As I spend more time away from the states, I oscillate between viewing things as an outsider and just taking things in as (what now constitutes) normal life. But sometimes my brain gets stuck in processing mode, and this past weekend was a perfect example. On Friday, some 15 people came over for lunch. A group of musicians from the Atlantic coast came to Cali to perform and teach, and as our roommate had previously studied with them on the coast he decided to invite them over for fried fish. Given that the kitchen was going to be occupied and Felipe was going to do a recording with the musicians later that day anyway, we joined them for lunch. The group of musicians was all male; one of them was over 90 and another one was at least over 70. The two old men sat quietly and ate the fish with their fingers, as they do on the coast. The other musicians were younger to middle-aged; a couple more musician friends had come over as well, one of them with his mother, as had a female friend of our roommate. All in all there were 3 women and 12 men. As with conversations with people you don´t know very well often go, they began to ask about kids and wives, and someone was mentioned as having children with 4 different women. ¡Él sí lo pasó bien! (He certainly had a good time!) exclaimed the musician's mother, who for all outward appearances appeared to be a conservative señora over 60. The jokes began about people have children all over the coast, and one of the guys asked where our roommate´s wife was. He´s single...Good because I was about to say, I´ve been seeing little kids that look like him all over town! I really appreciate that you checked if he had a wife around before saying that, really I do, said the señora, patting the guy on the back. Very considerate of you.
One of the musicians from Cali started to eat and asked if there was a salt shaker nearby. A middle-aged guy from the coast was sitting next to him and, looking up at our roommate´s female friend, said, Bring him salt! The guys from Cali wandered into the kitchen with her, shaking their heads. Los costeños son muy machistas! People from the coast are really machista! She rolled her eyes and grabbed the salt. He got lucky, she said, walking out of the kitchen. The rest of lunch was peppered with sarcastic commands of Bring me the salt! Bring me the guacamole! Bring me more refajo! between the guys from Cali and the two of us who were female and under 50. (Refajo is a strangely refreshing combination of Colombiana, the national soft drink, with beer.) The guy who had made the offensive comment didn't notice, nor did the conservative señora who winked at (male) extramarital affairs.
On Sunday, a close friend of Felipe´s family had her 21st birthday party. Show them what I got you for your birthday, said her mother. She came out with an apron and oven mitts. Because it´s that time! You need to learn how to cook! -Of course she does, said one of the aunts, women need to know how to cook and tend house. Then they began to talk about the importance of a clean house, and how one's husband wants to come home to an ordered household and one of the aunts, who lives in Spain, began to lament that in Spain people are muy cochino (really dirty). But the men there are less machista, they cook too. Felipe's recently-married brother came into the room, So how do you feel being the head of the household? asked the other aunt.
I looked over at Felipe, who was rolling his eyes.
I've talked about machismo here before; Colombians have a reputation of being machistas as far as Argentines are concerned. Colombians will tell you that Cubans are extremely machista, as are people from the Caribbean in general (including the Colombian coast). At a certain point, and I don't know when the point was, things began to change, and much of the younger generation has become aware that the traditional male/female relationship that they grew up seeing is not necessarily what they want for themselves. Thus you come upon situations where the older women in the room are more machista than the younger men.
One time Felipe's mother told me that I got lucky that I am with someone who cooks and helps around the house, because the men here rarely do. I told Felipe what she had said. What did you say to her? What do you think I said? That you wouldn't be with someone who didn't.
Sunday's birthday girl's boyfriend arrived later to the party while I was ranting privately to Felipe over cake-- as I said, it's strange viewing these things on the one hand as an outsider and on the other hand as part of daily life; sometimes I get annoyed about things that I shouldn't. No one wants to be the judgmental outsider (especially the imperialistic one), but when people you care about are involved it becomes harder to passively accept certain facts of a society. What's going on? he asked us. We updated him on what he had missed. He shook his head. If she ever marries me, she's going to be the most liberated woman in the world, he said, and wandered off to find her. We shook our heads, laughing. I was left more confused than ever. One day maybe it'll all come together for me and I'll finally get it, but for now I've clearly still got a ways to go.