After a week of 70 degree weather we are back to our normal 40 degrees. Everybody was over the moon about the warm sunny days. Obsessive me could only think about climate change… But apparently we had this weird weather back in the 1970’s as well.
I received an email the other day from a former schoolmate. She was referring people to an article by Julian Fellows, the actor and writer of Downton Abbey. In the article he talks about the summer before he went to university. His aunt was living in Colombia and wanted to start a summer camp. She needed help. So his mother volunteered him and he got on an oil tanker and spent 21 days crossing the Atlantic (his father refused to pay for airfare). During the trip he decided it would be a good opportunity to re-invent himself and go from a dull boring person to a confident interesting person. He succeeded and continues to tell a humorous account of the summer. You can read the full article if you are interested. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/oct/03/julian-fellowes-once-upon-life
The funny part is that his aunt was the Librarian at the school I went to in Bogota, Colombia – Colegio Nueva Granada (CNG). His adventure took place in 1966, but she was still librarian in 1972 when I arrived on the scene. Two of her sons and another girl from the school helped run the camp along with Julian. The camp kept going in several iterations for years after.
I think I have mastered Wordle. I pick a random word that has at least two vowels. Next I either have to find other vowels or the most common way of placing the ones that are correct. Then I go through the alphabet to find the most likely (usually unlikely) word that fits. I have done it in three tries all week. But it is work. And I usually feel let down at the end. It is such a small non-accomplishment.
My 102 year old father tested positive for COVID this week. He says he feels fine but is bored out of his mind since he has to stay in his apartment all the time. I went to see him the day before he tested positive so now I am waiting for my results. I have no symptoms so fingers crossed.
My son arrives today for a visit. It looks like this will be on the menu.
Swiss Steak is a method of preparing meat, usually beef, by means of rolling or pounding, and then braising in a pot of stewed tomatoes, either on a stove or in an oven.
No wonder there are hundreds of recipes for Swiss Steak. This recipe comes from my mother and I have enjoyed it for many years.
2 lbs round steak, in serving pieces 1 large onion, sliced
Brown steak dredged in flour in hot fat with onions, salt and pepper.
1 pt tinned tomatoes (1 15.5 oz can) I use crushed tomatoes 1 cup water 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce 1 Tbsp brown sugar 1 Tbsp dry mustard 1 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp lemon juice dash pepper and paprika Pour over meat in a skillet (covered)
Bake in 350 degrees F oven for 2 hours (or more) I have also made it in the crock pot. The meat should just fall apart. It goes well with mashed potatoes.
When I was 15, my family moved to Bogota, Colombia. That first summer my parents and I took a trip to the coast by car. My father was a beach fanatic and somebody in his office told him he would find the most beautiful pristine beaches imaginable at the coastal village of Tolu. Since he had to go to Cartagena on business anyway, he decided to make a trip of it and stop in Tolu and the resort town of Santa Marta as well. The trip was almost entirely through the Andes Mountains with hair-raising drop offs on the side of the road. We stopped for a couple of days in Medellín, a city that was later known for its drug cartel. At the time, it was a small city nestled in the mountains with a lot of old churches. My mother had a thing about Catholic churches. If there was a church anywhere nearby, we had to go see it. It wasn’t a religious thing; it was a tourist thing. She wanted to see the architecture, the windows, and the statues. It used to really embarrass me to have to go into all these churches where people were praying just so we could snoop around. That was my teenaged view of it anyway.
San Ignacio, Medillin
The morning we left Medellín, we stopped in a small corner restaurant for breakfast. All we wanted was some orange juice, coffee and rolls. I spoke Spanish fluently with no accent. My father spoke Spanish fluently but with an accent. We went up to the counter and I asked for three orange juices – jugo de naranja. Blank stares answered my simple request. I could not make them understand what I was saying. I had to resort to pointing and acting in order to get three orange juices. We decided that they saw so few foreigners they just assumed we did not speak Spanish and could not process the fact that we did.
On the way down from the mountains, we had to follow a riverbed where much of the road had been washed away by flooding. There were cliffs going up on either side, with the river in the middle, and the road was to one side of the river. Where the road was washed out, there was no place else to go but in the river or hug the cliff. Fortunately there was almost no traffic and we were able to manage it, although we all had white knuckles by the time we passed through the mountains.
