Tranquilo by definition translates in English to “calm, quiet, serene”. By my definition in Colombia it means “chill, stressed out American lady, its all good”. I have been told this 9 letter word on average about 3x a day since arriving here. The locals here say it to me with sympathy and honesty, almost as they wish they could take away my stress in that moment. Every time it hits me and makes me reflect. Do I walk around all day just giving off fumes of stress? Is it me or do all Americans channel this reaction? Tranquilo to me defines what I have seen in the Colombian culture in the past 2 weeks of living here. For example, when my son eats food he more like dissects it apart, smears it on every surface and then a portion makes it into his mouth. So when eating out with him you can imagine what the aftermath looks like. As happy as I am to be paying for someone to clean up this mess I know how awful it is. Every time I apologize for the mess when eating out and every time I get told, “tranquilo”. This is also typically followed by a high-five or nice comments about our kids. Can you imagine every interaction at a restaurant in the states like this? Genuine pleasure to be serving someone even though they created an insane amount of work for them after.
Another example is that I often take my children in the mornings to a nearby mall to get their energy out and walk around. Yes, I know this is very weird but the malls here are the “place to be”. Its not like at home when you think of a malls you think of a sad looking strip mall with a half-lite JcPenny sign that you only enter after procrastinating for a month to return that birthday gift from your great-aunt. In Colombia, from my experience, the malls are a safe and fun place for people to socialize and hang out. The malls are these gorgeous and vast inside-outside buildings that are kept immaculately clean with decorations or themes that change each month. They have levels for “sit down resturants” and then another level for the “fast food court”. Each mall has children activities, even theme parks, community work out classes and list goes on. So on one of our morning trips to the mall my kids were playing on a display that was being set up for Christmas. As they were playing one of the security guards came up to them and I immediately start apologizing and telling them to get off. But instead of scolding them, the security guard picks up my son, twirls him around until he is laughing and gives him a hug. Then proceeds to tell me to “tranquilo” and starts a conversation about how cute my kids are. I again walk away pondering the encounter and thinking maybe the reason I am being told to “tranquilo” is because my reaction was ingrained in me. If this interaction had happened back home I do think the response would have been different at least I would have felt some “judgey eyes” from some onlookers questioning my parenting choice. But in Colombia, its all good.
The last example happened at the most unexpected time and I still am pondering this today. I took my first trip out in a taxi with my kids to a outdoor playground. I didn’t have as much cash as I thought I did so was nervous about having enough to make it back in a taxi. I also knew that there was little chance of finding one of the few ATMs that took my card to get more cash. I was basically going to have to chance it. So when it was time to leave I hailed a Taxi. As we were headed toward our destination I gestured to the meter and told him in my spanglish that I only had 8,000 pesos. As the meter was already at 4,800 pesos and we were not close to home. He just nodded and kept driving. I figured that when it would hit 8,000 pesos he would let us out and I would have to figure out a back-up plan. I was dripping sweating watching the meter. As the meter hit 8,000 I was prepared to get everyone out and gestured he could let us out but instead, he kept driving. He turned around at the light and told me to “tranquilo”. He drove over the 8,000 pesos right to our destination and also helped us all get out of the taxi safely to the side-walk. I thanked him over and over and he replied ‘con gusto’ which means ‘with pleasure’. Now if that is not a good enough example to you that Colombia is not like the Hollywood scenes from Narcos and that Pablos Escobar era is far behind, then I don’t know what else is. This culture and the people here are warm and embracing. They really are “tranquilo”. So after hearing this and experiencing this day in and out I wonder if I will become more like the 9 letter word. It is possible to take the “crazy stressed American lady” out of America but is possible to rid myself of what has been so ingrained in me? To rid myself of assumptions, image and expectations and just be? Today I once again was told this 9 letter word, so its safe to say I don’t think I have had much success but I am still hopeful for the months to come.