This semester I am studying abroad in Barranquilla, Colombia–home of the world’s second largest Carnaval and I arrived just in time to experience the wonderful celebration. Carnaval is a celebration that embodies the Spanish, indigenous and African cultures that comprise the Colombian national identity.
Colorful and extravagant costumes. The loud and vibrant sound of traditional Colombian music. Dancing in the streets. These are all images that pop into a person’s head when they think of Carnaval, and they’re all accurate. Carnaval is the ultimate party–an opportunity to connect with thousands of people across the city of Barranquilla, and experience unique customs found only during this occasion. Carnaval is a time to let go of your inhibitions and simply have fun. It is a time to laugh and spend time, eat, and drink with family and friends. Every year the city of Barranquilla elects La Reina del Carnaval, a queen who represents the essence of Carnaval, and her costumes and presence are a source of envy and admiration. People dress as exotic animals. There are costumes that represent the African slaves, whose traditions and culture created the Colombia we know today. There are marimondas, costumes that look like elephants but actually possess an interesting story behind their creation. There are comparsas, that perform the traditional danzas folcloricas of Colombia such as, cumbia, mapale, fandango, champeta, and many more. Joy. Laughter. Fun. Extravagance. Carnval embodies all this and more.
I was preparing myself for this wonderful celebration when I received heartbreaking news. My grandmother had passed away after a short, but difficult battle with cancer. Immediately, I wanted to fly home and be with my family in the aftermath of our loss. While talking to my mom on the phone, she reminded me how proud my grandmother was that I was embarking on this adventure, and how she wouldn’t want me to leave everything behind. I made the decision to stay in Barranquilla to experience Carnaval, but I didn’t know how I was supposed to participate in such a joyous celebration when I was feeling so much grief. However, I received so much support from both my family and friends in the United States, and my new friends and family here and they helped me smile and enjoy myself during Carnaval. The atmosphere of the city itself helped lift my spirits–the fact that you could bump into a group of strangers and have a shared experience of fun and happiness really helped me overcome the sadness. Every time I smiled or danced or sang during Carnaval, I thought of the happiness that my grandmother brought to my life and in that moment, I wasn’t sad.
The slogan of Barranquilla’s Carnaval is” ¡quien lo vive es quien lo goza!” which roughly translates to: “The one who lives life, is the one who enjoys it”. Carnaval reminded me that although life may bring times of heartbreak and grief, it also brings times of joy and happiness. We have to remember to always search for happiness and appreciate all the blessings of life. I hope that everyone gets the opportunity to experience some version of Carnaval in their life as well.