A Busqueda for Normalcy

For various reasons, my friends and I have pledged to have a normal weekend. Whatever that is. What’s normal for a handful of 20-something American volunteer English teachers on their two precious days and nights outside the classroom? What’s normal in any sense of the word here?

Teaching English abroad for ten months isn’t vacation. It’s a regular life, taking place in another country. Normalcy in Colombia, in Bogotá, in Tabio – that is, in Colombia, Bogotá and Tabio from my point of view – is in a million ways different and the same as normalcy from my point of view in the U.S. Life is still a constant bombardment of newness and differences but there’s a certain peace of mind in accepting a normal state of being.

Normalcy here is three types of carbs for every meal. It’s carrying hot sauce in my purse and snacking on fruit, bakery goods and ice cream. It’s drinking coffee all day just to fight off the “winter” chill, and bringing an umbrella everywhere. Bogotá rain doesn’t play nice. Learning to read clouds and dress for fifteen-degree differences.

It’s feeling like I’m a total boss at speaking Spanish one minute then getting shot down immediately as someone is wrinkling their nose and staring at me blank-faced. It’s the mental high from stretching my brain every day that I crave and hoard. Normal are personal questions from friends or strangers: “Did you vote for Obama? Do you believe in God? Do you have a boyfriend?”

Normalcy is cut-and-pasting lesson plans into the next day or week because a class was canceled or shortened, 40% homework completion, 50% student comprehension at best and always deep breaths after everything goes wrong. It’s a crying girl in at least one class a day – hopefully just one  – and 16-year old boys acting like any-year old boys in a way that makes me miss my roommates terribly. It’s sweet, clueless seventh graders, unmanageable eighth graders, obstinate ninth graders, mischievous tenth graders and indifferent eleventh graders, all maybe learning something? Maybe not?

Normalcy is putting on my Big City Face and flagging the BOGOTÁ/PORTAL 80 bus every weekend, road sodas and toothbrush in hand, so I can shake off the Tabio blues and feel young, social and cosmopolitan instead of stationary and alien. It’s gossip, plans, triumphs and complaints over Crepes & Waffles, arepas, coffee or drinks; exploring and acclimatizing; it’s never looking as good as the Colombian girls but having blond hair on our side…thanks, KB and Tasha.

My Tabio normalcy is never using the internet after 8 p.m., writing things down to Google later, paying $.60 USD an hour for painfully slow connections, power outages when I haven’t saved everything I just copied to read when I get home, and Skyping friends and family with strangers over my shoulder. Normal is not having cell phone minutes, answering calls from strange numbers and cheap phones failing to send or receive communication.

It’s laughing at misunderstandings and stifling little or large outrages, trying to maintain cultural mores and morals, running in shorts because it’s warm enough and I don’t care if I look incredibly American while doing so, and trying to fit in and adapt without compromising my identity. Normalcy is getting through each day in a foreign country knowing that it’s exactly what I need to be doing right now and what I want to be doing for a long time.

As for this weekend? Let’s hope for more backpack rum and less Hotel Cosmos, chicas.

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