Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Tag

Looking For Love In Latin America: Introduction/Marriage Agencies   Leave a comment

On New Year’s Eve I ran into a woman that runs a local matrimonial agency.  I had just come from the home of fiends.  She had just come from a party at the Hotel de Prado.  I have to put that on my list of possibilities for New Year’s next year.  From the looks of people leaving the hotel they had fun.   We exchanged numbers, vowing to go to get-together.  So when on one of my walk/jogs, Barranquilla sidewalks are great exercise because they are uneven, I found myself close to her office and dropped by.

Yami runs the Barranquilla office for A Foreign Affair (AFA), a well-established player in the business of bringing American men to foreign countries to find wives, or whatever.  After about two minutes of pleasantries, the question came.  Do you have a girlfriend?  I was not put off by the question.  I kind of expected it.  Truthfully, I had no knowledge of introduction agencies until I started coming to Colombia about three years ago.  I mean, I had heard of mail order brides.  In fact, when working in Philly I met a faculty member that had ordered himself one from China.  But that was more than twenty years ago.  It was during a visit to Manizales that the then owner of Manizales Cupido tried to get me interested in becoming a client of his agency.  Though I did not join, he did make me curious.  Who uses these services?  And why?   Are these guys desperate?  Are the women?

Last year, while looking for the answers to these questions, I saw Lisa Ling’s report, “Online Brides” on Our America.  An AFA tour to Barranquilla was the subject of her story.  Her story focused on one particular young woman.  Her interviews gave depth to the hopes and dreams of men and women looking for love and stability on foreign shores.  So, I decided to see for myself.  And if I met someone great fine!  After calling their corporate office, AFA is based in Phoenix, Arizona, I arranged for a rate reduction because I did not need the hotel.  I was living in Barranquilla during the time of their next tour.  That is how I met Yami, who was now very curious about my relationship status.

What I have come to learn is that these agencies are largely unregulated.  The screening of participants can be as stringent as interviews and reference checks or as lax as anyone who walks in the door can participate.  Because of two cases involving foreign women brought to the United States as potential brides, but eventually murdered, some agencies advertise their compliance with the International Marriage Broker Act of 2005 (IMBR).  They conduct background checks on men who seek to use their services to meet women.   AFA is one of them, even though they seem to regard the Act as something which will “…make it somewhat more cumbersome for you to make initial contact with foreign women.”  This statement comes from their website.

There are at least five Introduction/Marriage agencies operating in coastal Colombia: Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena.  Their fees can range from $595 to $1795, airfare excluded.  AFA is a worldwide introduction/marriage agency.  To travel to other parts of the world, including Costa Rica, Philippines, China and the Ukraine their costs can get close to $3000, again airfare not included.  Some agencies will also arrange for individual introductions for those men willing to pay the fee for the added attention. 

AFA does not lie though when they say that they will have lots of women at their events.  Principally consisting of two socials, and three side trips, the first evening there were over seventy women there.  The next evening there were almost ninety.  I learned later, though, that the ways they get women there can be a bit scheming.  Kellie, a 30 year old Barranquilla woman, with no children, shared with me her felling about the whole affair.  She had attended three AFA tour events.  The first time, she says, was to know what was possible.  The second time they called saying that there was a guy that had traveled to Colombia wanting to meet her.  Later, she said, she found that was not true.  The third time they had friends convinced her to come.  And that was when we met.

Throw out the image of desperate losers looking for beautiful poor women to do their bidding.  On the AFA tour I attended there were businessmen, a postal worker, an attorney, a doctor, an IT expert and other professions represented.  They came to Colombia from as far away as Seattle.  In my mind these guys had choices.  Yet, there was an air of disappointment in the group.  No one said it aloud.  But it was there.  We found, after asking about certain women, that the AFA website is padded with women who are no longer participating in their events.  Their online tour orientation, which was terrible both technologically and content wise, had a “come and get it” tone to it, as if one was being affirmed for joining the Latina nookie club.  Confirmed by the sexual overtone that exists on their website.    Regardless of what they say ahead of time, one should know that there is no guarantee that anyone in the room will be interesting to you, or interested in you.  You pay your money and take your chances that someone in the sea of faces will be the one.  Or if you are just there hoping that you will get laid by some hot Latina the tours have that potential also.  According to Kellie and others, it happens.

