Colors of Colombia

The flag is bright red, royal blue and golden yellow. Those three bands embellish body parts, shoulder bags, car decor, accessories, walls and every adornment, accessory and object thinkable. Colombians love their country and they express it widely through demonstrations of the flag’s colors. More openly patriotic than we tend to be (outside country concerts and July 4th), the flag colors here can be seen on any shade and size of wrist gripping bars on the TransMilenio in Bogotá whether accompanied by dirt or rhinestones.

The red, blue and yellow might be matched against any skin tone or hair color as well. While coastal populations are largely characterized by African descent, the interior of this nation is markedly diverse. Typically the sea of faces (or backs of heads, more likely) in my classes is characterized by dark hair, brown eyes and medium skin tone, though there’s a huge range from gold eyes to strawberry blond hair. There’s evidence of indigenous, Andean descent alongside European and African influence. It’s hard to say what “looks Colombian” and impossible to say what doesn’t.

Brilliantly scarlet sweaters define my figurative “red flag.” Coupled with white polos and navy or plaid bottoms, I see swarming GMSB uniforms in my sleep. My eyes are trained to spot that cherry-popsicle sweater five blocks away and decide whether to greet it head-on or sidestep and detour. On “Jean Days” and weekends a totally different species is saying “Hi, Teacher!” – without the sweater, they could be any kid on the street anywhere.

My five colored pens that organized my five classes have slowly but surely disappeared, leaving me with standard blue ballpoints and one or two black – free ones. Why are free pens always black ink? I can’t think in black. My planning notebook is ragged and shoved in an overstuffed bag with three red, blue and green spiral-bound Teacher’s Edition texts, crumpled stacks of colored paper, someone’s misplaced quiz (oops) and a handful of dried-up Expo markers.

To the north, east and west the mountains are shadowy greens: olive, jade, chartreuse pushing lime – like the fruit, not the fluorescent construction. Tabio’s signature peak, Juaica, juts out with jagged, bold stripes depending on weather conditions. When it’s clear, the sky rims the hills with cloud-pocked blue, turning to silver as the sun drops and sparkling navy when it’s long gone. I can see the stars in Tabio, a luxury when considering geography – about thirty miles outside a massive urban sprawl.

Bogotá is a blur of grimy sidewalks, bright maroon TransMilenio buses and universal yellows cabs. To the right the sky is blue, to the left it’s dark gray and angry. By night the brown bottles with yellow and red labels complement shimmery eyeshadow and all dimensions of our plans unfolding.

Week in, week out, the palette wavers and repeats.