As we got to the coastal flatlands we started looking out for the road to Tolu. We were all very excited. The road turned out to be a narrow rutted lane with overgrown vegetation on either side. We said, no problem, this was good, it meant it was unspoiled by the overuse of tourists. The village of Tolu was small. There was a small square in the middle of town but the main road was just past the center and ran along the ocean on the beach. Yes, the beach had become a road with buses barreling down it at high speeds. There were no swimmers or sunbathers – they would have died from the exhaust fumes first and a car accident second. Since it was late in the day, we realized we had to stay the night, so we found a small hotel on the beach that looked passable. We were shown to a “suite” that had two rooms and five beds and a huge bathroom that only had cold water and a millions cockroaches. My father got up several times during the night to spray his mattress for bugs. We left early the next morning. When we got back to Bogota my father told the person who had recommended Tolu all about our experience. Of course, the person had never actually been there. So much for pristine beaches.
From Tolu we drove to Cartagena, the old Spanish outpost. There was a fort on the hill that had tunnels going down to the water. Niches were cut into the tunnel for soldiers to stand with their rifles and shoot people as they ran down the dark and claustrophobic tunnels. It all made me very uncomfortable. Cartagena was often visited by pirates as well as by Spanish ships. Under the water was a heavy chain strung across part of the bay to keep the boats from entering. Those who didn’t know about the fence, sank. Cartagena itself was a beautiful colonial town.
Our next stop was Barranquilla, another big port and more of a vibrant busy bustling city, and our final stop was Santa Marta, a small resort town. Luckily we flew home from Santa Marta so we didn’t have to repeat the treacherous drive.
Bogota was 8,600 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. Lush and cool, it rained almost every day for a short while. It is nestled right against the mountains and above the city at 10,341 feet is the mountain Monserrate where a small church was built in the 17th century. Now there is a funicular that takes people up there and the view is amazing. One of the biggest tourist attractions is the Gold Museum. Its mission statement states: The mission of the Gold Museum of the Banco de la República is to preserve, research, catalogue and exhibit its archaeological collections in goldwork, ceramics, lithics and other materials as the cultural heritage of present and future generations of Colombian citizens, to strengthen the cultural identity of Colombians through enjoyment, learning and inspiration. It is definitely worth a visit.
Musica Raft, Gold Museum
On the weekends sometimes, we would drive down to the hot country and stay at fincas. They could be working farms or just small “summer” houses where people went to relax and get out of the city. We stayed in one that had bungalows around the compound and a big house at the center. We all gathered in the big house for meals and ate at long tables. The landscape was tropical and kind of rugged. There wasn’t much to do but eat, sleep and take walks. On the way home, we would stop in a small village and buy rolls made from cassava flour that were filled with cheese.
Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, meant constantly adapting and adjusting to new places and new people. After a while I became a chameleon, able to blend in to any background. I learned to hone my power of observation and I would spend the first few weeks in a new environment reserved and quiet, watching everybody else. Then once I built confidence, I would break out like a phoenix, and my new persona would emerge, reinvented for my current surroundings. One of the hardest things about growing up the way I did was saying goodbye. Constantly having to leave friends behind or see them leave did take a toll and as I grew older I became more discriminating about who I opened up to and became close to. In spite of that, I looked forward to new places. It was an adventure, a challenge.
My uniform that year was a ruana (a wool cape) and a hat that was very common among the people who lived in the mountains (a man’s stiff felt hat). I also had a swell pair of suede lace-up boots and I wore rings on every finger. I had long hair and long sharp nails and when I first arrived at school people thought I was some kind of witch. I loved it there. The people were either Colombian or, for the most part, expat kids who had grown up overseas. Everybody was mellow and easy going.
I went to the American school in Bogota. During study hall, we would go to the recreation room and have really superior games of table tennis. At lunch, we would walk to the other end of the football field to eat our sandwiches. I ate peanut butter and jelly on toast every single day for a year. Some people would bring chessboards and we would gather around and watch them play.
My best friend lived near a small shopping center and park area called El Lago where a lot of the “street people” hung out. These were the Colombian hippies and the American drifters who gathered to generally laze around and look for action. People would play frisbee and talk and eat and gather information on parties. We would go there and hang out and try to be “cool”.
One day it was raining (as usual) and I was standing under an archway listening to a Jesus freak proselytize and a guy appeared who had long black hair, a beret, lavender tie-dye shirt, lavender pants, and belt, with bells on his black leather boots. He walked right up to the Jesus freak, took off his hat and in a large swooping movement bowed to him and said “And I am the Devil”. This infuriated the Jesus freak and set him off on a long tirade, which was completely ignored. The “Devil” came up to me and asked me for a light and introduced himself as Giovanni. He was a wonderful character who loved to talk non-stop and tell stories of his escapades under the influence of magical mushrooms.