Introductions are big business, and AFA has their formula down to a science.  Though to most of us their events were a bit like organized chaos. Their format, for which neither I nor the guys I talked with felt prepared, was a combination of speed dating, interviewing and the getting third degree. We were assigned an interpreter to help us overcome the language barrier; introduced to the throng of women in the room; and then given about 15 minutes to meet between eight and ten woman seated at a round table.  Some of whom say no potential in any of us.  Some of whom were seriously looking for a life partner.  Some of whom, it was obvious, were just there for the dinner.  I can only imagine how the two hour round robin, tell a stranger about yourself in an attempt to make a life-long love connection before dinner is served made them feel.  Kellie confided that she felt like she was selling herself.   There is a lot of competition between women she said.  “Many women are hoping for one man.  No one has time to know the other person sincerely. There is no time to know what we had in common.  It is like you need to be perfect.  The man looking for a perfect woman and women feeling like they have to show that they are perfect, in fifteen minutes.”

My belief is that AFA, and others, do indeed play on the potential that a relationship with a foreign man will improve these women’s lives.  But for the most part the image of women seeking visas and sugar daddies is not true.  Latin America is a machista culture.  In general, women depend on men for economic and emotional stability.  That is just the way they roll here.  Economics, family and religion can drive relationship decisions.  Practical decisions about what type of life that can be lived can take a back seat to the fairy tales of falling in love and living happily ever after that we are bottle fed in the United States.

To answer Yami’s question.  No I do not have a girlfriend.  I did make a great friend though.  Melissa (see her and I on left, hanging out), my tour interpreter, a great young lady working her way through college, has been my Spanish tutor and friend since the tour.  It was actually from Melissa’s family’s home I was coming when I ran into Yami on New Year’s Eve.  For many reasons, I am resistant to the see one, choose one and marry one format that one seemingly needs to have to make the most of an Introduction/Marriage agency.  Some of my Latina friends have accused me of playing or taking too much time to make a simplistic decision.  Maybe there is some truth to both.  In my own defense, I have always made decisions from my brain, always trying to do the right thing.  For perhaps the first time in my life I am going to follow my heart’s desire -wherever that may lead.

Posted January 17, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Finding Christmas In Colombia   3 comments

Christmas is a tough time of the year.  Especially for people who are far away from family, friends and their own country.  On the surface, or maybe better said in the media, it’s deck the halls, joy to the world and presents under the tree.   Below the surface, for a lot of people, there is a lot of pain, stress, melancholy and disconnectedness.  I got a call from my sister a couple of weeks ago telling me that her step son had committed suicide.  Last year, about the same time, a very prominent Universal Studios executive, with whom I was working, took her life.  What is it about this time of year that causes people to feel such sadness, such despair, such detachment?  After all, this is the season when people gather to recognize one of the greatest gifts humanity has every received.  Christian, Jew, Muslim – it really should not matter.  A gift is a gift.  And this one, Jesus, the universal symbol of peace, joy and sacrifice, should be a cause for celebration.

In my feeble attempt to focus on that lesson, a number of years ago, I tried to get away from the gift giving thing.  Colombia gave me some much needed distance on the billions of dollars and the politics of patriotism that fuel the overly conspicuous consumerism that is expected of us this time of year.  What I noticed this year is that the further I get away from the materialism the better I am able to integrate into my consciousness what I feel Christmas is really about.  Christmas is about giving and receiving love.  Not symbols of love.  Not bicycles, Wii’s, rings, purses and the thousands of other things people give each other this year.

