Posted by: Sarah | February 21, 2010

asi empiezan los carnavales…

I spent an entire year blogging and writing about Colombia, yet each time that I go back for a visit, I have a hard time capturing the experience in words.  The emotions of returning for 6 days to a country, a culture, that has captured my heart, are almost too great for words.  Top this off with the locura of Barranquilla’s Carnaval and you have at least a short story on your hands rather than a blog post.

“Quien lo vive es quien lo goza”.

Whoever came up with that phrase was a genius, pure and simple, because it really is the best way to explain that Carnaval de Barranquilla is so much more than a crazy, week-long party, with lots of dancing and drinking and parades.  The English translation – he who lives it, is he who enjoys it – is weak, at best, but in Spanish, the words conjure up all the right images and adjectives that any Barranquillero could use to describe the magic of their Carnaval celebrations. Maybe this is why UNESCO dubbed the celebration as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, because Carnaval de Barranquilla is one of the most real celebrations of the Intangible emotion of Happiness that I have ever experienced.

Alex and I stepped off the plane from Bogota, immediately feeling the sticky Caribbean air on our skin and hearing faint notes of Carnaval music coming from inside the gate.  As soon as we walked into the airport, there were indeed musicians singing and dancing and playing drums, in full Carnaval attire.  More people were handing out Aguila (local beer) and party hats and shots of Chivas whisky.  Yes, in the airport.  We were laughing and dancing, swept up in the excitement of it all.  We piled our luggage into a taxi, and sipping our cervezas, started chatting about all the wonderful Carnaval traditions with our taxi driver, who was just as excited for us as we were to be there.  We made our way through the crazy traffic of a city that is still so familiar to me, the good and the bad, after all these years, and I felt right at home.  If this was our welcome to Barranquilla the first day of Carnaval, we were indeed going to have quite a week.

To borrow a short excerpt from the Carnaval program guide that we picked up when we arrived, these words capture a bit of the Alegria y Felicidad that one feels immediately in Barranquilla:

“Cuando llegué a Barranquilla no entendía el significado del Carnaval y pensaba, como muchos pueden pensar, que era una rumba para tomar ron y embriagar las penas en el licor.  Nada más equivocado.

La expresión del espíritu manifestada en la Alegría de los habirantes de Barranquilla es contagiosa e invita a llevar el ropaje de la felicidad como la mejor prenda que todos exhiben de manera permanente.  En cualquier esquina, en las emisoras, en las calles, en las empresas y por cualquier lugar que uno transite se siente la presencia del Rey Momo, del Congo, el Garabato, los Cumbiamberos y cantidad de otros personajes que habitan por doquier como expresiones de las diversas formas que podemos llegar a ser pero siempre como el mismo espíritu de positivismo ante la vida.

Mi experiencia en esta ciudad me ha permidido entender el valor intangible de la alegría, como algo que se lleva de manera Permanente en el interior de cada barranquillero y la época de Carnaval sirve de excusea para hacer mas expresivo este sentimiento.  El habitante de esta tierra entiende que el Carnaval es el espacio para la comunión donde se encuentran los que así conciben esta forma de vivir y lo comparten con quienes llegan a la ciudad para sumarse al Goce colectivo.  Mis pocos años en Barranquilla son argumento suficiente para invitar a otras personas a vivir en Goce, compartiendo una manera de interpretar la existencia humana: armonía entre Alegría y Felicidad.”

[When I arrived to Barranquilla, I did not understand the significance of Carnival, and I thought, as many may think, that it was a party to drink rum, and forget your worries in the alcohol. Nothing could have been more mistaken.

The expression of the spirit manifested in the Joy of the habitants of Barranquilla is contagious and invites you to wear the clothing of happiness in a permanent fashion.  On any corner, in the stations, in the streets, in the stores, and in any place you go, you feel the presence of the Momo King, the Congo, the Garabato, the Cumbia Dancers, and a number of other people who live as expressions of the many ways that we can be, all with the same sense of positivity for life.

My experience in this city allowed me to understand the intangible value of happiness, as something that is permanently worn inside each Barranquillero, and the Carnival season serves as an excuse to make this sentiment even more expressive.  Inhabitants of this land understand that Carnival is a space for communion where you find those who know how to live this way and how to share it with those who arrive to the city for a collective enjoyment.  My few years in Barranquilla are argument enough to invite other people to experience this enjoyment, to understand the way to interpret human existance: as a harmony of Joy and Happiness.]

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