After exploring much of Cartagena, which primarily consisted of a back alley massage -this sounds a lot sketchier than it actually was, I swear- and reddening my gringa shoulders along las playas, I decided to venture out on the task I came here for in the first place -teaching English. The next day had a lot of back and forth bus hopping until finally reaching Mompox. The buses don’t go any further, as Mompox is already pushing it on the desolation level, so I needed to find a taxi to take me to another hour or so to Guamal. A man wearing a name tag printed “Benjamin” offered a ride to me, and before I had time to reply, he was taking my backpack to his… car? Nope. Benjamin was no ordinary taxi driver. He drove a car-motorcycle hybrid, or as it’s called here, a tuk-tuk.
I looked at it suspiciously; then laughed at myself for even considering caution. My recklessness had gone way beyond driving in a tuk-tuk. I couldn’t help but imagine how my mom would’ve been reacting to the bumpy drive.
Benjamin dropped me off at an internet cafe when we arrived to Guamal so that I could message Alejandro that I was here. There was no internet, however, so I aimlessly walked around the village hoping another restaurant or hostel might prove more efficient. I definitely stuck out here, and after being whistled “gringa” at enough times to turn me albino, and filing through what I swear was every likely candidate for WiFi in town, I sunk down hopelessly on the side of the road, placing my face in my hands.
The shopkeeper across the street, Maria, had different plans for me though and ushered me into her little store asking what was wrong. I explained the situation to her, and she cheerfully handed me her cell phone.
I finally reached Alejandro, and he sent his wife, Leidy, to fetch me at Maria’s store.
Leidy is beautiful. I use this word cautiously, as I believe it is the purest way to describe a woman, so please believe me that she radiated the moment she set foot in the store. “SUMMER!” She gleamed, hugging me as if we’d been friends our whole lives. “Ven!” She called, grabbing my bag off my back. We walked a couple of blocks to the house and she gestured grandly to express the sheer excitement in that we were about to quite literally live out the phrase “Mi casa es tu casa.”
The house was lost in time and proved so by welcoming me in with its huge wooden, colonial door. The hallway immediately inside had doors to every side, but Leidy showed me through the one adjacent from the entry door. Once again, we were outside; only this time, I had entered a jungle. There was a hallway of doors that was a continuation of the house to the right of me, which led to the washroom, kitchen, and bedrooms. My bedroom was the first of the doors. On the very left, hailed an enormous brick wall that stood above even some of the trees. Banana, mango, guava, and orange trees spotted this jungle, though none were ripe yet. After trudging through the wilderness that is the backyard, the trees disappeared to present a makeshift fútbol field, complete with a brick goal.
The only furniture in my room -a bed done up with sheets, and a bare mattress lying next to it made my room appear large. Though it was quite grand, the lack of decor made it seem even more so. Upon opening the doors of this room, a creature scattered up the wall behind the bed. I quickly glanced to see a white salamander and his friend disappear outside through a hole in the corner of the ceiling.
“Geckos!” Leidy said, laughing at my not so subtle reaction. Alejandro was giving English lessons to a student on the patio, and a little girl of 2 was sitting on the ground next to him. She jumped up to greet her mother, her curly locks bouncing, but she shyly retreated behind Leidy’s leg when she saw the newcomer.
“Cómo te llamas?” I asked. She stuck out her tongue and giggled, already warming up to me. It wasn’t long before she was rummaging through my stuff, and asking me to hold her. She even tried peeking her little head under the boards of the shower door later. “HOLA!” I heard a small voice call as I was almost half naked. I didn’t see myself enjoying an -often taken for granted- element, known as privacy these next few weeks, especially since my room is actually linked to my family’s.
Valerie, the girl, is far from shy, however -the little actress. She is constantly singing and making noise, just to make noise, sometimes even harmonizing with the baby parrots that Alejandro has rescued recently.
These are just a few of the sounds I will grow accustomed to hearing. Along with the ever-present buzz of mosquitoes, I will become familiar with the claws of wild iguanas scratching the roof above me as I sleep.
What craziness this whole adventure is turning out to be. Certainly, it is not by chance that I was set up here, in an almost perfect situation. I am excited to begin teaching alongside this family.
I begin Monday. Wish me luck!