From the middle of it, it is difficult to see the conflict the materialization of Christmas causes.  One does not have to go far to understand how our attitudes, behaviors and messages can be toxic and alienating this time of the year.  It is not bad children that receive lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings.  Unless we do something about it, it is poor children that receive the lump.  They are the ones that will go to bed hungry.  But the United States blaming the victim is a sport that keeps the “haves” comfortable in the privilege of having more.  The truth is that most of the people who are poor in the world are children.  Whether they are good or bad has nothing to do with it.

This Christmas Eve, my friend Carmen invited me to her Foundation’s program for the children of La Manga, a poor neighborhood in a part of Barranquilla with a reputation of being a little wild. When we arrived eighty or so children were seated outside of the library/community center she runs.  It is about the size of some of my friends’, in the United States, living room.  Some children, mostly between 5 and 12, came in the only best clothes they had.  Others came in the only clean clothes they had.  Their chairs were arranged in neat rows that had been brought outside from the library, as cars, buses and the occasional ambulance whizzed by.  There were not many parents with their children, maybe four or five.  The street is busy with people walking by and street vendors selling their goods.  The houses are built close together, mostly shanties, with bars on the windows.  It is too hot to sit indoors.  Homes in this part of time do not have air-conditioning.  So, walking the streets and sitting outside are ways to pass the time. You can tell, for many this will be an all-nighter.

I was along to give out the gifts that I had helped to buy.  They are simple gifts.  Each child will get a toy, a ball, and some books.  Some know me.  I have been here before.  The North Americano who speaks Spanish with a foreigner’s accent.  We spent almost two hours with the children on Christmas Eve.  Teenagers volunteered to help run the activities.  They had stuffed the bags ahead of time.  Stories are read, songs are sung and there is even an X Factor style singing contest.  Despite all that is going on around them, these children are attentive and so well-mannered I wonder about the competition kids in the USA will face if these children are given half a chance.  Some smile at me.  Some shyly come over to stand by my side.  Though many study English in school here, it is only for a few hours a week.  Kind of like me taking Spanish in high school.  Without the need to use the language you forget most of what you are taught. With each passing moment they strengthen my soul’s knowledge of the difference between waking up and receiving presents and spending time sharing the gift we were all given.

Seeing the connectedness of all things is a monumental task.  There are so many forces at work that see more profit in making use believe that it is all about us.  A misnomer our egos are only too glad to believe.  But long ago we were told otherwise.  The gift we are celebrating, Jesus, told us that it was not about us.  It is not about what we have.  It is not about who we have.  Jesus told us that it is about what we have in our hearts; the connections that we have to a greater good.  We are but tiny threads in a universal fabric.  Instead of focusing on expamding the tininess of our being, our celebrations should be about our connectedness.  Our suffering, our sadness, our despair are all connected to our joy, our peace and our contentment.  The place from which our sorrow flows also holds our joy.

Coming to the realization that we are not the center of the universe can bring about a fundamental sadness anytime.  Coming to the hollowness of lives lived without true connectedness at Christmas time can be too much to bear.  The children of La Manga reinforced that life is not about me. That any sorrow I felt had no place.  Their joy in the meager gifts we shared was the joy they gave to me.  But more than that they were simply happy to be there.  The love that Christmas is and the gift that giving love gives was the gift they gave to my growth journey.  Love is really the only gift that it makes sense to give this time of year.  The children know it.  And so did the child whose birth Christmas is meant to celebrate.  When we get there.  When the media blitz is focused on giving the gift of love, there would be a lot less poor children in the world.  And a lot fewer people in despair!

Posted December 26, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Colombia’s New Hot Market: Barranquilla   2 comments

They call it creating a shared vision. From my experience organizational culture, personal biases, individual and organizational preparation and political motivations affect leadership’s ability to bring about change. The pace at which the world is moving these days has many businesses, organizations and governments dealing with how to manage and lead change. The attention given to strengthening leader’s abilities to motivate followers, guide organizations and systems is well deserved. Yet, in my experience too little is dedicated to connecting the people responsible for implementing changes to the success of making change happen. From Kotter to Drucker to Greenleaf and many more, much of the research on, and theories of, leading change focuses on leaders. I have wondered if the reason change theories and conversations are focused more on leadership is our culture’s inherent belief in, and value for, paternalism. Something the United States has in common with Latin America.

