The Colombian Connection
by Glenn Monson
(Yucaipa, Ca. USA)
The plaza villa de leyva
When I was 16/17 my father, a career military officer was stationed at Norton AFB in southern California. I had good parents who always tried to educate me in a global fashion. And the Air Force always encouraged families to take in exchange students. That year we welcomed into our home a young man 17 years of age for his senior year in high school from Bucaramanga, Colombia.
I said to my mother from where? After saying it again I asked her if he knew about running water. I was a precocious teenager. He knew about as much English as I did Spanish, about 2 years of classes. Which didnt help Either of us much.
Now Christian, stayed with us for about 1 1/2 years, and after he spent some time in England for his college years, even though we always stayed in touch we hadn't really seen each other.
About ten years passed when he showed up at our house one day with a new bride and a baby boy. I was working as a paramedic in those days on a 48 hour shift and missed them completely. But we received an invitation to his parents house in Bucaramanga for Easter. And Christian insisted we come and we said what the hey, why not.
We had no idea what we were in for:
As we arrived I was happy to see constructed houses instead of straw huts, and all the women weren't topless feeding babies. Oh God I'm worse now aren't I. All kidding aside most of the family showed up at the airport to greet us 12 people all in all. The rest of 25 were at the house as we arrived there. Christian's father was a pretty high up manager for Good Year and did well for himself and the upscale neighborhood was shall we say beautiful with a well groomed jungle look to it. I was about 30 years old by this time. And even though I loved to tease Christian and didnt really have the backwards mindset about Colombia, he seemed a bit sensitive about foreigners thinking that way about his country.
As we walked into their house, the living room full of family on both parents side. I watched as one relative opened the entire wall to the gardened backyard, the whole wall. They were preparing a barbeque, and a special national soup with corn, and they had a group of men called Vallenatos (to anyone from California Mariachis only better), I kept walking around looking at all the fruit trees in their back yard saying what the heck is that, oh that's Guanabana. A banana says I, and Senior came outside with a big knife chopped one off the tree and put it in the freezer. They had Sapote, Guana and come dusk singing frogs. Yes singing frogs or Canta ranas they were called.
Now as an Air Force brat we traveled a fair amount growing up and were used to different places, people and cultures. ( The best perk being in the military gives) But I had never seen a colonial equatorial look before and humidity aside Bucaramanga was an incredible place. More impressive was their absolute old fashioned hospitality, and a genuine and sincere desire to make their guests welcomed. The next day many of us loaded into e cars and drove up the mountain, which was really an incredibly large mesa plateau, to one of their National Parks called "Chica Mocha" which Im told means girl with arms cut off or girl with no arms, a story I skipped learning in favor of the one about the waterfall called "El Salta del duende"
nearby " The jump of the leprechaun" or goblins jump.
I could literally go on for hours about an inviting people and culture that openly embraced kindness to a foreigner because their national pride as a people dictated it to be what was important. Everywhere I went even if you could tell they were a little confused why a gringo might be there they all behaved and acted in a manner as if they were raised that way, which showed obvious attempts at consideration for your comfort and well being as a priority. Something the rest of the world has forgotten unfortunately.
Whether by myself or with my parents gone back every year since, and they are always welcome at our houses here in California, and they visit as well, we have literally become one big family. Christian calls my parents mom and dad, and I call his mama y senor, I guess you dont verbally get to familiar with dad in Colombia even Christian calls him that.
To sum it up I found an incredible place seemingly in many ways stopped in time yet with all the modern accouterments, where I found I felt a longing to return over and over. A brother I always wanted and a rich land steeped in history and full of stories that made me feel I belong. I have since over the last 30 years hence traveled almost everywhere in Colombia, despite the humidity when at or near sea level I loved all of them and found the people always possessed the qualities that so endeared me to this country.
Which is why when I retire in a few more years Im planning to move there and possibly start a business with mi hermano Colombiano y mi cunada.
But I picked a 500 year old city / resort area called Villa de leyva, in the mountains outside Bogota. Its high enough so no humidity, and still close enough to the equater the temperature is about the same all year around mid 70's. If you get the chance listen to a Cumbia (Colombian folk music) called " Yo me llamo cumbia" It sums the people up quite well and explains much about the mindset of these remarkable proud people and their country. Oh and get an older version sung slow and romantic like its suppose to be. Here's a link if they allow that here.
aka Tio Glenn as I'm known by all my sobrinos y sobrinas