Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s)
Source: Hurt2Healing Magazine
Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): Like many, I’ve been keeping up with your travel abroad in Colombia. You’ve been residing there for about 3 years or a little more, right?
Shahida S. Muhammad (SM): Yes, it will be about 3 years in July. I was home for a few months last year. The time has gone by quickly. I have lived in Cartagena, Bogotá, and now settled in Medellín.
EM: What initially brought you to Colombia, and was this your first time visiting?
SM: Yes, upon moving here it was my first time ever in the country. Around high school I developed an interest in Latin-America. My Spanish teacher at the time took my class on a cultural trip to the Dominican Republic. I also visited Mexico a few times with family, and went on Mother Tynnetta’s (may Allah be pleased) Mxodus tour in 2010 where we engaged with the Black population in Costa Chica. These experiences deepened my interest in the history, language, and cultures, and after college I knew I wanted to eventually spend time living in a Latin-American country to try and become fluent, learn more on the Black/Indigenous presence, and experience a different way of life.
When I was looking into places to go, Colombia stood out to me for some reason; it intrigued me and something called me to the country. I saw that teaching English was a great doorway to working abroad so I began training and working as an ESL teacher part-time a few years before coming. I made a few friends from Colombia during that time, which was helpful. I had applied to programs in 2011 and 2013 but they fell through, so I was very excited when things finally worked out in 2015. Allah knows best because the experiences have shown me that the timing was just right. I’m happy I made that decision.
EM: What was the preparation period like for this particular trip? How did your family and close friends react once they saw you were serious in relocating to Colombia?
SM: My mother has always encouraged me to pursue my interests, travel, and learn about other cultures so she was very supportive. My dad was somewhat concerned, but he’s grown to accept it because he knows I’m happy here. I got mixed reactions from family and friends but mostly excitement and curiosity because up until recently, Colombia was not a popular place to travel to. The preparation process was mainly letting go of things I couldn’t bring, packing and trying to spend quality time with those closest to me. Spiritually, I prayed for a good experience, to grow, and to represent the communities I identify in as a Black Muslim American woman, in a positive way. I studied up on Colombian history and culture as much as I could, reached out to people in the program I initially came through to get some perspective and tips, as well as family/friends that have studied or worked abroad for insight.
EM: I know you are fluent in Spanish. How much of an advantage was that? Did you have to learn a different dialect once in Colombia?
SM: When I was around 11 years old my mom enrolled my sister and I in Spanish classes and I had it in high school. I began to take it serious in college, but when I moved here it had been a while since I practiced regularly, so before I left I tried to brush up by doing a language exchange with a friend from Colombia and listening to programs in Spanish. Having a foundation in the grammar was definitely helpful, but nothing is like being fully immersed socially in a language. So even with what I learned beforehand, I still had difficulties understanding others and expressing myself at first. I had to get over the fear of sounding silly, and dive in. My first year I lived in Cartagena which is on the Caribbean coast, and they have a very distinct accent and way of speaking referred to as “costeño”. Once I caught on to the rhythm, things became a lot easier. There are a lot of regional accents here, so living in different areas has helped tune my ear. I haven’t reached fluency yet – mainly because I have to use English a lot at work, but I’ve reached an advanced level and I know being here has been a great way to get there.
EM: We’ve spoken a few times since you’ve been there and between various cities you’ve moved to. We talked about the food quality and lack of chem-trails there compared to here in North America. Can you reiterate what has stood out to you in that regard? How have you noticed the difference in your health?