Colombia’s leadership has a vision for a country that will be the gateway to South America in commerce culture. Hundreds of billions of pesos (Colombian currency) and hundreds of millions of dollars (yes the United States is an active participant) are being spent to make this vision a reality. Airport renovations (Bogota); regional airports replacing smaller ones (Manizales/Pereira and Cartagena/Barranquilla/Santa Marta); new hotels (parts of Cartagena is starting to resemble Miami’s South Beach and the region’s most prominent hotel chain, Estellar, has built or will build seven new properties in the country); and scores of new roadways, bridges and homes are all making Colombia an investor’s paradise.

Barranquilla seems to be one of the cities at the forefront of this face lift. This coastal city, lying between Cartagena and Santa Marta, with seeming unlimited property for development, is undergoing one of the most massive make-overs that I have seen. Ocean view lots can be had for $20,000 to $40,000 with all services available. Nice apartments, condos and houses can be purchased for as little as $40,000, depending on where a person wants to live and the amount of space they require. Certainly, if a person wants to pay $200,000 or more for a top floor ocean or river view apartment/condo they can. And $250,000 or more can get a person a 3000 square foot house, with a pool.

Just in the northern part of the city more than thirty construction projects are happening. Large apartment buildings; housing tracks; new office buildings and a new hotel; and smaller apartment projects all can be counted within a three kilometer area. The growth, and amount of money being spent, is astounding to me. One can only imagine the services that will be/are needed. There are too few public laundries. Restaurants (folks here love to eat out) arealways in demand. As the population becomes more international (and it will) there will be more of a need for different types of cuisine. Clothes, electronics and other goods can be expensive here (especially if you buy them in the malls). But with the October (2011) signing of the U.S. – Colombia Free Trade Agreement the doors will open wide for cheaper US goods and products to appear on the shelves of Colombian stores. With thousands of new housing opportunities coming available one can only imagine the opportunities.

Now, here is the rub. At least to me! With all of the private investment the public dollars seem to follow slowly. And what seems to follow even more slowly are the cultural habits. I was thinking about buying property in Barranquilla. In my conversation with an attorney her rate quote surprised me. I needed someone to do a property valuation, contract review and be present at contract signing. I was told the fee for these services would be 2,500,000 pesos (about $1300). I laughed, and said I do not want to pay gringo prices, meaning they jack up the cost of things because they think you got money. So the fee was reduced to 2,000,000 pesos (a little over $1000). I later got quotes of 1,000,000 pesos (a little over $500) for the same work. The local drug store quoted me a price 50% higher than what I knew the prescription cost. After telling the guy what my doctor told me the price was, he lowered it. In the United States, we are used to prices for most services and goods being fairly the same. You may pay for a firm’s prestige but the work being done will also likely be different. We are used to being lured into buying things by promises of getting the lowest price available. Here, one has to get used to being charged for services according to what people think they can get. You negotiate taxi fares here before they take you someplace. To ask the price afterwards can lead to getting raked over the coals.

In this growing modern metropolitan area, take a walk down sidewalks and you will find uncovered holes. Some with four to six feet drops to what look like sewers or utilities. Homeowners are responsible for their property to the street. They can do what they want. Meaning sidewalks are uneven. Most Barranquilla streets have no way for managing the sometimes heavy rains. Arroyos, as they are called, means the water runs in the streets like a West Virginia river rapid; stopping traffic, causing accidents and making getting around horrible. Beautifully developed parks can be ill kept. And despite a city ordinance against them, horse carts on busy streets are a common sight.

