El Sereno or El Chiflón
Today's post is brought to you by my culturally savvy husband -- thanks Esposo!
Noticeably absent in this blog is a warning about a ubiquitous health threat rampant in Colombia. Most illnesses acquired in the Country, especially colds, headaches and upper respiratory infections as well as many other ailments, and even the worsening of certain arthritis symptoms, can and should be traced back to EL SERENO.
While the exact nature of El Sereno remains a distinct medical mystery, any mother in Colombia knows that as the sun starts setting around 6 pm (although there have been reports of encounters with el sereno as early as 5 pm and earlier if it's raining) El Sereno begins roaming around in search for victims who, unaware of its dangers, haven't covered their mouths, noses, heads, shoulders and/or backs with several layers of clothing.
As Colombian mothers will tell you, El Sereno's favorite victims are children. This helps explain why Colombian kids look like astronauts stuffed inside their undershirt, shirt, sweater, jacket, coat, scarf, hat, earmuffs, mittens and blankets. Yet, El Sereno also freely attacks adults and does so with an added scourge: Any adult who has a had a couple of drinks on the way home from work, can blame the sorry state of drunkenness with which they arrive home to the fact that El Sereno compounds the effects of alcohol on the brain.
Some observers have pointed out that El Sereno is the moist, cold, foggy, air that engulfs mountains and plains at sunset. Nobody can completely escape from it, and there is no cure once you are exposed. So, Colombians have taken a page from epidemiologists, the best way to stay free from the effects of El Sereno is prevention.
Primary prevention is relatively easy and inexpensive, albeit quite uncomfortable. Preventive measures include covering children and adults with multi layered clothing as mentioned above. Of course, if you have been drinking, never walking outside uncovered, and never, ever, walk into el Sereno when you are "acalorado" (warm and sweaty).
Entrepreneurial minded Colombians, however, have harnessed the benign occult powers of El Sereno which remained untapped for years, perhaps millenia. Should you have a serious stain on your white shirt or any other piece of clothing for that matter, you can rub it with laundry soap and expose it to El Sereno overnight. In the morning, once sunlight has cleared any remaining Sereno you can go outside to find a stain that will wash away upon rinsing. Some people will dispute that a better method -- which also decreases a person's chance for exposure to El Sereno -- is to use "El Rey" soap, lemon juice, and sunlight, but that's for another day.
Finally, it is culturally appropriate to be mindful of El Sereno. Ahhs and oohs will be heard if you or your kids walk out in just your shirt at sunset. If in Bogotá or Boyacá, consider wearing the ultimate shield against El Sereno, a ruana. Furthermore, how good a parent you are might be judged on your ability to prepare your kids for El Sereno, or on how creative you get to avoid exposure. Hint: If you phone, page, call a taxi cab, wait inside. When the cab arrives one properly covered parent should run to open the back door closest to the house and get in the cab immediately. Then and only then will the other parent run, preferably carrying the kids not walking them, their heads completely wrapped in blankets, and promptly shove them inside the cab next to the first parent, then jump in the front seat making sure not to breathe in any Sereno.