©Wolfgang Kaehler

Mom’s Adventure


City wall with San Pedro Claver Temple in background, Cartagena, Colombia

Mom’s Adventure

Last fall my children both took off for college and the house grew quiet as a morgue. My wildly enthusiastic standard poodle had passed away the previous spring, so not even he could break the stillness. Only our daughter’s lop rabbit stayed behind to hop around the kitchen. After years of encouraging the kids as they slogged through their AP classes; managing the household while their dad ventured to Madagascar, Mongolia, and Antarctica; and sitting in my office staring at my computer, it was time for me to have an adventure all my own.

An opportunity arose for me to assist Wolf with an assignment shooting in Columbia. I decided I would stay after our trip to study Spanish in Cartagena — remember “Romancing the Stone”? A friend had recommended it as a good place to learn the language. I had never heard much about this Caribbean city, so I was surprised when it suddenly grabbed the news before our departure with the CIA scandal. Now my trip with Wolf has ended, and my sojourn has begun.

So here I am settling in at a little hotel around the corner from my school. The Spanish language school is a sparse, two-room building, and for the moment, it seems I may be the only student! My teacher, Victoria, is a young woman, very knowledgeable about grammar and linguistics. She speaks to me only in Spanish: I wanted immersion and that is what I am getting! There are no books, so today we speak about ourselves for two hours. I leave with a long list of new parablas to use here in town.

Typical seafood dish, Cartagena, Colombia

Jose, who works at a restaurant on a square near my little hotel, greets me and encourages me to come for dinner. Jose is one of the only corpulent fellows I have seen in Cartagena, where people pride themselves on their fitness and beauty. I met this round-faced fellow with a playful smile the other day when he was recruiting customers. Now he greets me shaking my hand. In the local heat, with humidity thick like butter, I enjoy the blended lemonade made from fresh-squeezed limes and crushed ice. Thank goodness for Jose because I have just realized that I am all alone. I have been wondering if this was such a clever idea after all.

On my walk back from the grocery store, a beautiful, slender black woman says, “Lady, I think I know you.” Indeed, it is Caroline, the lovely daughter of our tour guide. We chat and I tell her about my challenging Spanish class. It is so exciting and heartening to already know someone else in the city.

I am ready to go to sleep now. Maybe this will workout okay after all!


Day 2

Cartagena, Colombia

I am learning to navigate the old city. When I set out, I pass Jose who gives me a smile and wave. I need to keep stepping onto the streets because men set up boxes on the sidewalks: they sit on coolers, crates — whatever they can find — and play cards. Vendors arrange tables on the walkways to sell all kinds of homemade sweets, fruit compotes, and preserves. I cheerfully make my way to my Spanish class to see one of the three people I know in the city. Victoria is pleased to see me. She and I are still the only people in the tiny school. Today I learn that she has a 2-year-old girl. She needed to leave university for a while to have her baby, but she returned to finish her degree. She tells me that her baby loves a movie about a modern-day Rapunzel. Many people here learn their English from watching American movies, but she says that when she was little she had no television, VCR, or radio. I am so impressed that a young woman, in her twenties, who had so little, showed such determination. When we talk about university and I tell her what it costs in the United States, she stares at me in disbelief. After class I make my first trip to the grocery store.

Cartagena, ColombiaIn the little shop I gather water, yogurt and other snacks. At the checkout a friendly looking mom in line gestures to show me where to put my groceries. I pull out my rolled bag from home as I watch all the plastic bags marching out the door.  I recall plastic bags clinging like birds to the trees along the Caribbean shore. Oddly I feel like I should tell someone, “I know we were the ones that brought you this great idea of plastic disposable bags, but now we’d like to tell you that we were wrong, and you were right with your reusable totes made from nets and natural fibers. Sorry about that. Can you please go back to what you were doing before we came along and literally messed things up?” But instead I pile my purchases into my sack and stroll out. It has taken me many years to get this habit down; I wonder how long it will take here.




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