But what is perhaps most to the contrary of the vision for Barranquilla are the habits of some of the people. Leaving the new PriceSmart, on a gorgeously designed newly constructed tree-lined thoroughfare, I walked past a family who had no concern for anything other than throwing their food containers out of their fashionable SUV to the ground. The next day, walking to the mall, I was surprised to see a young guy peeing against a wire fence on a busy street at about 5:30 p.m. It is no stretch to say that there are bad habits here. In fact, there can be little connection between the beauty of this coastal city and people’s sense of their responsibility to care for it. It is also a city where people remain concerned about their personal safety. While shooting some of the photos for this post I was warned by some youths that I was being watched by a couple of guys on motor cycles with intentions to rob me. Fearing being followed, their insistence caused me to take a taxi home. This was at 5:00 p.m. next to a very busy mall.

There is little that will stop Barranquilla from continuing to become a thriving international city in a gorgeous part of a gorgeous country. To live in Barranquilla now means coping with the growing pains of a culture whose habits are slow to change. The person who moves here now will simply have to suffer through a work in progress. Having the heart to do that will require faith, follow-ship and the ability to take a journey that neither the literature nor the systems available are prepared to help one figure out easily. My belief though is that the person who moves to Barranquilla now will be riding a wave of development that will ultimately yield lifestyle and financial rewards.

Posted December 21, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Almost Heaven: Manizales, Colombia   6 comments

Once I had an interview where the chancellor of a college asked me, if I could be anywhere in the world where would I be. I remember thinking what a stupid question. But since I was looking for a job, I submitted to the idiocy of the question. I replied, Manizales, Colombia.

Manizales has always been a place where I feel at peace. I like to call it “cloud city.” The views are always stunning. The mountains that surround the city, the people and the culture are all slices of heaven, as far as I am concerned. The city lies on one of the ridges of the Andean Cordillera mountain range. Manizales is the capital of Caldas, one of the smaller departments in Colombia. The city sits more than 7,000 feet above sea level, in the Cafetero, the coffee growers region, near the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Getting there can be a little of an adventure. Though there are daily flights from both Bogota and Medellin, the weather can play havoc with the small airport there. When that happens, the airlines take you to nearby Pereria. From there they will bus you to Manizales. One can also get there by bus or car from both Medellin and Bogota. The winding curves on the drive into the city provide vistas that can take one’s breadth away. Whatever the journey, for me, it is well worth it.

Having just returned from there, it is tough to say what I like most about Manizales. It is not a big city, with just a little more than half a million people in the region. The city never gets too hot or too cold. The winter rains only serve to keep the land green and the air clean. I consider the people who live there some of the most beautiful in Colombia. There is healthiness about them. Their Spanish descendancy is evident. With neighboring pueblitos and more than ten universities, indigenous and other ethnic groups are also woven throughout the mostly homogeneous human tapestry. The people there seem to have a real value for themselves and their surroundings.

Manizales is a town that values health, wellness and relationships. It is tough to know why there are gyms in the city. Walking the streets, the faldas, inclines, gives one plenty of opportunity to get some exercise. Perhaps that is why I love Sundays in Manizales. They close the main street for about five kilometers, from the outskirts into downtown. Friends, families, couples and singles were all a part of the landscape with city buildings joining the mountains as a backdrop. People walk, bike ride, skateboard, run and play in the streets. This past Sunday there was a bike race. It is a great day for strolling, laughing, talking and just hanging out. Health care professionals were taking blood pressures and doing health care screening. Restaurants line the streets and there are food vendors selling watermelon, mango, pineapples and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Farm land is rich in this part of Colombia. I tried chontaduro for the first time. The flavor is sort of a cross between a bland pumpkin and yucca. I tried it with honey and with salt and thought not ever again. Then I read, chontaduros are almost as high in protein as an egg. That’s good, right? They also contain beta-carotene, phosphorus, Vitamin A, some B and C, calcium and iron. That’s great, right? They are also an aphrodisiac. I may have to give them one more chance.

