When people ask me why do you love Colombia so much, the answer is pretty straightforward: the people. I have only been here for just over two weeks, and haven’t ventured far out of two of the country’s major cities, Bogota and Medellin, so as yet I am unable to say how stunning the mountains, beaches or jungles are. But, one thing is for certain; Colombian people are some of the world’s very best.
So what is it about them that I am so enraptured by? Well, thus far, everyone I have met has been amorous, amiable and beyond accommodating. These words ring hollow in Cambria font and don’t give them the credit they deserve, so illustration through example may help to colour your imaginations.
On my first day in Medellin, I set out to walk to the centre of the city. In case I haven’t said already, this trip is characterised by its paucity of plans. I have no guidebook, no set dates (apart from meeting with my crew in San Francisco in September) and no idea what is happening from day to day, except for when I am at school of course. What I do have is a little black leather notebook given to me by a dear friend in which there are addresses, emails, phone numbers and suggestions for where I could go, and what people recommend I do and see. All of this is in a rainbow of different handwriting, sometimes annotated with points to recap my memory such as hot man I met at the park, or professors that offered me a place to stay in the Amazon.
Anyway, back to my first day in Medellin. So, I set off from my four-bedroomed penthouse in which I was the sole resident, for the centre. What I didn’t know is that there are several centres in this very long and thin city of four million people. The cleaners in the apartment did give me a very funny look when I asked, where is the centre and I am walking there, regardless of how far it is. But, they must have met lots of peculiar foreigners so they kindly gave me directions to one of the city’s hubs. I swiftly took the wrong road, and as I had no map, I had no idea what I was doing or where I was. After what felt like a rather long walk along the streets of Laureles, I began to start feeling a little frustrated at my somewhat laissez faire attitude. The reason being that it is rainy season here and so there are regular windows when you can traverse the streets without getting drenched. For some reason, thus far, I seem to be very stubborn in purchasing an umbrella. I am equally as stubborn when the sometimes-torrential rain commences, and continue walking, or rather stomping to my destination, which is more often than not, unknown. As my window was closing in on me, and the skies were darkening with the threat to release themselves, my patience with myself was beginning to run a little thin. It was at this point that I asked a woman for help.
At first, she was a bit confused. What do you mean the centre? Well, the centre I suppose. Well, there are many centres. Oh, I see. Where do you want to go? What place? Ummm…I don’t know. I am not making plans you see. Oh, right, no plans? Well, who are you here with? I am alone. Do you know anyone here at all? No, nobody and I have no map and have no idea what I am doing. You are so brave! I would never do what you are doing! So, how can I help you?
All of this was happening in Spanish on Carrera 33 and as she esteemed my level of comprehension to be fairly fluent, at great speed, at least on her part. I speak the language now, but stumble painfully through each sentence. So, the lovely dental hygienist stopped her day so she could help me find my way, even though I had no idea what or where my way was. We walked up the street, and then we walked back again. It’s quite a task to help someone who has no plans. Then we went to her mate’s at the locksmiths and asked them. What was becoming clear was that not all plans are a failure in my endeavours to cast away the shackles of my predilection for organisation. We finally came to the conclusion that what I needed was a map so we jumped on a bus to the nearest metro station. We finally said our farewells, at the foot of the station. This amazing woman, whose name unfortunately is not scribbled in my little black book, had spent the best part of an hour with me. This is just one example of several in how generous Colombian people are. My experiences thus far attest to this being far from an aberration, which screams volumes about their general divinity.
And now to House of Hearts, where I reside with my Colombian family. And no, I haven’t been adopted at the ripe old age of 34. Although Diony, my Colombian mum, asked me to move in with them permanently today, but not sure if that constitutes as adult adoption! On day two in Medellin, with the newly acquired map clutched in my hand, I walked to the city’s best university to enquire about Spanish classes. Whilst at the UPB, I asked if they could help me with a home stay, and they introduced me to Jorge Villegas, an English professor in their language department. After sampling one of their classes for a lengthy yet well-taught two hours on the differences between el preterito indefinido and el preterito imperfecto, Jorge and I walked to his apartment, conveniently located two blocks from the university. On entering their third floor home, with Candy the dog snapping away in excitement, it became immediately obvious that I had entered what I can only describe as a home overflowing with love, like one big, fat pumping heart.
Diony, Jorge and their ten-year-old daughter Tatiana, showed me what was to be my room, and we all immediately fell in love. I know it sounds a bit extreme, and despite my propensity for loquacity (talkativeness), I can’t really describe those few minutes, but suffice is to say, the House of Hearts filled me with intense joy and happiness. I moved in five days ago, with a bunch of roses for Mothers’ Day and a tear in my eye at the thought of how I missed my own family, and of my mum who left this world way too young. During these days, I have felt so welcome, and so loved and respected that the sadness of being continents away from those I cherish so dearly is sweetly soothed.
Colombia oozes warmth and beauty, and now is a far cry from the pain, violence and despair that has earned it such a bad reputation. It’s not that the guerrillas and cocaine have suddenly disappeared. Far from it. It’s just that the darkness is crushed into the depths of the jungles, and this country’s people have the chance to really shine.
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