By Rob Packer, KF10, Colombia

The easy answer to this question is that there is a wide range of ways to annoy a Colombian. And after having been in Colombia for a month, a lot of them are starting to annoy me too.

One of these grievances is that Colombia must be one of the most consistently misspelt countries in the world. Having just come from Kyrgyzstan, which is part of a region of hard-to-spell countries, it came as a bit of a surprise that a lot of my friends seem to think I’m in Columbia, South Carolina, not South America. For the record, there are lots of places called Columbia, including a university in New York, a province in Canada, a river in the Pacific Northwest, and a huge number of cities across the US; but none of these places are countries in South America—that’s Colombia.

Another complaint is that the image of Colombia as a dangerous and drug-filled place is one of the few to leave the country. While no-one can convincingly claim that Colombia has the crime level of Switzerland or that there is no involvement in the global drugs trade, the Colombia of the headlines from the West is one that I have yet to see—and am in no hurry to do so. One of the things that saddens a lot of my Colombian friends here is that some people visit Colombia and still talk about it in terms of headline formulae. I’m at a loss to explain how tourists leave with this opinion in the face of some of the friendliest people on the planet and the natural beauty of the country: it’s as if they had visited another country.

The thing that’s annoying us most at the moment in the FMSD office in Barranquilla is the fleet of burger vans that circle through the centre of Barranquilla offering la típica hamburguesa americana (the typical American hamburger). Every afternoon, the mixture of barranquillero carnaval music and traffic is shattered by the shrieks of something I can only describe as sounding like a Sesame Street character. The thing about these burgers is that at 2,000 pesos (about US$1) they’re very, very cheap and the most recognizable part of the recording is the Sesame Street character shouting “¿A cómo?” (“How much?”). In fact, in the six months that the ¿A cómo? vans expanded onto the streets of Barranquilla—the concept is originally from Bogotá according to my colleagues—it has become something of a local fascination. For example, I overheard a radio phone-in yesterday where the presenter was saying ¿A cómo? every time he didn’t hear what one of the callers was saying; and from what I’ve been told, there will be plenty of jokes about it as part of Barranquilla’s Carnival next week (South America’s second largest after Rio).

So turn up the volume, enjoy the advert of the ¿A cómo? van as Liney, the Kiva coordinator has a look around the van, and then imagine hearing this about fifty times in an afternoon.'

Rob Packer is a Kiva Fellow currently working with the Fundación Mario Santo Domingo in Barranquilla, Colombia. There are borrowers from Colombia with FMSD who you can help by contributing to a loan today, and many other entrepreneurs from around the world on the Kiva site.


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