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Colombia, Day 25

“The most important thing is this: to sacrifice what you are now for what you can become tomorrow.” – Shannon L. Adler

The day that I left El Paso, Texas, to start a new life in Pennsylvania, I called a couple of friends to tell them I was heading out. I deliberately avoided saying goodbye to them in person because I knew that I couldn’t handle it. I was on my way to a new life in a new and strange place. Although I had been to Waynesboro to interview of the job and look at apartments, I had only been there once. On July 4th, 2000, I picked up all of my earthly possessions and embarked on the trip to what would be my new home.

The morning that I left Baltimore to get on a plane to Barranquilla, Colombia, my wife and I stood by the car as the dog stuck her head out the window. We took a selfie and off I was, on my way to a strange land. While I was incredibly excited over the prospects of coming here, I was also incredibly scared. On the plane here, somewhere over Jamaica, I went into the bathroom and threw water on my face. I whispered to a higher authority that I was both thankful for the challenge and very, very scared.

You have already read what I’ve had to share for the last month, and I thank you for reading. (If you haven’t, all posts are under the #Colombia tag.) So I won’t give you a run-down of all that I did here. However, you should know that I didn’t include everything that I did here, or everything that happened. There is just too much to tell.

My view tonight as I write this is at the end of this post. It’s my last night here in Barranquilla, Colombia, though I’m scheduling this post to go live when I’m in flight to Miami. It’s been a bittersweet four weeks. I was incredibly homesick, missing my beautiful wife like I’ve never missed her before. I was a stranger in a strange land, speaking the language but not the dialects.

Colombia was sold to me by American popular culture as a dangerous place, where I was sure to get mugged and swindled. I didn’t. I came to find a place where people are happy, the food is delicious, and the university where I guest-lectured is top notch. It would be better than most public universities in the US. No lie.

Yeah, there’s still about 16 hours to go, so I could still get mugged. I could also get struck by lightning.

Yes, there are places in the city where poverty is widespread. Yes, there have been muggings and murders. (Though the murder rate is less than half that of Baltimore at this time, with a population more than twice the size.) There were plenty of shacks passing as homes, overcrowded and with questionable delivery of services. But as is the case in so many other parts of the developing world, the good people outnumber the bad 10,000 to one. And I am very happy to have met so many of them.

For now, this adventure ends.

On to the next one.

Barranquilla Skyline

Skyline of Barranquilla minutes after the sun had set.

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René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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7 replies

  1. Have a good trip, and a nice restful vacation. Reading about your adventures was enjoyable and enlightening.


      1. I hope you had some well deserved rest this past weekend, and will be ready for your next adventure soon. And that includes completing graduate school.


        1. Thank you. Yes, there was plenty of relaxing going on, and a haircut, and a shave… And I’m up at the crack of dawn today to get on with thesis prep. Have a great week.


  2. Welcome home, with a mission accomplished for you.
    I learned long ago, learn from what locals do, as they’re familiar with their environment, diseases, treatments and what they have available to work with. In developing nations, humans replace electronic communications, it’s a bit slower, but usually more comprehensive in data collected at a more granular level.
    As for loneliness and missing loved ones, I know that one all too well. I did deploy quite a few times, fortunately, I kept busy enough that I didn’t have the opportunity to miss them very badly. Still, it’s nice to be retired from things military and enjoy family all the more from those absences.

    As for language, I’ll relate a story from an Italiian-American in WWII, during the Sicilian campaign. He was assigned as the unit interpretor, as he spoke Italian well.
    While entering a town, an elderly man approached the unit, speaking animatedly to the confused soldier. When his commander remarked, “What the hell, I thought you spoke Italian”, his reply was, “Yes, I do. He’s speaking Sicilian Italian and it’s hard to understand”.
    Eventually, he figured out that the man was trying to tell him where enemy forces were.
    The closest approximation would be for an well educated US citizen, who’s learned to speak and understand proper, accent-less English, trying to communicated with an excited West Virginia mountain resident. It’s English, but the accent and inflection when excited is nearly impossible to decipher until one’s learned the local usage.


    1. It was pretty much that way with Spanish speakers in Colombia. The worst part was that there were several dialects working in Barranquilla. You had the coastal dialect, which is fast and uses a lot of different words with different meanings from the ones I know. And then there was the dialect from inside the country, where it’s closer to the Spanish I speak but with some interesting differences. And then you had the dialect of people who are very, very close to my Spanish but somehow didn’t understand me when I spoke. It was interesting.
      It’s very good to be home.


      1. We have a close personal friend who is Saudi-American, living in Saudi again. He was in Qatar with us and he related how he had a hard time understanding the Qatari dialect.
        Even in this country we run into issues. One of my drill sergeants was from the mountains of West Virginia. When he got excited, we had no clue in the world what he was saying, we just moved to where we thought he wanted us. He literally sounded like someone was strangling a cat.
        Some other remote, rural areas have similar dialect changes.
        Even India has dialect shifts in Hindi by region.


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