Not everything about traveling is glamorous and fun. In fact a significant portion of the time is spent being somewhat confused by cultural things that are so normal to locals. There are moments when you just don’t understand what’s going on, no matter how well you speak the language. I don’t mean for these things to sound scary. I haven’t felt nervous or in danger at all in Colombia. I just mean to say that it’s an inevitable part of the experience in a foreign country. For example on the bus ride from Cartagena to Taganga, the driver stopped every hour or so for a police officer to come on the bus (really it was a small van for about 15 people) to peek around a bit from the doorway. It seems that’s their way of being vigilant of…what? I’m not really sure. They don’t ask for identification or really say anything at all. I hear my fellow traveler Ronald’s voice in my head – “This is Colombia.”
Then there are moments of complete shock where you see something you may have imagined possible before but pleasantly lived in denial of its existence in the world. Like today for instance when I met an 8 year old girl in the bathroom at a road side “bus stop.” Her job is to flush the toilets with buckets of water because there was no running water there, and to collect 500 pesos (about $0.17) from every person who stops in. Another girl, maybe 5 years old, passes her buckets full of water from outside every few minutes. Heartbreaking. I got back on the air conditioned bus feeling heavy and confused about how the world can be so cruel to someone so innocent while here I am lucky enough to be gallivanting around this country.
I apologize to my readers who follow my blog to read about the exciting things I encounter in my travels, but I also believe it is important to acknowledge the realities of traveling in developing countries. I’ve seen some confusing things in my travels, especially in Morocco and Romania, and I’ve observed countless moments and scenes that look very different from my cushy suburban American home, but this girl on the side of the road somewhere near Barranquilla, Colombia has been the most shocking to date. I’m sure something, somewhere, someday will top this one. For now I wish there was something I could do to change her circumstances, like hand her way more than 500 pesos and tell her to run to the nearest school she can find. Since I can’t do that, I’ll silently wish her the best and take it as another gentle sign from the universe that I’m on a journey to make a difference in this world, whatever it may be.
I’ll end with a quote from the introduction of the safety video on my Delta flight to Cartagena. “The ones who truly change the world are the ones who can’t wait to get out in it.” Despite the confusion and heart wrenching moments, I still feel that way. More and more every day.