Bogotá de nuevo

I got back to Colombia yesterday after four perfect weeks in the United States. I spent Christmas with extended and wonderful family on my mom’s side; two very full weeks in New York with friends, my parents and sister, and Isa; and then a week at Yale, reliving college and catching up with many, many friends there.

In early October, when I bought a plane ticket home and gave myself a long vacation, I was nervous that I’d lose out on a lot of work while away, that I might feel like a bum back at home just hanging out for so long, and that a whole month at home might break whatever rhythm I would create here by then.

By the time I left, I wasn’t concerned about work. My one guaranteed class that meets every day took a month-long break, so I missed just two sessions, on Monday and Tuesday of this week. By the time I got home to New York, it was easy to see that I wouldn’t tire of being there or with everyone there. And when I got to Yale, I enjoyed myself from start to finish and only wished I could have spent more time with more of my friends from college.

A few days ago, as I prepared to leave New York and return to Bogotá, I found myself nervous about Colombia for the first time.

When I left in August, everything was uncertain. Around me, people asked whether I was nervous, but I honestly wasn’t. I didn’t feel I was risking much, and I saw the potential for a world of awesomeness. The things I feared–loneliness, listlessness, professional failure–those aren’t rare among recent college grads, even among those recents grads who take more commonly trod paths than I was about to take. So in exchange for the risk of experiencing those things farther away from home than I would otherwise risk experiencing them (for that’s what my move came down to, at least in my head), I gave myself the chance to have great new experiences I couldn’t anticipate and couldn’t have in New York or the United States. And I was really excited to go back to Latin America. So I wasn’t nervous.

Then I got to know Bogotá, and I got to settle down there, and I came to really like it. But I also came to know it as a resident. And then last month I came home to New York. And in New York everything was so easy, so nice.

It was wonderful to have Isa in New York, and for as long as she was there. Over ten days doing almost everything with me (I took some for myself time while she and my sister went shopping), she got to know my family well, and she got to spend almost as much time with my high school friends–who still make up most of my best friends–as I did. Sharing the hometown I love so much with her was a delight, as were the specific things we did that we can’t do here, like go to the Empire State Building or take peaceful walks outside at night (even if it was freezing cold and we had to walk briskly).

But the downside of sharing my whole charmed New York-based life with her was that she became even more confused about why I had come to Colombia. She had wondered aloud about this to me before, and I had given truthful, though not entirely convincing, answers that began and ended with, “Why not?” and luckily had a little more substance in the middle. But seeing just how much love I give and get in the U.S. made her even more uneasy: Why, again, had I left all this? Why was I not staying there now that I was experiencing all this again? When might I want to return to it–and would I do that abruptly, and painfully to her?

Hopefully I’ve done a better job by now of explaining to her why I came to Colombia initially, why I’m here to stay for a while, and why she doesn’t have to worry about me deciding to leave quickly anytime soon. But I completely understood why she was–and maybe still is, a little bit–concerned about the fact that I chose to try something radically new when I had everything I have in New York.

It was hard to leave New York this week. Not as hard, perhaps, as it would have been for someone else. Because, as sentimental as I am, rarely does sentiment keep me from feeling excitement about new and impending experiences and then heading into them. I knew the whole time I was in the United States that I was going to go back to Bogotá in mid-January, I knew I wanted to go back, and I had enough time to really enjoy myself and do (almost all) the things I felt I had to do while I was home. So I was ready to come back here.

But I was also nervous.

While I was in the U.S., everything was just so easy. A big part of that was staying with my parents, and then with friends at Yale. It was calming not to have to worry about paying for food, and having all the simple physical pleasures of rich countries (perfect heating, hot water, etc.). It was understandably calming to be back in my original home where nothing can be very surprising or upsetting.

But much more than that, it was just plain easy and calming to be in the United States. My whole time there I felt notable internal peace because of the physical peace of the places I was in. The cities are (generally very) safe. The transportation isn’t (usually) maddening. The people are (often) polite. Nothing about life outside your home has to be stressful or scary or tiring. And life here can often be all of those things.

Facing my return to Bogotá in my last week at home, I was nervous about coming back. Not so much nervous that anything specifically bad would befall me, though that was a small concern I hadn’t had the first time I left (when I was one computer richer and several stabbed acquaintances poorer). More so, I feared becoming severely worn down by the city.

See, I live here now. And I have for several months. The honeymoon is over. I’ve wrung every little bit of enjoyment, wonder, and intrigue possible out of the bus rides I take. I’ve examined TransMilenio in as many ways as it can be examined. (Bottom line: It’s the best of a bad situation–transportation in Bogotá–and even that only at times.) I’ve studied the people and the streets and I’m pretty used to them by now. They’re people. And streets. Different from the ones I grew up around. But not intrinsically better than what I used to know. Even, actually, worse in some ways (the streets, not the people–I hope). No longer very exciting. Also, have I mentioned that the city can be dangerous and that that’s a real bitch, just a total drain on the psyche a lots of the time?

