“Brace yourself,” instructed Alvaro, “here comes Raul.”
Raul is an older man – somewhere between 67 and 92 years of age, depending on which day you ask him – who shuffles, drools and splutters.
“When you were away, every time Raul saw me he made a bee-line to ask when you were coming back. After four months, I learned Raul-speak and am about the only person in the barrio who can understand him.”
Alvaro sighed and continued,” It got so bad that when Johana – our friend who runs a street bar –saw him she would hiss “Here comes Raul.” I would grab my cane and head for the bathroom and she would hide behind the counter.”
I turned around and Raul’s eyes lit up.
Since I moved into the neighbourhood , it has become my custom to hug Raul, ask him how he has been and give him a kiss on the cheek or the top of his head – depending on which is closer.
People walking by stare at the weird red-headed foreigner who is up close and personal with a shrunken guy who stammers. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. It takes so little on my part.
Johana appeared with a plastic chair. Raul sat down and ordered an aguardiente – the local hooch which is his triple of choice. He took a sip and burst into tears. Alvaro translated for me, “He says he didn’t think that you were ever really coming back and that I was just telling him that you were to keep an old man happy.” I leaned over and dabbed the water from his eyes with my scarf. Johana appeared with some napkins.
Really, does a “welcome home” get any better?
Where to live?
I knew that if I couldn’t find a place in Boston, the same barrio where I lived before my “exile” to Peru, I wouldn’t be happy. The mere thought of living in El Poblado – the foreigner-infested suburb where the bourgeois hang out – makes Manta in Ecuador look like a viable option. Yoly — a friend who owns Ambrosia Café — insisted I stay with her and her partner, Eider until I found a place, as they had a spare bedroom.
A couple of days later she invited me to live with them. Really? I’m not sure I would want to share space with me as I am iconoclastic, eccentric and somewhat neurotic. Fortunately, they are so casual—and brave — that I thought it would work, so I jumped at the offer.
Brilliant move. We see each other early in the morning before they go to the restaurant.
By the time they come back at night I am either asleep or watching Spanish television in my room. Their bedroom has an ensuite, we don’t have to worry about bumping into each other in the middle of the night.
When I want to see Yoly and Eider, I go to the cafe. We have also divided the week into Monday, Wednesday, Friday speaking English as Yoly wants to learn the language and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in español. Sunday is whatever. Apparently, my Spanish has improved dramatically, even though I don’t really notice.
The apartment is about a 10-minute walk from where I used to live. The greasy fast-food place on the first floor isn’t exactly exciting as the smell wafts up. However, it beats the hell out of the dogs, the blaring music and the evangelicals that used to drive me to distraction in the other place.
Oh, and I should mention that the rent is $125CAD a month. Utilities are another $25 and the wi-fi is $45.
To marry or not to marry?
That was the question, because it was the easiest way to be able to stay in Colombia which has a 180-day per calendar year rule for a tourist visa. In retrospect, the 90-day visa trips in Morocco and Argentina were such an easy option.
While it was annoying to have to leave the country every three months, it could be done. When I lived in Casablanca, for example, I once walked across the border at Ceuta, turned around and headed back. It was about 15 minutes out of Morocco, but was good for another 90-days.
Since I want to stay in Medellin, I have to figure out how to do it and the big M-word looked like the best option.
And there was no shortage of offers. Alvaro would marry me in a heartbeat.
Now that same sex marriage is recognized in Colombia, Yoly offered to do the same. Fernando is back living with the woman he divorced years ago, but said she might not mind too much. And Gustavo – a street musician – said he was available. Tatiana – the ex-girlfriend of my high-school English teacher’s son – also offered.
But when she checked it with her father — who is an immigration lawyer — he cautioned that it would depend on the official processing the paper work given that she is 26 and I am 64.
The more I researched it, the more complicated it became. But it was a conversation with my mother who cautioned “I’m not sure it is a good idea” that did it as for me her advice is sage.
So now I have Jose – a poet friend – trying to get me an arts visa as a writer.
I’ve started looking at being a student again until January 2018, when a weekend trip to Panama would get me another six months. Whatever, something will happen.
Why do I want to stay?
Actually, the answer is simple: the people, the climate – close to perfect year around – and the culture. Vale – “okay” in English – so I have a bit of a problem with the food, but I carry a bottle of hot sauce in my handbag to get the spice hit I need.
What will happen next?
Damned if I know. But whatever, there are adventures waiting to happen.
My sister, Shelley, suggested I post some photos of my friends and my hangouts – so scroll down to see them.
Places and Things