Manizales has a very rich social life, perhaps because of the many universities. I tend to stay in, or near, Cable Plaza. It is a vibrant area full of restaurants, cafes, shopping and night life. For me it is great that Estelar Hotels recently opened a hotel in the area. One of their smaller hotels, 46 rooms, they are always reasonably priced, offering a full breakfast and an evening sandwich and salad bar. This area also has a very active live music scene, including places to hear jazz, theater and art. And you do not have to wait until the weekends to find a place open. I love to sit outside at the Café Juan Valdez, Cable Plaza, listening to students, faculty and others chat away. I have met many smiles, kind faces and had conversations with people there. Perhaps that typifies Manizales also. It is a warm and friendly place; a peaceful place for me to be, and write. Since my last visit there, in 2009, they have opened a new tram system, a new four story mall, several new apartment and office buildings, and many new restaurants.   About five minutes by cab from Cable Plaza I found, on one of the side streets, a place called Patacones and Pescado, which has the largest patacones, fried platano, which I have seen. Thin and crispy, like a giant tortilla, it was tasty in either of the two dipping sauces we were given. The fish was great, the portions large and the bill only came to about $16 for two of us, including drinks. It is easy to see why the place was popular.

Manizales, and the surrounding area, is a place where people go for healing, or just opportunities to leave the day’s stress and the world’s problems behind. The city is unbelievably clean and is surrounded by parks, nature preserves and, of course, mountains. The Barrio de Chipre, maybe a thirty minute walk from downtown Manizales, offers a mountain top view of the city and the surrounding area. The park is home to the Founders Statue and a really extreme super swing. Though not exact it is about sixty foot high by my estimate. Either way it is high. Chipre is the place where people go, especially on the weekends, to enjoy life, music and each other’s company. Manizales is also close to many thermal baths, including the Hot Springs at Thermals el Otono, Santa Rosa de Cabal, the Ruiz Hot Springs and the Otun Hot Springs. Great places to soak your cares, aches and pains away. Also close to Manizales is the Los Yarumos Ecological Park, great for hiking, cycling, climbing and watching wildlife.

One day, some friends and I were driving to Risaralda, about three hours from Manizales. We came around a bend on this mountainous two lane road. All of a sudden the view was so dramatic, I remember saying “God has made this place.” I was very happy to have not been driving that morning. We would have certainly ended up over the side of that mountain. I think though that trip sums up my feeling for Manizales. It is a place where I feel reminded that there is a God. In all of its simplicity and splendor this little town in the mountains touches my soul. No matter where my journey takes me, Manizales will always be the place where I find peace and harmony with all that God has created.

Posted October 14, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Is Colombia Really Ready for the World?   2 comments

On July 20, 2011 USA Today carried a twenty page insert entitled COLOMBIA Working hand in hand towards a new era. With a great lead picture of Presidents Santos and Obama in what seemed to be a hearty conversation the insert (full version available at http://unitedworld.usatoday/ourworld.htm) covered: policy movements aimed at improving foreign relations; opportunities for investors; education, health care and culture features; and more. Clearly the intention is to promote Colombia changing the country’s image in the minds of people in the United States, if not around the world, still wary of the country’s violent past and human rights abuses. As testament, my great friends Cora and Bill, who gave me the insert, remain concerned about me being here (a blessing for which I am thankful everyday) acknowledged that the report gives a different, and more positive, view.

At times, though, I have learned from experience, the aspiration of leadership does not always filter down to the folks who make things happen. For example, renting an apartment in Barranquilla has been an experience to be endured. As an extranjero, a foreigner, I kept running into people who wanted two cosigners that are property owners and a letter saying that I was working here. I could not help but to think that in many parts of the USA, and the world, people would be happy to take an application, a check and a smile. On one occasion when I called one apartment owner the woman that answered told me to have someone call back that spoke perfect Spanish. Do you think that if she understood my Spanish well enough to tell me that it was not perfect possibly she could have understood the rest of what I had to say? Finally, after finding an apartment I really liked I offered to pay the first six months in advance on a year’s lease. Whether it was that I had the cash on my pocket or the pitiful “what am I going to do” look on my face my landlord, who is also an attorney, was nice enough to agree upon a mutually acceptable exchange rate and we sealed the deal. What I know also helped, a lot, is my friend who calls herself my assistant, partly as a joke and also partly because I compensate her for her time and expenses uses her own network to help me negotiate processes and the issues I have faced. I am very sure that her willingness to speak up for me helped seal the deal.

