At promptly six am the ubiquitous school bell echoes over the loudspeaker and throughout the corridors. I dodge past the kindergartners on razor scooters, the head nuns gossiping in the office, and the vice principal giving the daily announcements. I arrive at my classroom just in time for the main prayer, the school song and the Colombian national anthem–right before a red tardy on my record. However, today Orlik wasn’t there.
At least twice a week, Orlik was nowhere to be found. This was no longer alarming to me or the rest of my classmates in the slightest. Orlik was the teacher of social studies, history, religion, sex-ed, and probably many other subjects I wasn’t aware of; understandably, she was a very busy lady. Unlike “American” high school, you’re very much left to fend for yourself in Colombia. There is little to no supervision, other than the occasional sightings of a teacher actually teaching a class. By now my classmates and I didn’t skip a beat when our “profe” didn’t arrive. Instead, we got straight to business (literally).
With an unexpected class period to spare, our classroom quickly turns into a tienda. Isabella #1 starts selling unripe mango with salt, chilies, and lime for the price of 1500 COP per bag (the equivalent of 50 cents). Isabella #2 starts selling sparkly phone cases that she deals with her thirty-year-old boyfriend. Sofia starts selling brownies; one time, Sofia brought weed brownies to school and got the teachers high, so I learned to stay away from those. Isabella #3 starts selling hand and head massages; I got lice three times from Isabella #3 and #2 playing with my hair, so I learned to avoid that too. When Orlik was away, the class hustlers came out to play.
Since Orlik teaches essentially all of our classes, the next class period with a new teacher rolls around at 11 am. Jimena, the biology teacher, made her appearance only twice the entire three months I was at Colombian school. Jimena is the headteacher of the “Once Girls” – the infamous seniors of the school who had pretty much all say in everything that goes on at Santa Maria Del Rosario for the entirety of the school year. They hold a lot of power, and as the teacher of them, Jimena was busy – too busy to actually teach our class. At this point, it would be abnormal for Jimena to show up.
Instead of learning about mitochondria, my classmates quickly seize the opportunity and host an impromptu twerk session. A few things I’ve learned about twerking and Colombia: apparently, school walls can be fantastic props, Colombian girls have a real talent for twerking, and I am the worst twerker in the world! In the middle of Manuela Garcia choreographing the twerk lesson, Manuela and Isabela #4 get into a catfight. My classmates’ favorite pastime is watching girl-on-girl fights – especially when there is blood drawn and hair pulled. I think this particular catfight started over Manuela never giving Isabella Palacio her 1500 COP for sour, spicy, unripe mango. Nonetheless, my classmates jump into action: screaming, cheering for one girl, and yelling at the other while filming the madness on SnapChat. When the fight dies out, Manuela’s arm is bleeding due to the inch-long acrylics Isabela Palacio is adorning. Manuela got revenge with the chunk of hair she yanked off of Palacio’s head. Just another day at school, just another day at school.
Since Orlik and Jimena never show up, we go to lunch as the second daily prayer livens the loudspeakers. Our lunch spot is the library, but quiet has no meaning to a bunch of Colombian girls, so we blast Colombian reggaeton songs, gossip about the nun’s and seniors of the school, and Palacio and Manuela, over the previous catfight, talk about their upcoming nose surgeries. The most wholesome moment of the day, and the calmest, is when I get to share my diverse array of foods with my classmates. The rapture of disgust as they try pad thai and hummus for the first time and the looks of delight as they try granola bars and goldfish are some of my most cherished memories…it’s as if, for a second, they are in a moment of confusion, not knowing what to expect – similar to how I feel almost continuously.
Surprisingly, days like these were standard in this Colombian, all-girls Catholic private school. Even more shocking, I feel like I learned more about Colombia, my classmates, and Spanish from the days where the teacher would never appear and my classmates and I would make the day our own. Some days were boring and filled with history textbooks, solving for x, and memorizing scriptures from the bible, but others were too chaotic and bizarre to put into words. Hopefully, you got a glimpse into the days I miss terribly.