Today I’m celebrating my one year anniversary living in Medellin. It’s our second time in the country; we loved it so much then that we decided to move here a few years later, call it home for who knows how long, adopt a cat and hatch a kid. Here’s a quick cultural guide for pregos who are bound for this wonderful country.
Touching my belly
When I was pregnant (about six weeks ago), many women touched my belly without asking. I expected it. I probably even welcomed it and wasn’t the least bit bothered by it. It’s like meeting up with a Colombian friend, a friend of a friend who is Colombian or even a doula (who is Colombian). There’s a 97% chance that they will be 30 to 45 minutes late so it’s on you to bring a book or find something else to do to fill in the time. Don’t get mad and complain that I didn’t warn you.
In the US, when a few women tried to touch my pregnant belly without asking, I thought, “Really? How would you like it if I touched your belly?” It’s forgivable but it’s also rude. It’s invading my personal space. You see, many Colombians don’t have a sense of personal space, it’s a cultural thing so it’s tolerable. I would also argue that most Latinos lack a sense of personal space. I was totally guilty of it until I learned about it the hard way in my early twenties when a few close friends began to disengage from me for this very reason (fine, there were many other reasons).
The upside, in Colombia, you don’t have to ask for permission to pet their dogs. I get a weird look when I ask. Pet away my friend!!
Is she premature?
In Colombia, whenever I wear my baby with a wrap, people ask if she’s a kangaroo, meaning, is she premature? First of all, no. She spent 40 weeks plus three days in my uterus. Second, it’s none of your business. I’ve gotten this question enough times that I now omit the second part as part of my response. I simply laugh and say, “No, she was born on time, vaginal delivery, no epidural, I probably pooped on the table… Her name is Santana. Do you have kids?”
People aren’t trying to be rude here. If anything, as friendly and nice as Colombians are already, they’re even nicer when you have a baby in your arms. They want to stop you on the street, ask if the baby is a boy or a girl, ask if she’s premature and admire the little thing, never mind that she’s crying and wants to go home. This has made me slow down. I can’t get upset when they ask this, but perhaps I could act surprised? Since my hair is short, I do not blend in from a mile away. Paisas don’t wear their hair short and their hair is often long and shiny; not frizzy and frayed at the ends like mine. Also, with Colombians and Latinos in general, once I open my mouth, they’re mystified by my accent. Very few can pinpoint where I’m from.
Here’s what I’m learning. When I first traveled to Medellin a few years ago, there weren’t as many Americans and Europeans who call this home. The expat community has grown since to the point that many Colombians are starting to become used to it and cab drivers are no longer asking me, but why Colombia?
In order to co-exist in peace, I’ll continue to adapt and adopt many of their ways of living. I’ll even add words like “bacano” and “chimba” to my Castilian lexicon. But asking if my daughter is premature me choca and I don’t care for it. So instead of being straightforward (which is completely frowned upon here) or instead of laughing it off the way that I did just a few minutes ago when I ran downstairs to grab a yogurt parfait, I’ll let the next person know that perhaps, it’s not okay to ask an extranjera, a foreigner, if her daughter is premature. I’ll play dumb, I’ll pretend to be slightly offended, pretend to be somewhat surprised and shrug it off with a smile to let them know that no harm was done. If they ask me where I’m from, I’ll take it as a sign that it worked.