There is a reason that some people rate Colombia, particularly the coast, as a hard place to do business. There lacks a “we want your business (and will work to earn your money) attitude” in many aspects of the culture. Neither Bancolombia nor Banco de Bogota would exchange dollars to pesos, even though both banks quoted me their monetary rates for exchange. Both referred me to the currency exchange centers around the city, which of course offer a much less exchange rate than the market. I have not found a bank here that will let me open an account unless I have a Cedula de Extranjeria, a government issued ID card. This is even true for CitiBank, which operates more like a franchise here. Meaning that establishing an account with CitiBank in the United States does not give one access to that same account in Colombia. Not a huge incentive for going with CitiBank.

Getting a Cedula de Extranjeria is proving to be an adventure. In Colombia, The Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) is responsible for issuing cedulas. All Colombians have cedulas. Cedulas, along with their tracking numbers, prove you are who you say you are. So, it makes sense that to establish a bank account a Cedula de Extranjeria would be a requirement. Now this is where it gets tricky – or confusing. During my visit to the DAS I was told that I could not get a Cedula de Extranjeria unless I have a ViSA. That I needed to get a VISA in order to get a cedula was a big surprise to me. It is also a surprise to some other people with who have talked.

Equally a surprise was the DAS official’s interpretation of how long I can stay in Colombia. The law says a person can stay for 180 days in any given year. Which I thought was like Costa Rica, meaning after 180 days you have to leave the country for at least three days and then you can return to begin the clock ticking again on your next 180 days. His said that I could only stay for a total of 180 days in any given year. So he began to count the number of days I have been here in 2011 and then said when I leave in October, to take care of some business, I would only have 10 days left to stay in Colombia when I return to Colombia. But then he said that airport customs would probably stamp my passport for another sixty days, making the length of my stay a non-issue. Because if customs stamps my passport for 60 days then that will take me to 2012 when the 180 clock begins again. I must note that though a foreigner can stay for 180 days customs will only typically give a stamp for 60 days. To extend one’s stay you have to go the DAS to request an extension which costs about $35. Extensions are only granted in 30 day increments to a maximum of 180 days – a nice revenue source for the country. I also have people telling me that this interpretation is incorrect.

My friends in Costa Rica remind me that all of this would be much easier if I had decided to move there. And they are right. Costa Rica has worked this stuff out. And though some say that Panama is the gold standard in attracting extranjeros, other Latin American countries are creating their own incentives and promotions. They are making it easy. I have a bank account in Costa Rica. They only required me to have two references, one of who had an account at the bank. I got an apartment in Costa Rica with only a month’s rent, a security deposit and my signature with my passport number. You can stay in Costa Rica up to 180 days without having to pay a monthly fee to get your stay extended every thirty days.

Being a foreigner in most parts of the world can be a difficult transition to make, especially if the country is not used to having you there. I love Colombia and am willing to be patient and persistent to learn how to be here. I will say that if Colombia is making a commitment to attracting people, investors, retirees or tourists from around the world then assuring that the people on the ground and the systems supporting them are easily understood and manageable is critical to success. Costa Rica gets it. Colombia is still figuring it out. And perhaps that is the good news. Maybe Colombia will also learn from the mistakes made by Costa Rica and Panama.

By the way I am still waiting for the cable guys to get that service going – 5 days for a service visit and then they told me the building was not wired and it will take at least another six days before I could have service. Oh, well at least I feel at home here.

