The food, of course! Adjusting to a new culture, language, house, friends, and taking on new work roles were some of the bigger adjustments for our family. The food in Colombia, however, was an easy adjustment for us. For those who don’t know our family, we like to eat. As parents, we have passed that gift (or curse) on to our children! We hope you enjoy seeing and reading about our “experiencia de comida.”
[We were working on this post a couple days before our abrupt departure. We’re going to leave this post as is so we can capture what we were thinking right before we left.]
We’ll share more about food in a minute, but first a quick update on other things. We will be returning to Kansas at the end of May. Our initial plan was to be in Colombia for one year. While we desired the flexibility of an open-ended assignment and possibility for extension, we ultimately decided to return to the States after one year. This was not an easy decision for many reasons; however, we are at peace that this is right for our family. Taylor is the one child voicing a desire to stay here in Colombia (even after her parents leave!), but we’re not convinced she really means it. Many people have agreed to keep her so she can stay longer. This culture certainly fits her personality well. She is already talking about coming back to Colombia with her cousin Tessa later in life.
Part of the flexibility we wanted meant resigning from our jobs so we could be fully present during our assignment and also to keep our future options open. Obviously, we knew we would need to find new jobs upon our return, whenever that would be. With that timeframe now quantified, we are actively searching for new roles to engage as we return to Kansas. With limited time left here in Colombia, we are trying our best to balance a present mindset as we also begin to stretch back toward Kansas. As parents, we are trying to shield the kids from the details of “stretching back” so their focus remains here with language, school, activities and friends. It’s a complicated balancing act as our hearts remain here, but we start to see our minds torn between our two homes. We welcome prayer for our family as this process of transition begins.
The new school year at Colegio Americano Menno started in late January, so we’re deep into this first semester of the school year. DeeDee and Mark are busier than before, partly due to one of the teachers being on medical leave. DeeDee is now solo in the classroom more often and with the older classes doing things like Physics and Geometry. Our kids seem to be doing really well at the school. Their sense of familiarity and belonging feels different in this new school year. Expectations are clearly higher for them with language and schoolwork, and they are doing great. At times they complain about how difficult it is understanding the teachers and needing to translate so much of their work, but they really are doing great. We continue to feel blessed by their positive attitudes toward language and school work. Kason had a cool achievement recently coming up with a math solution that was stumping his whole class. He was so proud! While our language learning has plateaued, the kids’ continues to progress. Even Kellen is surprising us with some of the things he is now understanding and able to communicate in Spanish. Our afternoons and evenings have been full with English clubs/lessons, schoolwork and various athletic and school activities. We are all tired in the evenings much earlier than we typically were in the States.
Now onto the tastier topic. Our first few meals in Colombia exposed several things we were not prepared for. One of them was how to order lunch – most restaurants serve a “plato del dia” which is the basic Colombian lunch special. We eat out for lunch after school each day. Lunch is the big meal here and is usually eaten in the early afternoon. It’s also very cheap with a big meal for our whole family costing between $6-10. We love lunch in Colombia. The plato del dia includes a meat (for us, usually chicken) along with rice, beans or lentils, vegetables, a starch (potato, platano or yuka), a small salad and juice. The other new thing was eating soup every day. Each of these lunch specials includes a bowl of hot soup. Initially this felt awkward in 80+ degree heat, but now we wouldn’t do it any other way!
Our typical day includes breakfast at the house with granola, yogurt, cereal, pancakes, oatmeal, breakfast burritos or biscuits and gravy. Breakfast has been the most similar to the States for us as we can make most of what we used to eat. It took some work to replicate breakfast sausage (a must for us!) but we got there. Lunches are at restaurants, and then we eat in again for supper. Most Colombians eat a lighter supper with lunch being the big meal. We usually do the same, but that varies at times as we sometimes cook larger meals when we are hosting people in our house. There are, of course, exceptions when we eat out for dinner.
At one point last fall – not that we can tell fall apart from other seasons here – Kason came up with the idea of having a date night where one kid would go out for supper with one parent. Kason needed more 1:1 attention and wanted to break up the monotony of doing all of our meals together as a family. This was a great idea, and we quickly realized how much we all needed this. “Date nights” became one of the many things the kids look forward to each week. We’ve been doing this for 6+ months and they are still going strong.
Another variation for our evening meals is when we go out for street food or order a-la-carte to celebrate something. Dinners out at restaurants are much more expensive than eating out for lunch, so it’s always a treat when we do this. We also love walking around La Mesa and grabbing some of our favorite food from street vendors. They have something like corn on the cob (masorca), these big fried potatoes stuffed with rice, meat and eggs (papa rellenos), arepas, and of course, empanadas. All are very tasty. We usually stand around the vendor’s cart so we can add some sort of salsa to our food after each bite.
We quickly realized the importance of relationships with the places we go for food. We have made several friends at our favorite restaurants and stores. We buy the food for our house and 5 or 6 different places. It’s a lot of work, but we have come to love not having a one-stop shop. As we talk about our favorite places to eat and shop, most of them are because of the people who treat us so well.
Our family loves to host, and we’ve tried to keep that up here in Colombia too. Our table is round and pretty rugged. We’ve had to make several adjustments and repairs to keep it flat as the table top tends to start leaning one way or the other. DeeDee coined it the “tilted table.” We enjoy having our friends, the youth group and others from the church over for meals. The tilted table is also home to many game nights with friends and for our family. Our current fad is playing family Rook. Even Kellen knows the strategy pretty well. We’re hoping the kids want to keep playing Rook after we return to the States.
Mangos, mangos and more mangos, please! We’ve been on a mango kick for the past two months since they’ve been in season. They are pretty much available year-round, but are cheaper and more available during January/February. Most days we eat mango whether it’s in granola with yogurt, on pancakes, on cake, or just by themselves. We will miss mangos dearly when we leave Colombia. Even if we can find them in Kansas, we know they won’t be the same.
Colombian food has been a huge hit with our family. We are not picky eaters and that has held true in Colombia. Rarely do we get something we don’t like. There are a few exceptions, of course. Some of the soups served here have mondongo in them, which is cow intestine. It’s fatty and rubbery, and while it may have good flavor, we pass on anything with mondongo. Fish may be the one exception of meat that our family doesn’t love. We have not eaten much fish here, but when we do, it’s the whole fish! We feel a little guilty when we look at our left-over carcass which still has plenty of “stuff” on the bones, and the Colombians have only a pile of bones (yes, even the eyes get eaten). When we were on the coast in Riohacha, we were invited to a special treat in someone’s house for breakfast. And that treat was a huge platter of sea turtle meat. We all did our best, but this wasn’t our favorite breakfast. Chicken feet also show up in soups occasionally. In Riohacha Mark was told that everyone loves them and they are good for your skin (collagen), so he ate one down to the bones … or nails. The person who told him that then said he doesn’t eat them though. Classic bait and switch!
Needless to say, the food has been a highlight of our time in Colombia, and we are excited to try and replicate some of this when we come back to the US. We’ll end this post with a quote from each of us about our food experience in Colombia.
- Kellen – “It surprised me that I like most of the food in Colombia.”
- Taylor – “My favorite thing about the end of the school day is getting to eat the platos del dia.”
- Kason – “I love the platos del dia and the empanadas.”
- Mark – “Oddly enough, hot soup for lunch quickly became one my favorites, even if I am sweating!”
- DeeDee – “I remember feeling a sense of relief when we finally understood how to order and all the types of food that were coming out onto our plates because during the first several months, we often had surprises on our plates.”