Posted by: Sarah | August 17, 2006

La Feria de los Flores

Yesterday was the one month mark of my time in Colombia, but it kind of passed in a blur. The last week and a half has been rough, both physically and emotionally, but I have been riding it out and hoping that things will be better soon. It started off when my camera got busted in Medellin (hey, it was a traumatic experience!…but Gracie is helping me pick out a new one), but has mostly revolved around a bad combination of being ill and super homesick. I know that the homesickness is to be expected at times, and that it comes and goes, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier when all you can think about is that your closest friends are on a different continent than you are. 

On a better note, I was reading over my blog and realizing that Medellin never got a proper entry (ahhh! did I just say proper? I think the UK girls are rubbing off on me. scary!). Our trainee weekend down there was, without a doubt, the best 4 days so far. Medellin is a beautiful city (hoping to go back in December to visit Xiomara, if not sooner!) and the @’ers from EAFIT and EIA, as well as other LC’s around Colombia, provided an unbelievably warm reception to over 20 trainees from around the world.

The weekend got off to a rocky start. After emailing the OC on a daily basis to change our travel plans of when we expected to arrive, since none of our jobs could agree on how many days the 5 of us could take off, Kate, Kylie, Jen, Claire, and I finally set off Wednesday evening. Bus travel around this country is an adventure in itself…to say the least. Not even a couple hours into the trip, the bus was pulled over by the military, all the passengers were ordered to get off, the men were patted down thoroughly as they stepped down (although the girls were just given a hand to climb out of the bus), every single piece of luggage that we were carrying on board, as well as every single corner and compartment of the bus was scrupulously searched. The reason? Oh you know, just to make sure that no one is carrying any firearms that they were planning to use in order to hold up the bus and take any hostages. Despite continuous improvements in security all over the country, especially since the beginning of the Uribe administration 4 years ago, moments like this are a harsh reminder of the reality – that life is still far from SAFE as we know it in the US – and while I rarely feel scared, as many people before I left implied that I would on a daily basis, I can’t help but get nervous during moments like this, knowing that there is a pressing need for the military to conduct such searches.

Other than that, the drama of the bus journey was limited to out of control air conditioning that turned the bus into an igloo, air conditioning vents that leaked when it started to rain around 4am, and traffic being held at a standstill for no apparent reason for several hours the next morning. The bus company claims it takes 12 hours to travel from Barranquilla to Medellin. The @’ers told us to realistically expect between 14-15 hours. 19 hours after we left, we pulled into the bus terminal in Medellin.

We immediately headed over to EAFIT, one of the two universities, where we had made it just in time for the global village, an excellent showcase by trainees and other international students that AIESEC had found to host stands in the center of the campus, complete with food, flags, pictures, traditional clothing, Colombian dance and music groups, and a Brazilian capoeira group, just as a global village should be. For me, the absolute best part about it was when I was talking with Diana, a good friend from AXLDS who was on the OC for their global village, and she told me, “It was actually after I was talking to you earlier this spring and you were telling me about how your event team was holding a global village on campus that we came up with idea of incorporating a global village into the Trainee Weekend. When else, other than at a conference, would we have so many international AIESEC’ers all together at once? Here in Colombia, we don’t have an “event planning team”, but I love how you guys focus so much on cultural events that can help spread AIESEC’s mission to non-AIESEC students on your campus. We have had so many people tell us today how much they liked seeing this, how they have never tasted food from Romania, or English tea, or learned how to make Japanese origami…and asked how they could find out more about AIESEC”. This conversation made me so damn proud of all my event planners from last semester who worked their asses off to help make our Global Village such a success. Impact can spread so much farther than you would ever expect.

From Thursday until Sunday, our days were filled with exploring Medellin and our nights were spent in true @ form – dancing the night away, often until 4 or 5 am. We saw the city race past us through the windows of the only metro in the country and took photos from high up in the mountains with the city sprawled out behind us. We soaked up the culture of the city through the art of Botero, shopping (it is the fashion capitol of the country), and the Flower Festival. From the first night out at the newest and largest club anywhere in Latin America (seriously, it had opened the previous weekend and holds 4000+ people…I have never seen anything like it) to the chiva the last night, there was never any lack of salsa dancing, reggaeton to rock out to, or aguardiente.

While I met a ton of people over the course of the weekend, the people I stayed with were without a doubt the best of the best: Maria, our host, King Wong (Manizales-Hong Kong), Mandy (Bogota-Beijing), Lucho (Monterrey-Barranquilla), Kate (London-Barranquilla), and me (Madison-Barranquilla). The 6 of us bonded as we all piled into the same cab on more than one occasion and laughed at Lucho and King Wong dancing YMCA in the middle of downtown Medellin during one of the parades. Maria’s family made us dinner each night, as we watched Gilmore Girls¸ of all things🙂 We were the last of the @’ers to leave the club Saturday night, and when we got back, we sat around the kitchen making quesadillas, laughing for hours longer. Sunday afternoon, we crowded among thousands of spectators to brave the heat and watch the flower parade, which was unlike anything I have ever seen. Maria told us the history behind the festival, how each float and stand was made from millions of fresh flowers early that morning (probably around the same time that we were enjoying our late-night snacks), and how people from surrounding villages begin to train for the event from the time that they are little children. She told us about dancing in the parade when she was much younger…how she remembered that she wasn’t even tired by the end of the parade route, and now she is certain that she couldn’t do it without being exhausted from the heat.

Vamos a Medellin, por la Feria de los Flores.

The weekend, the city, and the festival captured every ounce of Colombian culture and spirit that I love. I will be returning.

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