Posted August 14, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Retiring to Colombia   1 comment

After reading the weather reports for Barranquilla, Colombia, I am not sure why I am moving there. I really dislike the heat. A few days over the past couple of weeks it was hotter than a Pittsburgh blast furnace. The saving grace is that the weather is no better in the northeast U.S. It must be the kindness of people, their value for family, the beaches, the dancing, the food, the culture, a healthier life balance, a belief that life must be enjoyed, and yes those gorgeous Colombianas.

I once tweeted that “Moving requires vision, a to-do-list & a great sense of balance. Moving out of the country also requires courage & supportive family/friends.” Nothing could be truer of my impending move to Barranquilla on July 30, my birthday. Belle who is giving me a place to stay and keeping my stuff; Bill and Cora who are receiving my mail and providing loads of unconditional love; Renee gives unconditional and unbelievable moral support; Moss, Banks, Karen, Lynette and other great friends are wonderful cheerleaders and counselors; Lilo is making looking for an apartment from the States easier; Nidia is checking on import taxes; Melissa has promised to continue my Spanish grammar lessons; my Facebook page (the one in Spanish) has messages from my Colombian friends that are planning a birthday celebration; Elizabeth, my sistah in Cali, Jorge, Mayra and her family in Costa Rica are sources of great encouragement; my family sisters, Exa and Jean, perhaps not sure what to make of me, give me their love just the same. All, and more, are making this move, at age 60, easier.

Now as the days grow shorter, and my move closer, I realize that even though I have been living in Barranquilla for the past three months, moving my stuff there is not just something to do. There are emotions at play also. I returned to the U.S. June 8 to organize my things for this move. Though I landed in Atlanta, I immediately left (at 2:00 a.m.) headed for Charlotte. A friend of 37 years let me sleep on her couch and took me to breakfast. I left at 7 a.m. or so and drove to Charleston, West Virginia in time to surprise my sister on her job and have lunch with her. Leaving Charleston by 2 p.m. gave me enough time to get to Pittsburgh in time to change clothes and see Shade with my friends. What a show!! I hung out in the ‘burgh for a week seeing many of the friends with whom I grew into adulthood. Philly, another of my old stomping grounds for a whirlwind two days, to see a mentor, friends and my spiritual counselor was my next stop. Washington D.C. to see my new doctor for my physical; visited the Colombian Consulate; hung out at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival (Colombia was a featured country this year) and had plenty of laughs with friends was the last stop on what I began to call my farewell tour.

Two-thousand miles! My farewell tour! And the growing acknowledgement that I am leaving behind the life I have known for the past thirty-five or so years. I spent a career trying to make institutions more responsive to people’s needs, particularly those people who rely on education and training to improve their lives, the lives of their families and their communities. I wanted to change the world; then I tried to change the inequities of our society; then I tried to change the communities in which people lived and struggled by changing the institutions in which they trusted their dreams and aspirations.

I am a different person than I was before I started visiting Latin America four years ago. Being in Latin America has affected me in ways that I have not fully comprehended. I feel like I will return to the U.S., as a visitor. My home will be Barranquilla, Colombia. I feel like my heart will be there also. I am way less tolerant of the racism I feel here in the United States. I am ready to live life more simply; less focused on what I can accumulate; less accepting of the racism I feel here in the United States; less tolerant of the negativity; and frustrated by our inability to improve the infrastructures supporting our society. I am at a place where I believe the politics of privilege is driving a chasm between our society’s soul and our connection to the universe.

I am ready to consume myself with family and projects that secure my future. I am ready to be more giving to myself, to be less stressed, in better balance and in better health. I have always been a little different. Perhaps that is because I have always seen the world as a place that should be more giving. So it was not surprising to hear some of my friends say “… you never cease to amaze me.” Well I have to say that there are parts of me that are amazed that I am moving. It is an exciting amazement. There are both melancholy and joyful farewells. There is a new chapter ready to take place in my life. I am learning to fully believe that after a career of making the dreams of others come true, now is time for me to make my own a reality.

Posted July 18, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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