April 2018

Tandem – the cultural meeting point in Cochabamba

By: Frederik Overgaard
Projects Abroad Volunteer

Cochabamba is rich on cultural diversity and in the street of Chuquisaca near Plaza Colon hides a meeting point of cultures from all over the world. It is an open-minded event and society and whether you come to practice your Spanish or English, wants to get more knowledge of another country or for a third reason, you are being welcomed with open arms by the people at Tandem.

Literally tandem is a word for a bicycle moved by two or more people seated one behind the other and equipped with pedals for each of them. And as well as it takes two to tango you have to be prepared to open up and take part in the conversation if you want to gain some-thing from the experience. Some of the main goals for the people behind tandem are to make the participants improve their language skills, overcome fears or stage fright and furthermore get some new friends.

Franz Torrico is a teacher at ICBA (El Instituto Cultural Boliviano Aleman), but every Tuesday he prepares for the Tandem alongside his colleague Carmen. They have been putting up flags and moving tables together since 2008 and the event has gained support from El Instituto Aleman, Korisimi, and Project Abroad over the years.

"Tandem has two meanings in Spanish. Of course, there is the meaning of two people running on one bike, but the other meaning is when two people help each other. It is like one of the persons helps the other, and in return, the other part will also help the first one. It is the same thing we do here whether we are talking about being comfortable in speaking in a foreign language, or if it is about gaining knowledge about culture or interesting facts about another country" says Franz Torrico who at the moment can watch the tandem reach its peak regarding the number of participants.

"Usually I would say we are about 15 to 20 people, but at the moment as you can see, we are quite a few. Lately, it has varied from 30 to 40, and sometimes we have even reached up around 70 persons" Franz tells as he continuous on how it has benefited him as a person: "The event is not for me. It is a free event where everybody can join whether they would like to eat some or drink some it is totally up to them. I see this as a social event where we have space for everybody and everybody can participate in whatever manner they want; a foreign language, their own language – everybody will fit in somewhere."

Every Tuesday, people from all over the world join the Tandem at Novecento, to catch up with people they know or to meet new friends. The age difference is widespread with people just beginning their twenties to people who have passed their 50th summer a long time ago.

When you step into the room there is an atmosphere of joy. The tables are decorated with different flags, so you know where people of your kind sit and where to go if you are interested in meeting other parts of the world.

People are laughing, eating and drinking. At one point the euphoria takes over with a German group bringing in three slices of sushi with a candle on top to celebrate a Frenchman's birthday. People are singing and cheering and we even get to sing "Happy birthday" in three different languages.

On my left, I have a Bolivian, on my right a German and in front of me, there is a guy from Belgium. We are all from different backgrounds and our life is going in different directions with one studying to be a teacher, one has graduated from an economic degree and me with a dream of studying journalism. The only thing we seem to have in common is the present and we are grasping the opportunity. The talk goes around everything from who you are, what your country is famous for and learning different words and sentences from the languages of each other. The filter is off and you are taking it all in.

"I think it is a really good initiative for example if you are new here in the country, you can meet a lot of new people here and it is interesting to hear others perspective not just from Bolivians people but also from people all over the world," says Quentin from Belgium who adds up with the outcome of a social life from tandem: "I have gained friends and new inter-esting places to go here in Cochabamba and in short phrase it has given me a social life here."

The tandem starts at seven o'clock every Tuesday and takes place at the restaurant Novecento at the address Antezana esquina Chuquisaca, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba and all you need to bring is your good mood and a desire to meet new friends.

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