I stood in line at a small market near my apartment in Bogotá, waiting patiently to pay for my food. I looked into my basket and gazed at the dull tomatoes lacking the sheen tomatoes have in the United States. Fruits that I only learned existed after moving to Colombia filled my basket, as did milk from a bag and room-temperature eggs.
Six months ago, I was waiting in a very different line. Suitcase in hand and a bulging backpack hanging from the crook of my arm, I tried to calm myself while waiting in the snaking airport immigration line.
“Siga,” the uniformed officer called me to his glass-encased desk. He told me my travel visa would expire after 90 days. I could extent my visa to receive 90 more days, but that was it. Six months, that’s how much time I had to try to establish a life in Colombia.
That was in January. It’s now July and I am still here.
“Siga,” the market worker said, beckoning for me to put my produce on her scale. I pulled out a crumbled 10,000 peso bill and handed it to the woman who called me “neighbor” in Spanish.
As I walked the short distance back to my apartment, I listened to the various street vendors peddling their arepas and tamales and reflected on these past six months.
My first month in Bogotá was filled with so much uncertainty. Would I be able to find a job? Would I be able to afford living expenses with that job? How would I make friends? Was quitting my job as a radio news anchor in Florida to move to South America a terrible idea?
The first few months as a foreigner is rough, especially when you’re alone. Anything from opening up a bank account to choosing a cell phone plan seemed daunting.
Then everything seamlessly fell into place. I was hired as a marketing writer and given a work visa, I made friends, I moved into my own apartment, I joined a women’s soccer team and my Spanish started to improve. Every acquisition of a friend or piece of furniture for my apartment was a fragile root taking hold in Colombian soil.
Even though I have found my daily routine, I often get abruptly pulled out of the humdrum with a stark reminder that I am still a foreigner. It’s a sneering voice of self-awareness that hisses into my ear when my gas gets cut off because of a miscommunication with my Spanish-speaking landlord or when a taxi driver asks where I am from after I only spoke a few words, my thick accent betraying my hopes of blending in. I wonder if I will ever feel like I truly belong here or if I will always be an outsider.
Like many immigrants arriving to a new country, I was fascinated by certain cultural elements I came across in Colombia that seemed exotic, and at times, stereotypical Latin American — food sold on the street, crazy driving, Salsa music and amorous men.
But as I slowly started to become acclimated, the “exotic” swatches that once held my attention began to fade and just became additional pieces of fabric making up the new quilt that represents my life in Colombia. My interest in Colombia’s caricatures has been replaced with appreciation for the mundane. It is normal for me to eat rice and beans for lunch, no need to take a picture of the dish for Instagram. It is normal for me to speak in Spanish, no more getting nervous when I have to communicate. It is normal for me to go on a date with a Colombian guy, no need to fetishize him.
When I was standing in the immigration line in the airport in January, all I wanted to do was peer into the future to see if my new life fell into place so I could stop freaking out. Now all I want to do is see my life in a year from now. How fluent will my Spanish be? Will I feel less like a foreigner? Will I meet someone? Will I finally figure out how to use my gas oven?