Julie in Barrancabermeja, Colombia
One of my favorite activities here is my evening walk. Please join me as I step out into the street around 8 PM. The small grocery owned by the family across the street is still buzzing with local customers. The parents sit outside greeting customers and helping as needed.
As I step over the horse droppings and assorted trash, I move to the side of the road to avoid the motorcycles whizzing by - often with families of four squeezed aboard. Next, I dodge some small nipping dogs running loose in the street. I greet families and young couples as they pass-by flirting with each other.
On the right is Dona Lucia’s house, front door open to the street. I greet her as she visits with two of her neighbors. A few houses down is a retirement home for about 20 elderly without family caregivers - a rarity in Colombia. They lounge on the patio in their rocking chairs or watch television on a big screen TV.
On the left, I approach the bright red home and grocery of Consuelo and Marcos, the in-laws of one of our long-time Canadian CPT members. Consuelo is my age and joins me in my exercise rounds a few evenings a week. We chat about our day and local news like the fact that there was an attempted robbery across the street a few days ago. Luckily, the neighborhood alarm system was activated, scaring the armed robbers away. Neighbors take pride in watching out for each other and want to avoid hiring armed guards, a common sight here.
Next on the left are two teenage girls sitting on the curb in their best skinny jeans and halter-tops watching the passersby. On the right, is the local tailor shop. The owners use their substantial front porch to display eight mannequins dressed in beautiful wedding gowns, tuxedos and Quinciñera apparel that 15 year-old girls dream of for celebrating their coming of age parties.
Soon I am facing the local Catholic Parish of Miracles with their preschool and colorful murals. The large open sanctuary draws about 30 men on Monday evenings for a pep talk by a parish leader. Outside, they have neatly parked about 20 motorcycles. Across the street, at a small baby blue cafe, a few couples and families are enjoying a late dinner or ice cream with Latin music spilling into the street. At this point, I’ve only gone about one-eighth of a mile.
I take a right at the parish rectory to find folks on benches in the park. As I pick up my pace, more motorcycles speed by but only a few cars and sometimes a small yellow taxi. Two Nuns live next to the church but are rarely out in the evening. When they are, we usually stop to greet them.
At the next corner, I ogle the pastries in the large bakery showcase. Next a sharp right at the busy street ahead and I am soon weaving through dozens of parked motorcycles outside an open soccer bar. The rowdy young men are cheering on their favorite teams and enjoying some beer.
Next, on the left I pass a carpentry shop that is open even at night. I hear the buzz of the circular saw and inhale heavy sawdust in the air. On the right is a tiny motorcycle repair shop with engine parts strewn around the floor and men discussing the problem.
At the next corner, there is bright green family grocery and across the street, a small yellow family restaurant still doing brisk business. I take a right and enter a more residential area with multiple families on their front porches playing cards or watching their kids play in the street. Some watch me curiously as I am moving faster than alll those simply strolling home or to visit a friend.
On the left, I see a large crowd spilling into the street outside a small orange house. Peering inside the open doors and windows, I witness a birthday party for a young boy. The cake is about to be cut. Balloons and crepe paper provide a festive atmosphere. A dozen 5-10 year olds are excitedly awaiting a piece of cake as they sing the Colombian version of happy birthday.
As I head up the street, I pass a handful of young boys riding bikes while balancing their friends on the handlebars, laughing and fooling around the whole way. Five young men stroll by on my left wearing coordinated soccer uniforms and eagerly discussing their game at the new soccer court with artificial turf where neighborhood teams compete. The older outdoor blacktop court further down the street now attracts younger kids and a women’s Salsa Dance class one night a week. Although I considered it, I decide to stick with my brisk walking routine. The temperature is still about 85 degrees and the women look like they are working up more of a sweat than I can handle.
As I turn the final corner home, I slow down for a handful of young boys and girls playing soccer in the street. The courageous ones yell, “what is your name?” in accented English. My friend Consuelo kisses me on the cheek and heads off to her house. After eight sweaty rounds, I head home smiling and invigorated for a much-needed cold shower and a good book. Life here is both very hard and very full. Thanks for joining me. Julie