A few weeks later, Giovanni arrived dressed in a three-piece suit. I almost didn’t recognize him and when questioned he told me his grandmother had died. He had started his day with a large magical mushroom omelet and then set off for his grandmother’s funeral. He went to the church all dressed up, greeted all his relatives and joined the procession to pass by and view the open casket. As he reached the casket, the mushrooms must have kicked in, because he swore to us that his grandmother moved, at which point he had apparently created a scene and was asked to leave.
Giovanni had dreams of moving to Miami to be a hairdresser or a model. When he suddenly disappeared, I wondered if he had actually made it to Miami. A few months later, I ran into his sidekick, Fernando. I had to drag it out of him but he finally told me that Giovanni had been down in the Amazon playing “witch doctor”. He was expected back soon so I told Fernando to pass a message to him to come by because I wanted to see him.
He showed up one afternoon dressed again in the three-piece suit and all his beautiful long hair cut off. I asked him who had died this time and he was furious. Fernando apparently was supposed to have rescued all of Giovanni’s clothes from his mother’s house but didn’t get there in time, and his mother had thrown out all his lavender tie-dyes. It was obvious that at his age, he was expected to get a serious job and be respectable. It was the last time I saw him and I like to believe he really did become a real doctor but for all I know, he is still in the jungle playing witch doctor.
People from the States or England or Venezuela would drift in and out of El Lago. One fellow from England wore only green and we called him Limey. There was an African guy who had lived there for a long time with a Colombian woman. He was famous all around town and known just as “Blackie”.
I want to say those were more innocent times, but maybe I was just lucky and never got into anything I couldn’t handle. I cried all the way to Miami when we moved. I wasn’t ready to leave; a year just wasn’t long enough. Now not only was I moving to a new place with new people but I would have to adjust to a whole new continent and culture plus I was going back to boarding school.
Sometimes people think TCKs are whiney. We grew up in exotic places and had all kinds of interesting experiences. And most people think children are very adaptable and resilient. So the combination of new adventures and the ability to constantly adapt to them must be fabulous, no? Sometimes I think it seems that children are super adaptable because they are better at playing make believe than grown ups are. Sometimes I think that is why it is so hard for TCKs to grow up. They get too good at playing make believe.
Within months I was at a new school reinventing myself once again.
Last week I was away spending some well deserved time alone with Husband, Son and Daughter. After the hectic and emotionally draining summer we’ve had, it was nice to enjoy the sun, surf and sand on Captiva Island in southern Florida.
It was good for us to reconnect as a family, relaxing individually and collectively as one day slipped into the next. We also made sure to store up the sunlight for colder, darker days ahead back home in Nederland, but we needn’t address that at the moment.
One thing I did do while relaxing was to catch up on some expat reading.
I figure I’ve been in about 80 airports around the world. That’s a lot of time spent in airports. I started out at 7 months and just kept going. As a typical TCK, I learned to fly before I walked. By the time I was 11 months old I had been in a car, on a train, on a plane, on a boat and up a funicular. All those “at what age” questions in my baby book were full in no time.
I know some people feel at home in airports, or love being in airports. I hate them. For the most part, they are just boring. I have spent hours zoned out, jet lagged, and sleep deprived on hard benches waiting for the weather to clear or the congestion to ease up or to make up for a lost connection.
Some of my life’s most terrifying experiences happened at airports.
When I was 14, I was in boarding school in Austin, Texas. In the fall my parents had moved from Mexico City to Bogota, Colombia. That winter break I was due to fly to Bogota, someplace I had never been. My route was Austin, Houston, Miami, Bogota.
I got through Houston okay. I had never been to Miami airport before and it was a very long way from the gates to the ticket counter. For some reason I thought I could get my boarding pass at the gate so I just found the gate I was leaving from and hung around there. When they called for us to board the plane, I showed them my ticket and they told me I did not have a boarding pass. I didn’t understand the problem. They told me I would have to go to the ticketing counter to get the pass.
Now, they were already boarding the plane and the ticketing counter was miles away. I freaked out. All they said was, “you will need to hurry so you don’t miss the plane”. I ran as fast as I could down to the ticket counter, I barged to the front of the line in a panic. They gave me a boarding pass and I ran as fast as I could back to the gate, sure I would miss the plane and wondering what I would do.
It seems that whenever I was in these kinds of situations, I never had much money and I never had needed contact information. I just got on airplanes and expected everything to go okay and didn’t worry about it. Had I missed that flight, all I had was my parent’s address in Bogota. No phone number, no other contact info. I suppose I could have called my brother but I’m not even sure I had his contact info. After all I was 14 years old.
But I was lucky, I made the flight and my parents were at the airport to meet me at the other end. There were times when things didn’t go that well, but somehow I always managed to get where I was going. Over the years, I learned there were times when you really could depend on the kindness of strangers.