First impressions and lessons in Bogota

Here are some first impressions of Colombia:

– You hail a bus, but not a taxi. Most of the bus system in Bogota does not have a schedule or stops. You just go down to the major calle or carretera and hail a bus as it is going by. To get off, you just pull the chain to signal you want to stop. I’ve been told, this is why you hold on tight when you’re on the bus, and you never know when the bus will be stopping. You don’t hail taxis because many are fake and will rob you or worse. Instead, you call for a taxi and they text you a secret code number which you you’re your driver when you get inside. For this reason, I purchased a phone for the short time I’m here, feels pretty necessary. And it was only $49,444 COPA ($28)

– Coffee is beyond a pastime, it is a necessity and generally enjoyed at multiple points throughout the day. Traditionally, there used to be men that carried canisters full of coffee through the streets, on their backs like a backpack, and selling coffee this way, but it is far less common than it used to be.

– Bogotá tiene todas las estaciones en un día. Bogota has all four seasons in throughout a single day. It’s always warm and sunny at noon – that’s my favorite.

– I learned a new expression that I love: “Esa situacion es un chicharon.” – This situation is a mess! Chicharon is actually a piece of pork meat, which is often sold by street vendors. It is fried and very greasy, so after eating it, you’re a mess from the juices. For this reason, Colombians use the term to describe situations that are messy.

– The safest place to get money out of an ATM is inside a shopping mall, which have plenty of ATMs all over and many security guards. Most shops have a security guard out front as well, but I have been surprised that none of them seem to have weapons of any kind. Not sure exactly who they are trying to keep out.

– General custom when you meet someone is to hug them and put your cheeks together with a whiling kissing the air. Like air guitar, it’s an air cheek kiss. And even when you meet for the first time, people don’t say “hello” but rather “Que tal, como estas?” Tu (the informal you) is very common when you first meet people, which threw me off a little, I’m used to using the formal version until invited to use the informal.

– I have never been to a friendlier place, especially when the locals are dealing with a bumbling American foreigner like myself. I’m constantly amazed at how nice and patient people are with me… of course, a smile goes a long way!

Producing clean energy using cat poop? Idea to reality

While taking the long-course for FMS, we were required to imagine our dream social enterprise and use this dream to foster questions and discussion during one of the modules.  For several of the students, imagining their dream social enterprise was easy, because they already had something in mind.  Perhaps, that is what drew them to take the course, because they want to be social entrepreneurs themselves.  For me, it was a bit harder.  To come up with my dream company, I imagined something that made my life more difficult, and how fixing that problem, I might be able to also perform a social good.

My problem?  Cleaning my cat’s litter box.  So, I imagined a company that produced energy using animal feces.  Sounds kinda gross, but then I started researching it, and using bio-mass waste for energy is not a new concept in the least.  In fact, during a separate module for FMS, we studied a social enterprise based in India called Husk Power.  Husk Power uses the bio waste from rice husk to generate electricity to rural villages.  Not only are people receiving electricity that currently would not, but they are also receiving it at a lower price than those “on the grid.”  And, the power is clean.  Husk Power has even developed a payment system that works for the company and for its customers.  It is “pay-as-you-go,” much like cell phones in developing countries.

So, we know a company is successfully turning agricultural bio waste into energy, but would it be possible with feces?  Turns out it is.  A company in Kenya has developed the technology to turn human waste from port-o-potties into energy that is sold cheaply to impoverished communities.  The company is called Sanergy.  For Kenyans, this would help alleviate both the lack of affordable electricity and the availability of private toilets.  Turns out, a lot of poor people are willing to pay for privacy when they need to alleviate themselves.  There is a third benefit to society as a whole, which is the fact that this again is clean energy.  No coal is extracted, no fossil fuels burned to create the electricity.

Learning about alternative energy through social ventures is fascinating, and has inspired me to try to create a bio-mass generator of my own when I get back to California.  I looked up instructions on how to produce one on a small scale; you just need two large barrels, a cork and some tubing.  The hard part is harnessing the energy that is created with a generator of some sort, but that will be my next research project.

Happily Hubbed

I am hoping to surround myself with inspiration and innovation this summer by working with the HUB in Bogota, Colombia.  HUB is a co-working environment that allows entrepreneurs to come together and collaborate. It’s a global network and there are HUBs all over the world – you can check out their website here:

I am setting out some goals for myself this summer, the primary one being that I hope to improve my Spanish and especially my comfortably in speaking to native Spanish speakers without hesitation or turning completely red.