Apártense vacas que la vida es corta // Step aside, cows, for life is short
– Cien Años de Soledad / One Hundred Years of Solitude
The scene changes but it’s the same conversation. Maybe it’s the cool hostel owner or maybe it’s a restaurant, a friend-of-an-acquaintance or a random encounter, but they have a different air from other travelers. This person isn’t the bright-eyed first time visitor, nor are they the South America Circuit backpacker wielding dirty Chacos and a signature air of boredom. They carry themselves differently – they are subtle, comfortable and humble. The long-term expats.
“What are you doing in Colombia?,” they ask.
Upon hearing that you have some sort of actual purpose here, that you have an address and generally know how to behave in public, the tone shifts slightly. “How long have you been here?,” might follow with its cousin “How much longer will you be here?”
I answer, “Well, I started with a year then decided to stay for a second. And now I’m still here but just for one more year.”A good-natured smirk prompts my question, “How did you end up here?”
The smirk erupts in a chuckle. “I took a trip here five/ten/twenty-five years ago. I was supposed to stay for a week/one month/six months and…I stayed.”
Some anchors are tangible: relationships, business ventures, unprecedented employment opportunities. Those are sensible or at the very least, comprehensible. It’s the other reasons that are frightening – the ones that no one can put their finger on. Anyone who has been to Colombia – really been here, been to a finca on a festivo weekend, known where the bus was going, distinguished the rolo accent from the paisas from the caleños and costeños – knows that it’s hard to leave. Any place can be hard to leave, but there are places that make it easier.
What’s another year, after all? We’re allocated a good amount on average. What’s another year of this easy-but-hard existence that’s so much more appealing than the alternative reality in the homeland?
It’s another year of friendships, of early morning juicio curbed by early afternoon flojera, of Saturday afternoons on the Miramar hill, learning curves and compartmentalizing. Ahead lay the vacations, work travel and tournaments away to cut inevitable Barranquilla ennui.
There’s no reason to talk of leaving or not leaving now. Home is an expansive, fluid existence and in about a week it finally takes the shape of La Arenosa for a second year. This time is different. I have an address, a routine, my own bed, comfort and familiarity waiting for me. I know what bus to take. I have a community. Tuesday, January 21st will fittingly be my first practice of the year and my one-year Mokaná anniversary. There are a hundred and one Brighid-in-Colombia-related milestones but this one is a big deal and I will celebrate by sweating through my t-shirt and stammering through rusty costeñol.
Step aside, cows, for life is short and Carnaval awaits.