That was what was so nice about being back in the U.S., and what made me nervous about coming back here. I didn’t want to spend hours a day on shitty buses again, nor any time on the streets holding my bag tightly and keeping my hands in my pocket, where my phone and wallet are. I don’t have to do that in the U.S. And I hate that I have to do that here. So I wasn’t feeling great–ready, but not great–as I packed up my things and headed to the airport again.

But then I landed in South America. Instantly, things got better. The heat–relative heat: it’s only like 70 degrees here–was immediately comforting as soon as I got off the plane and into the airport. The vibe of being back in Latin America was exciting. And the fact that I got out of the cab in a new and much nicer neighborhood than I used to live in was a great surprise, in how much it both comforted and excited me right away.

This neighborhood is awesome. I live with Isa now, in the apartment she got with her sister and a friend of her sister’s right before I left Colombia in December. It’s a lot smaller than my old place, but it’s new and clean and (now that I’ve moved in) our own place. It’s got three bedrooms, and ours is cozy and pretty. Most important are the fifteen blocks between old apartment and this one.

Real quick geography lesson about Bogotá: The city runs largely north-south, directly to the west of a mountain ridge. The city began at the foot of the mountains, then grew north and south, and in recent decades has grown out to the west. The east of the city is the nicest, and the avenues that line the low hills at the base of the mountain are the nicest. The north-center center of the city is desirable because of its proximity to everything, but it’s not the safest or swankiest part of town (the rich people live uptown; the museums, historic district, and backpacker hostels are all downtown). For much of its miles-long stretch, Avenida Caracas divides neighborhoods, with the east side of the avenue distinctly nicer and safer than the west side. (It’s not a radical division, but it is visible and meaningful. Imagine 96th Street on the East Side, or at least 96th Street from 10 or 20 years ago. And multiply that gulf by two or three.)

My old apartment was half a block west of Caracas. So that’s the bad side. The new apartment is four blocks east of Caracas. The good side. And it’s between avenues 4 and 6 (there’s no 5 here): very close to the eastern end of the city. The old apartment was in the middle of a low-end commercial district that wasn’t that nice during the daytime and could be downright creepy at night. The new apartment is on a beautiful sloped street full of other nice apartment buildings and a striking view of the mountains only a few blocks away. (I like to imagine it as San Francisco. That probably won’t stand up to scrutiny when you see pictures, which are to come in a day or two.) It has a doorman–or, rather, doorwoman: The few different people I’ve seen at the door have all been women. (And my share of the rent, by the way, utilities included, should come to no more than $225 a month.)

In the half-dozen times I’ve walked out of the apartment since arriving yesterday afternoon, I’ve been invigorated each time, much the way I was when I left my hostel the first few days after I arrived in September. I’m sure part of that is that, despite what I believed I would feel when I returned, the city is at least a little bit new and exciting again. Maybe this feeling will only last for a few days. But maybe it’ll last a little while. I’m also excited about picking up my professional life again and seeing the friends I’ve made here. There’s a bunch to be excited about. But the biggest part so far has been this new apartment and neighborhood. I really like the new home I have. And I love the neighborhood. Did I mention we’re three blocks away from the climbing gym I used to go to (and hope to return to more often now that I’m closer)? And one block from a meditation center that I want to check out? And that I can actually imagine walking a bit with Isa at night around here?

So that’s what’s up with me now. I had my first class back this morning, and it’s looking like by next week I’ll be at a full schedule–or even more than that: I’m currently overbooked on Tuesday and Thursday, so I’ll probably need to cancel one of my four classes each of those days. I had an amazing time in the U.S., I was nervous about coming back here, and in my first 30 hours back I’ve felt great. Hopefully that’ll keep up. There are bumps to come, I’m sure. But maybe I’m ready for them. And I’m glad I’m here.

Two final notes:

First, I owe everyone I saw in Maryland, New York, and New Haven so many thanks and so much love for making me so happy. It was great to see you all. And a special major shout-out goes to Justin Berk, who gave me the best present anyone has ever given me. I’ll keep it mysterious for now, but I’ll have photos of the gift up in a day or two. And I’ll give a hint now: The present was related to the most recent post on his blog.

Second, I’ve got a thorough summary of my first four months here (well, really, my post-college life so far) coming in a week or so. While catching up with so many people over the last few weeks, it seemed that lots of people in my life have been reading this blog occasionally, sporadically, or mostly, but still missing a few posts. So the post to come will be a comprehensive overview for anyone who missed stuff and wants the full-run down. Also, since a lot of people didn’t realize they can get these posts automatically, here’s a reminder of how: At the top-right of this page is a “Subscribe” button. Hit that, enter your email address, and you should get every post emailed to you the instant I click “Publish.” For those of you who use RSS aggregators, you can get the same instant delivery to your aggregator by subscribing to the feed using the URL (For some reason the page looks all screwed up, but if you add that URL to your aggregator list of feeds, it should work. If you try and it doesn’t work, please let me know.)

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