Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Stroll through Bazurto Market

Blog #1


Lately I’ve been thinking about blogging. I used to write a lot more, so I wondered if I should bother opening a “real” blog, but lately I’ve had some neat stimuli to write. I teach two advanced English classes for future English teachers in Cartagena, Colombia, and we work hard on our writing skills. I say “we” because I often do the same assignments as they do just to see how feasible they are. And lately my 9th semester (senior year) people, whom I also taught in 6th semester, have been doing some practice teaching in our class. One of them got the clever idea to have everyone write a poem (at 7 in the morning) in a certain style or expressing a certain literary period. I’ve had so much fun with them and have convinced myself that my little poems are worth reading.
Oh, I don’t think of myself as a poet: I’m much more of a prose writer. My poems are more tongue-in-cheek, often corny, fun, but they’re me. They express my thoughts, MY heart. And if you want to come inside my mind and my heart, you’re invited.
By the way, I have to say that my daughter, the Sea Woman, has inspired me to take up my pen and be a ready writer again, as she is now, at 19, a much better writer than I have ever been. Even I don’t always understand her work, but I love it. Every teacher should strive to produce students who surpass them, and she certainly has. Not that I taught her to write. God did that. She always wrote, from the time she could barely form letters. But I taught her to read. And if you want to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Thanks, honey, for your encouragement!

The Blog:  Un paseo en Bazurto – A Stroll through Bazurto Market
I have no idea how long this will be. I do like writing for others to read, so I will try to keep it a “good” length, whatever that is. This is the first, so be kind.

Today I returned to one of the greatest places to experience total cultural immersion in all of Cartagena, the Bazurto market. Oh, I’ve been there many times with my husband, Norman the super-shopper (the world’s best bargainer), but usually I wait at the car. You have to understand that the only place to park in this old-fashioned, open-air market, is out on the dirt “road” that snakes through the market, among trucks and jeeps and empty crates, and especially among decaying garbage. When I can’t take the heat anymore, I sit in the car with the a/c on and read, or catch a cat-nap. I do not nap like our cat, who lays out under a table or, even better, on top of one, but that is the idiom. Anyway, Norman has usually preferred to market alone as I slow him down. He is a lot taller than I am and his stride is therefore much longer than mine. But today he suggested I accompany him. We love doing errands together, even if it’s going to pay our tax bill together or me taking him to the ophthalmologist, like today, at 6:30 on my day off, then having a chicken-filled arepa at the Olímpica supermarket. (I had mine with a latté, thank you.)  Have you noticed that I write in my version of stream-of-consciousness, yet?  I don’t do my teaching outlines like this, but this IS my mind you’re visiting, remember.
So we left the car between the crates and trucks, alarm on of course, and I trotted along behind Norman as he literally winded his way in and out of narrow lanes filled with fruits, vegetables, grains, garbage, lunch stalls (it was noon – they cook all day in those kiosks), garbage visceras, freshly ground corn and yuca (manioc), beans; not to mention all kinds of clothing, household items, nuts and dried fruit, piles of potatoes and pineapples, squash and carob beans – did-I-say-garbage? Etc.
Did I mention the smells?  Ah, the sweetness of the fruits – pineapples, papayas, mangoes, nísperos and zapotes (these do not exist in the USA.) In another area the smell of fish – raw fish, salted fish, smoked fish, dead fish, steamed fish, fried fish, fish soup… the pelicans along the canal are very healthy… Let’s not forget the effluvium of the garbage… we snaked through some empty aisles that only smelled of human waste. It occurred to me we were in an excellent spot to be mugged. Made me admire my fearless husband even more for braving these dim passages…the one place I’m grateful we didn’t go through today was the meat market, where you can find everything you need from cow tail soup to filet mignon, and any cut of beef, chicken, mutton, lamb or pork. In Colombia we do not knowingly eat dog, cat or horsemeat. Whatever. The odor in that part of the market is enough to churn the stomach of even the hardiest gringa-born, naturalized citizen. I only went there once. Once was enough. And yes, I like cow-tail soup. Or maybe it’s pig tail soup. I do know I used to fix Sea Woman’s hair in pig tails when she was little. Be that as it may, there are only a few dishes I will not eat in Colombia:  kidneys, blood sausage and “fish widow soup.” The latter is more of a fish stew and, besides the fish, contains potatoes, ripe plantains (I don’t like sweet plantains in soup, especially if they taste like fish) and yuca. I only tried it once, and they tell me it wasn’t well-made, but I hated it and not even my sweet mother-in-law could convince me to eat it now. Every time she’s here and we have fish, she asks me if I’m going to make it widow-style, and I have to remind her that I don’t eat that, just in case she tries to serve it to me at her house some day. I am long past the point where I will eat something – when among family – just to be polite. If I ever get to the jungle and they serve me monkey, I will have to be more diplomatic. God help me if they serve me the head!
Yes, Bazurto is a total cultural experience. You save a good deal of money by shopping there as you avoid the middle-men and big supermarket chain prices, and you just put up with the disgusting parts. It’s true that a market like that would hardly exist in the US, because of hygiene regulations, but this is not the USA. (I don’t think even the Fulton fish market in New York was as hazardous to your health as Bazurto.) And Bazurto is not for everyone. If you’re fastidious or if you think they do it better in the USA because they do it cleaner, you’ve missed the point. I learned a long time ago – and I’ve been here 26+ years – that different isn’t better. It’s made it a lot easier to get used to living in a “foreign” or “different culture” and helped me avoid complaining about my adopted country (not that we don’t all complain about many things anyway), or more important, criticizing it for not being the same as where I grew up. Do I miss the USA?  Sometimes. Colombia is my life now. Has been for many years. After re-visiting Bazurto today, taking in all the rich colors, sights, sounds and smells – and eating some fish soup with Norman – I had to ask myself if I could really live anywhere else. Maybe some other part of Colombia, but leaving this country that adopted me would be hard. 


  1. Great start Susan! Thanks for sharing. It is always good to back to the things you love.

  2. I do support you and love to know more about your life in Columbia.Thanks for sharing Susan! (Sandy from Norway)

  3. Susan, you make me cry, I mis Cartagena, I miss every single corner of my Corralito e Piedra and I miss viuda e bocachico, my favorite, yummy!

  4. que chevere Susana, ojala sigas escribiendo por mucho tiempo, I promise I'll keep reading...

    Antonio Bozzi

  5. WOO HOO!!! Haven't been able to read the entire blog yet, but I LOVED the introduction :) Looking forward to reading mroe when I have free time :)