Thankfully I met some wonderful people over the month who helped brighten my days. This is a thank you to everyone whose smiling faces, kind words, and gifts of conversation, helped me get by.
Kelly, my Couch Surfing host. Kelly was wonderfully open, receptive, creative, intelligent, curious about things and funny. She lived in a house with her aunt and cousin, and was surrounded by houses where other family members lived. Kelly was always busy with a new project, and she cared a lot for her cousins, nieces and nephews, regularly helping them out with something or entertaining the many young ones. I was impressed she rode the family motorbikes, and wasn’t just the pillion passenger. The times when we rode around together I think we were the only moto in sight with two women on it – and even more impressive was when Kelly rode with her heeled shoes!
Loraine, Kelly’s cousin. A constant spark of energy around the house, with a true 14 year old passion for the band One Direction. A dedication for translating their songs and learning to sing them in English, the most amazing curly hair and the best excited scream I’ve ever heard. We wrote the English and Spanish words for things on post-it notes and stuck them on items around the house to learn more vocabulary – even their pets Leica the dog and Fiona the cat were tagged..
Yadira, Kelly’s aunt. A calming presence in the house, when in the beginning I wasn’t sure who lived there and who was visiting. With neither of us speaking much of the other’s language, we still managed to communicate well. Yadira showed me how to wash my clothes by hand with a permanent washboard and sink, and I was fed deliciously well with her great cooking – and I remain impressed with the fresh juices that were seemingly produced from nothing each day.
Thaniia, Liam, and Victor. Kelly’s brother’s girlfriend, nephew, and brother. Little Liam was cute and adorable, Victor was always polite and respectful, and Thaniia was absolutely beautiful and hilarious. You could often hear her before you saw her, and she had a brilliant smile and a very expressive nature. Thaniia trusted people to do right by her, and the day she proudly announced to me in English: “I’m a bitch!” I was both shocked and in fits of laughter when I realised the girls had set her up – so I insisted she change the B word to ‘beautiful’ and repeat the phrase back to them.
Miguel. Kelly’s cousin. Young Miguel with the serious eyes and surprised look when I asked his name, saying it aloud as if it were foreign to his own ears. I refused to call him by his nickname ‘Gordo’ (Fatty), because those words hurt ten year olds, and can leave lasting emotional scars. It broke my heart to see Miguel picked on by the other kids and ignored by his parents. All he wanted was some positive attention and love, and yet all he got were negative, impatient responses from most people. Kelly and Yadira made a big effort with him, and I would ask him to help me with things as often as I could, so he felt important.
The day I left Santa Marta I wrote Miguel a note in Spanish on the back of an Australian flag sticker, saying I was pleased to have met him and I looked forward to seeing him again one day. As he finished reading it I asked in Spanish if I could have a hug, and before I’d finished the question he threw his arms around my waist and held on tight. How long since anyone had asked him for a hug? How long since anyone who mattered had shown him they cared, and that he was loved?
Kids with uninterested parents tear me apart, and I desperately want to show them how much I love them. Teach them they are important, and help them believe that someone does care. I know that removing them from their homes is not always the best option, but parents should care more. Don’t have kids if you won’t be putting any concern, love or effort into their young lives. Don’t have kids if you’re too concerned or wrapped up with your own issues, to care about the long term detrimental effect you’re having on your child/ren. After hugging me longer than expected, Miguel tucked the sticker into the shirt pocket of his uniform and turned to walk to school. I sat and cried.
Wendy and Linda, Carmilo, Veronika and Carol and Nayomy, I remember you all. Kelly’s father chatted to me for about three hours one night on a variety of International topics – and despite the language barrier, I understood most of what he said. And Yeiner, who was usually quiet and reserved until one day needing to explain the meaning of the word ‘nacer’ (to be born). Your graphic depiction, complete with accurate sound effects, remains a vivid memory that still makes me laugh as much today!
Brandon, David and Monica in the hostel. Thank you for allowing me to sneak back in each day, and enjoy the sunshine in peace and quiet. Brandon, the chats we had at reception were a welcome reprieve from the constant effort of thinking and talking in Spanish. David, not only was your English spectacularly brilliant, so was your ability to control your temper when that awful, arrogant man tiresomely tested it. Monica, you’re a gorgeously talented woman with a very bright future ahead of you. I wish you well in your new endeavours, and I look forward to hearing about Germany!
Ana and Yeny in the clothing shop. You ladies often made me laugh, something I wasn’t doing enough of. The first day we met, I tried on some shorts, and I left hours later after Ana commented on my tattoo and we got talking. Nothing was sacred, and I’m happy I could entertain you with stories of all the men around town who tried to kiss me (yes, including the old man at the fruit stall!)
Mauricio and Yuleisi in the drug store. You guys were the bright sparks in my day, from the mornings when I’d dash past, calling out as I waved and ran for the bus, to the evenings when I’d stay and chat longer. Mauricio, your intelligence, knowledge and life views were a delight to experience, and Yuleisi, your beautiful smile was a regular highlight, as was your gorgeous little boy and his perfect English greetings! I will be forever grateful to both of you for providing me a spot of sanity and bringing some normality to my days.
Mauran. I admire your dedication to your wife and son. Your family is beautiful, and Marwell is such a good kid it was an absolute pleasure to meet you all. It is plainly obvious how well you care for your son, and how much effort you both put into parenting. In a continent and a country where too many men have multiple families simultaneously, and where so many kids appear forgotten, it gave me hope to witness your love and attention for your one family. Thank you!