Late Night Sketches

A blog for unity

Christmas in the Golden Swamp

The most beautiful Christmas I've seen was in Ciénaga de Oro. Wandering through the supermarket in Montería, somebody called out to me. My name had been forgotten but my height and hair were unmistakable. Buena and her son, Adalberto, were completing some last-minute shopping and to both of our surprise, our paths intersected again. I would go visit them in the following days.

Their family was so nice and positive on the first (also surprise) visit almost a year ago. I couldn't wait. I went the following day, Christmas Eve. This would be my first time riding a local (second-class) bus in Colombia. Being uninitiated, I purchased a ticket at the terminal and waited for the bus to leave. The route was not so simple though. Before leaving Montería, we would loop around and the ticket handler would call out, "Sincelejo, Sincelejo!" (the final destination) to anybody standing on the side of the road.

The bus filled up over the course of about ten stops and we continued the journey. The road was about thirty kilometers to Ciénaga de Oro. We had to make a quick stop at one point to shoo two bright green iguanas sunning on the highway.

At another point, we passed a group on bicycles. One of them was riding a kid's bike that had been modified to fit an adult by extending the seat post fully then bending the tube back to place the saddle further over the rear tire. Extra supports had been added from the rear axle to make the situation permanent.

Shelters for waiting for buses alongside the road varied in complexity. Many waited at their long, rural driveways. A fiberglass roof from an old Land Cruiser had been suspended by sticks to form a place to escape from the rain.

I checked the GPS location on my phone as the bus got closer to my destination. I was looking for the bridge that was immediately adjacent to the house. There must have been a distraction because the next time I checked the location, we were two kilometers too far. I called out to make a stop and began walking back towards the town among the fields on both sides of the road.

Luckily, my savior would arrive on a motorbike after a few minutes and take me to the center for dos mil pesos. ($0.66 USD)

Not wanting to arrive as a starving guest, I walked through the market until I was led to the cafeteria by a helpful vendor. Even though it was an ususual order in a room filled with cattle ranchers, a plate of eggs, rice, and cassava filled me up well.

Ciénaga de Oro market

The gate was open at the familiar house so I poked my head in and asked if Buena was around. She came out to greet me and invited me to sit down under their giant palapa.

Everything looked the same as it had in January except for one missing element. While in the grocery store, Buena informaed me that the family Grandmother has passed a month before at 101 years old. The rocking chair she had occupied was now available for other guests.

In my limited Spanish, Buena and I caught up on events of the last year. My stolen bicycles and travels since visiting, Ruby's lack of whereabouts, her nephew's upcoming graduation as a doctor and subsequent studies in London, and her son's continuing education in computer systems.

I had told Buena about the family in Montería I had visited as well, showing her the book Alberto had given me, my first in Spanish. I could not hold back my enthusiasm for Gabriel García Márquez' Hundred Years of Solitude. Her reply when I asked where to find Macondo: "It's a fantasy. Macondo lives inside all of us."

She couldn't have been more correct.

I presented her with a stone heart I had purchased before leaving Mexico. At the time of buying it, I did not intend her as the recipent but it fit perfectly.

They would be having a Christmas celebration with the entire community later in the afternoon. I asked if I could stay until then before catching a bus back to Montería.

Buena's nephew, Ricardo, would soon arrive. Talking with him was great; not only because he's smart but because he speaks English. I got clarification on his studies as a doctor and was able to fill him in on details of my stories that I was unable to transmit in Spanish which he was then able to translate for the other family members. He and Adalberto would leave to pick up his mother from the airport.

As the time for the community celebration approached, balloons were inflated and a few hundred gift bags were placed in a box to be moved outside. Sound amplification was plugged into some basic wiring in the small plaza which had already been decorated with a nativity scene, complete with an elephant.

Preparing the celebration

Children and families started to gather as the sun met the horizon. Buena organized the event as the president of the community organization. Her fellow officers would all wear matching shirts with the named of the neighborhood embroidered: 11 de noviembre.

Families begin to gather Community officers

After a short address and a few festive songs, the distribution of gifts began. In a wonderful recognition of the children, each name was called individually. A process which took some time but provided order to the exuberance. Kids became restless eventually and the families began to return home on their own accord.

Kids waiting for their name to be called

Before leaving, I shared in the Christmas dinner and informed the senior Adalberto of the beauty of his family while he invited me back next year. The pressure to improve my Spanish is now increased.

Nativity scene

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