Last week as the story started to unfold and take shape, I read on the BBC, that Kate had gone into labour and the couple had travelled to the hospital without a police escort - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23402103. Later I read that she had given birth to the later named, Prince George Alexander Louis, and that the chief gynaecologist had sent a message to convey the news to the Queen. The message had been taken to Buckingham Palace under police escort, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23413653.
This struck me as being rather funny as it suggested that the, soon to be parents and their baby were not as important as the note which bore the news. I’m not suggesting that their security was ever jeopardised, as these days security tends to be in the background, in unmarked cars, undercover policemen, on rooftops, overhead helicopters, e-mail interception and phone tapping, but it was amusing to read.
The police escort in fact may have very little to do with security, and more to do with speed, and depending on the time of day and the distance to be covered, may be more or less necessary. The other insight worth mentioning is that I saw pictures of the happy couple with the new Prince, and of the Queen on her way to the hospital, in cars where one can easily see who the occupants of the cars are.
In contrast to this, here in Medellin, I see many cars every day with windows blacked out to various degrees, making it difficult or impossible to distinguish the people inside the vehicle. I also know various people who have bullet proof cars, and one or two who have bodyguards. Not that long ago I was returning home from a class, and to my surprise discovered that a road not far from where I live was cordoned off, and police and soldiers were swarming around.
One of the police stopped me and asked to see my Colombian identity card, checked it, and let me continue. I wondered what had happened or was about to happen, and asked a local shopkeeper what was going on. She informed me that the President was coming to have lunch at a local restaurant. I asked her which president, as I assumed she meant the president of one of the large companies based in Medellin. “Santos”, she replied in disbelief at my question. Juan Manuel Santos, is the current President of Colombia. Minutes later a cavalcade of cars, with totally blacked out windows, a truck with soldiers brandishing machine guns and an ambulance, just in case the President needed to be rushed to a hospital, drove past me as I continued on my way home. I wonder whether the ambulance was in case of a possible assassination attempt or because the food in the restaurant is not the best!
I think this comparison paints a clear picture of the different ways the two countries deal with security and the increased need Colombia has compared to the UK.
When I tell people how long I have been living here they often respond by saying that I am now a “Paisa,” a colloquial term for someone from Antioquia, and the department of Caldas. I know they are just being friendly, and yes I feel comfortable living here, I feel at home, but I don’t feel that it is my home. Yes I know, maybe now it’s time to get that appointment with the shrink, but wait, maybe by the time I get to the end of this, and have unloaded all the thoughts I have in my head I’ll understand myself a little better and I won’t need endless hours sitting on a couch!
Firstly why don’t I see myself as a “Paisa” after all these years living here? I think roots have a lot to do with it. I have Colombian friends here and I enjoy their company, but being with someone you have known for five years or so, is not the same as being with someone you have known for thirty, forty-five or fifty years. With the few close friends I have in Wales and London I have shared so many experiences, and it is those experiences that form a special bond. We have more things to reminisce about, more things which tie us together.
Also there is one fundamental fact, I am very happy and proud to be Welsh, destiny brought me here, an appetite for adventure, not a dislike for my country. I love my country and I feel more at home in my country than I do here. I don’t think that will ever change, but I’m not saying I hate it here either, just that one is my real home and the other is my second home, my adopted home, maybe a temporary home. One thing I have clear in my head is that I want to die in Wales not here, I may not have a say in that matter, but I know what I would prefer. Why? Who knows?
So what do I like about living here. One of the things I enjoy the most is my work; I give private English classes, mainly to executives and university students, I sometimes do some translation work, and occasionally some photographic work. I never get up in the morning wishing I didn’t have to work, and for me that is a huge bonus. If you enjoy your work you’ll never work a day in your life. The people I teach are friendly, interesting and pleasant, and I develop very good and close relationships with them which is a huge plus. In the beginning it was a bit of a shock when I had students asking for classes at 06:30 in the morning, in fact I thought they were joking, but no, it was real. Most people start work here at around 07:30 or before, and many of my students have class before they start work.
While we are on the subject of work, the working week here is 48 hours, which is approximately ten hours more than in Britain, so in a month the average Colombian works one week more than the average Briton, which is three months more per year. I lean more towards thirty–five hours per week, which is perfect, well maybe not perfect, but well within the bounds of acceptability.
Secondly I quite like the climate, usually it’s either warm or hot and this could be mixed with it being wet or dry so you get four combinations, warm and dry, warm and wet, hot and dry or hot and wet, it’s excellent though sometimes it gets too hot, especially if I am moving about the city, however, it’s never awful. Having said that, I do miss the seasons, even winter, though much less than the other three. One thing I miss a lot are the long summer days when it doesn’t get dark until 9:30, 10:00 at night. The atmosphere in Britain during those long, seemingly endless summer days, is something remarkably special, the mood of the country changes and people are noticeably more cheerful.
I also like the countryside here, the mountains are huge compared to Wales, but the countryside is not as easily accessible here as it is in Wales. There are no public footpaths marked by signs, and if you want to go walking or hiking then you really need to go with a guide as once you are up in the mountains it is very easy to get lost. I have even got lost once or twice walking with guides when I didn’t notice the ribbon they had hung form a bush denoting which path to follow. Luckily I soon found my way back to the group. I don’t think there are large scale maps here either with the footpaths marked on them.
I usually go trekking once a month with a walking club. We walk for between 6 and 7 hours with two guides. I enjoy those days out of the city, and as I am a photographer I take my camera and combine two of my passions. Now I’m considering doing some longer treks in different parts of Colombia, it would be sad not to see more of the country while I have the opportunity.
The main things I don’t like here are the noise, the lack of large parks in the city, and the speed at which the city is growing. The traffic is much noisier here than in Britain, there are many motorbikes, and the majority don’t seem to have silencers fitted. I have been told that people take off the silencers as this makes the bikes more powerful. Not being that mechanically minded I have no idea if this is true. The buses and trucks are also nosier than at home, and people use the horn all day long. The traffic lights change to green and drivers in the cars behind start blowing their horns to tell those in front to get a move on, taxi drivers and the mini buses that pick up school children at their homes, honk their horns to announce their arrival irrelevant of the time of day, and the fact that people may still be sleeping.
The city buses always have music playing to keep the passengers happy, and people in general seem to speak louder and are able to put up with much higher noise levels than me. Maybe if the bus driver was playing music I like, it would be more bearable, however, I have never got on a bus where the driver is playing Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Pink Floyd!
As the city is in a valley, the majority of the buildings are tall with 10, 15 even 20 floors which means that the roads are now becoming more and more congested, and the number of people per square kilometre is much more than in the past.
Population of Wales 3.6m, Cardiff 350,000, Population density of Wales 150 per sq km Population density of Cardiff 2,500 per sq km,
Population of Colombia 46m, Medellin 3.8m, Population density of Colombia 43 per sq km, Population density of Medellin 19,000 per sq km.
One other thing I miss so much is gardening, that perennial British pastime. Here we live in an apartment with a few pot plants on the balcony; in Britain we had a large garden. It’s a shame they don’t have allotments here as that would be an acceptable alternative. If I returned home I would certainly miss my work and the contact I have with people, the mountains and probably the weather. I certainly wouldn’t miss the noise, which for me is the thing I dislike the most.
For me the best situation would be to live here, but to travel to Wales more frequently and for longer periods. Maybe, four or five months in Wales every year and the rest of the time in Colombia, however, that isn’t easily achieved, but one can always dream!