Posted on Sun, Nov. 11, 2007


 
MARLENE BRUNO
A native of Medellin, Maria Leonor Velez, with her children, welcomed the writer into her home, and invited her back.

Personal Journey | Colombia? You had to be there

What comes to mind when you hear "Medellin, Colombia"? When my daughter accepted a teaching assignment in Colombia's second-largest city, my thoughts centered on drug cartels, guerilla warfare and kidnappings.

To reassure myself about my daughter's decision, I asked friends and family whether they knew anyone who had visited Colombia. I called my travel agent, begging for encouragement. Instead, she suggested I read the U.S. State Department's travel warning. (Go to http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_941.html to read the June 4 warning.)

Desperate, I visited several bookstores to learn about this violent, remote country where my daughter would live. I found two travel books about Colombia, and both contained long chapters on safety. Finally, I realized that I needed to trust my daughter's judgment.

With 20 other North American teachers, my daughter arrived safely and was ensconced in a lovely apartment in the El Poblado section of Medellin, with mountain views from every window, and a lively mall and movie theaters nearby.

Her enthusiastic e-mails told of the Colombian culture, landscape and people. During her summer visit home, we pored over beautiful photographs as she convinced my husband and I to visit for two weeks.

Medellin, with its temperate climate, is a lush, green, sprawling city nestled in a valley of the Andes Mountains. Modern high-rise apartments with flower-filled balconies dot the landscape. From my daughter's apartment, I watched a horse grazing on the mountainside, while bustling yellow taxis filled the streets below.

We explored the neighborhood on foot. Exotic flowers were sold on every corner, and joggers looked remarkably like the joggers in my own neighborhood. After school, boys played soccer. Where were the machine guns?

We toured mountain villages with an English-speaking guide. One village, with horse-drawn carts rolling down narrow, cobblestone streets, housed woodworkers. At the center of another, women worked large looms while keeping an eye on their children attending school across the way. Greenhouses and fields of flowers provided a trade for yet another peaceful village.

Our day ended with a visit to our guide's finca, a typical mountain home where many Medellin families retreat each weekend to ride horses and relax in the open spaces.

Before leaving Medellin, we were invited to the home of one of my daughter's students. We enjoyed traditional Colombian foods, including bocadillo (a guava spread served on cheese) and empanadas, as we sat outdoors watching the sun set over the mountains. Our hostess talked about life in Colombia and asked that we tell other Americans about her beautiful country. Before we left, she led us to a guest room and said, "This is your home the next time you visit Colombia."

After years of hearing only negative reports about Colombia, the beauty of the land and the warmth of the people surprised us. I now keep an open mind when hearing reports of unfamiliar cultures and countries, and remember the lesson of Colombia and her people. Certainly, Colombia has its problems. But the spirit and warmth of the Colombian people are what I remember.


Marlene Bruno lives in Thornbury, Delaware County.