Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Bienvenidos a Colombia amigo"

Arriving in Bogota on the red-eye flight, that morning I had begun a six-month adventure in the heart of South America when the customs official happily stamped my passport and welcomed me to his beautiful country.

That afternoon I had made it to Barranquilla, where my new found friend Danvic and I sat waiting in the baggage claim terminal for our International Studies abroad program coordinators to come pick us up. However, the word "terminal," is relative. The space we occupied was more like a small room with a conveyor belt and a bunch of sweaty and cranky Colombians piled shoulder to shoulder. All of which, was exaggerated by the heat of the Caribbean summer and lack of air conditioning. We sat on this bench and waited for a whole of three hours for our program coordinators to come pick us up. We were tired, hot, and lethargic, and barely moved from the bench we were stuck on. But when Danvic did decide to move for a brief moment is when shit got interesting.

At some point in the wait, Danvic got up from his seat for what couldn't have been more than a few minutes to grab a drink and a snack. I stayed behind on guard duty in this congested little room when I looked up from the book that I was reading to see an elderly woman sit down in Danvic's seat. So with what I had thought to be thoughtfulness and care, I muttered to the woman in my broken Spanish that my friend had been sitting where she had just sat down. She did not associate this muttering with thoughtfulness and care. IN FACT, my words were interpreted much differently from my intentions not only by the woman, but also by her son, her son's family, and later every person trapped in the rotting meat locker that was the baggage area at the Barranquilla International Airport.

When I had told the lady that she was sitting in someone else's seat and that they would be back shortly, I thought I was being considerate and avoiding future conflict. Not the case.

In all reality, I had directly provoked conflict. Before I had even managed to get all the misconstrued words out of my mouth the woman had already risen out of her seat in a fiery fit of rage and started letting me have it. All I heard was some shit in Spanish like, "You're kicking me out of MY seat??"

By the time her middle-aged, stubby pit bull-looking ass son had heard all the ruckus, Danvic had just got back in time to be a part of the fun. At this point, everyone standing in the baggage area had turned to look what the fuck was going on as this older lady was screaming and her son was right up in my face.

The baggage area suddenly turned into an arena in which Danvic and I were gladiators going up against the fierce lady and her son while spectators fully encircled us and stayed tuned to see what would happen next. It was pure Hollywood.

I kept repeating to the lady's son that I was NOT trying to kick his lovely but cranky mother out of that seat, but only insisted that my friend had been sitting there and all of his belongings were placed in front of that seat. But we were way passed that now.

The pit bull-looking son got about a fingers-length away from my nose as he looked me in the eyes and told me in Spanish, "This is Colombia. And here, were respect our elders." I held his gaze and a few of the gazes of the disgusted locals who encircled us as he and his mother slowly retreated with their luggage out of the crowd, their eyes fixated on us the entire time.

When they were out of sight, I glanced over to Danvic who's embarrassment was glowing. Then I said to him with a nervous smile, "Bienvenidos a Colombia amigo."

Welcome sign to Barranquilla. Marley was not ready for the photo.

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