thing which took some getting used to was the sleeping arrangements as the finca had four bedrooms to accommodate everybody, which meant sleeping in bunk beds and sharing the room with other members of the family. You get used to it, but it’s not the most comfortable, and I certainly prefer my own bed and more privacy.
Here in Colombia the people celebrate the 24th rather than the 25th as in Wales. On the 24th in the early evening, the more religious members of the family perform the last Novena around the Pesebre, and once that is over and done with, it’s time to start giving out the presents. In my wife’s family they play, amigo secreto, secret friend, which is common here, not only at Christmas, but also in September when they celebrate their version of St Valentine’s Day, called El Dia de Amor y Amistad, the Day of Love and Friendship.
Some weeks before Christmas all the participants’ names are written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a bag from which each person then takes one name, and that is the person you have to buy a present for. Obviously if you pick your own name you put it back and take another.
The holiday home had a covered terrace outside, and everyone would sit there listening to typical Colombian Christmas music, (usually played rather loud for me) drinking, chatting and receiving the presents as they were given out. The presents only have the receiver’s name on the card, so you have to try and guess who your secret friend is or in other words who bought it for you. If you guess wrong the present goes back under the tree and you have to wait until you get another chance later on.
On the 25th lunch would always be Sancocho, a soup made with vegetables, corn on the cob and meat, similar to Cawl from Wales. This was always cooked on a fire out in the garden.
During the stay at the finca they would sometimes inflate Globos, and send them floating up into the clear blue sky. Globos, are balloons made of thin tissue paper of various colours, and with a metal frame around the hole at the base. It is here that a wad of material soaked in petrol is placed and lit. The hot air produced by the heat of the flame gradually fills the Globo and it takes off and ascends into the sky.
They are banned now, as some years ago here in the city, one landed on a car manufacturing plant and set it on fire causing extensive damage. They may be banned, but that hasn’t stopped their use completely, and now they even attach packs of fireworks to them which have a long fuse, so once up in the air the fireworks ignite and there is a stream of explosions like machine gun fire. At the moment, as I put the final touches to this post, it is 09:30 a.m. on the 24th of December, and there have been four Globos with fireworks exploding in the sky near where I live already. The first were at about 06:00 a.m.
Fireworks are a major part of the festive period celebrations, and you will hear them exploding in the sky at all hours of the day from the 30th of November until the 1st of January.
In the end I think it comes down to what you are accustomed to, I’m sure people here wouldn’t enjoy Christmas in Wales because it’s not sunny and probably the celebrations are too quiet.
For me the best part of a Colombian Christmas was being in the countryside rather than the celebration on the 24th. There were always dogs at the finca to play with, sometimes just one or two, but sometimes as many as nine or ten, which for me is heaven. Sadly my brother in law sold the holiday home a few years ago. Last year the family rented a finca where we stayed for about ten days, but it’s not the same.
The New Year celebrations are very similar to those on Christmas Eve, but without the Novena and the presents and with many more fireworks, more alcohol and louder music!
This year we are staying here in the city, however, I will be escaping to the countryside in January.
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