I have just come back after 12 action-packed days in Guatemala. As usual it is the miniature that charms me:

1. Boy in the street: Where are you from?

My friend: From Colombia.

Boy: Cali, Bogotá, Medellín, James Rodríguez.

2. Me, to young woman vendor of handcrafts: So how has your day gone?

Woman: Really well, thanks be to God.

Me: Lots of sales?

Woman: Oh no, I meant my health.

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My Father’s Care

Today I need to pack for a 12-day trip and attend to some stressful things, so I was glad this fallen bird reminded me of Jesus’ words:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:29).

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Amazing growth

A couple of years ago I visited a friend who lives near Medellín, in a slightly cooler place. I stole a cutting from her garden. It quickly produced roots in water and flourished when I potted it up.

My flatmate says it has a lot of personality because when it needs a drink, it flops melodramatically, and then perks up as soon as it is watered. For the horticulturalists among you, I think it is a variety of the Iresine plant, or bloodleaf. In Colombia, I think its popular name is  corazón de Jesús, or heart of Jesus.

I started giving cuttings to my colleagues and eventually my boss had the idea of filling an empty space in the grounds of the seminary where we have our offices with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of that original cutting.

We have now planted out almost 20 plants and more are on the way.

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The internal phone that connects us to the guards at the front gate rang yesterday.

“We’ve got a package for you. I was just checking you were in. I’ll get my colleague to come round with it,” the guard said.

“It’ll be for my flatmate,” I thought. It always is. I never get mail.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was a new guard, and he checked the house number before handing the parcel over.

And it was FOR ME!

“This is my first mail for 5 years,” I gushed.

The guard was a bit taken aback but manage to rally and ask why that should be, and why hadn’t I complained…but to whom, I said?

I used to get mail quite reguarly but then it just dried up and I know that several people had tried to send parcels in that time. I started telling people not to bother.

And then yesterday, a Christmas card and pack of pretty notecards, sent in Scotland on 25th November arrived and made my day.

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I remember the first time I met a semioticist, it was on my first visit to Spain, and I think he must have been a cousin of the family I was staying with. From that encounter, I have a vague idea that semiotics has to do with symbols and meaning. Which brings me to this photo that I took at a mall.

What is it a symbol of? (Or: Of what is it a symbol? For the pedants).

I think you will guess that it is the sign for the Ladies’ toilet but have you ever thought what a feat it is that our brain takes a circle, a space shuttle and a line, and knows what it is?

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These poor neighbours, opposite a strip of cafés and restaurants, are getting fed up of the noise! Their sign says, “Shopkeeper, please turn down the volume on the speaker.”

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Good news story

In his New Year message, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, highlighted the continuing fall of violent deaths in the country,  to 24 per 100,000 inhabitants, about the same as in Washington DC and lower than several other US cities (for example New Orleans, 41.7 and Detroit, 43.8) but still much higher than neighbours Peru (7.16) and Ecuador (8.23).

Of course, being Colombia, these figures are contested, though the trend is definitely downwards.

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Only in Colombia (again)

The headline in Medellín’s paper yesterday says: Hippopotamuses are allegedly being trafficked in Puerto Nare  [a municipality in Antioquia].

If you remember, the hippos roaming in the wild of Colombia are descendants of the ones imported by Pablo Escobar in the late 1970s for his private zoo.

By the way, the internet tells me that the usage hippopotami is “now taken to be funny or absurdly pedantic”.

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Tap water

“You haven’t read El Olvido  Seremos?!” a friend asks, and my excuse, that I read to relax and so usually read in English because I read Spanish much more slowly, was feeble and I knew it. So before Christmas I bought the book to read on my Kindle and am appreciating the quality of the writing and the story it tells.

El Olvido que Seremos (translated as Oblivion: A Memoir) is a love letter from Medellín writer Héctor Abad Faciolince to his father, Héctor Abad Gómez, a doctor, public health campaigner and writer, who was murdered by paramilitaries in 1987.

As a medical student in the 1940s, Abad campaigned for clean water in Medellín, and as a result of his campaign, work began on a new aqueduct for the city, the first seed, as his son puts it, of something we still enjoy today: tap water that is safe to drink, something that is not yet available in other Colombian cities.

So thank you, Katie Stafford, for the tip!

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