The landing caught me off guard after the three and a half hour flight. After a brief interaction with Miami, I already felt like I had encountered a foreign country, so the bombardment of Spanish advertising was not startling as I walked through Bogotá’s airport. The plane had touched ground before it really hit me that I was finally there. Up until that moment, my imagination could pretend that the mountain range off to the west was the Rockies and that I was about to step into DIA. That perhaps the beautiful turquoise waters we had passed over were just a dream. Then we coasted past the gates where airplanes with foreign names on their tails clustered. I was very far from home. I had spent the night before and the morning at the Miami Airport meeting and bonding with my fellow volunteers. We were all dealing with massive amounts of trepidation and nervous excitement. The stories that brought all of us to this situation were unique but similar. We toddled off of the airplane and followed signs most of us couldn’t quite understand towards immigration. A man in a glass box requested my passport and asked if I spoke Spanish. When I said no and apologized he laughed and repeated, “I so sorry! I so sorry!” I couldn’t help but blush.
That evening, a bus rattled down a narrow country road, dodging potholes and wandering dogs. The bus was filled with anxious eyes and quick smiles. We hardly knew each other, but we were all going through the same thoughts, same processes. We had the same worries and the same hopes. We talked about our placement cities, who would be near each other, as we watched the beautiful fincas roll by outside the windows. The mountains rose in the close distance as green giants. The Andes. We had passed through Bogotá and the town of Cota on our way to the small finca that was our orientation retreat. There we would learn what it was to be WorldTeach teacher, to represent our countries and our passions in Colombia.
The first night was full of chatting and drooping eyelids. After dinner, a couple volunteers and I felt the pull of exploration and ended up recruiting at least half of the 30-ish volunteers for a walk up the road. We were joined by every neighorhood dog on the way. They scratched and skitted around our group. It was obvious they were more loose farm dogs than any family pets. Some had collars, some had missing patches of fur. We discovered the tienda that night. A few rough looking farmers sat out front on some stumps around what was most likely a hand made round table and stared curiously after us as we walked by. They waved and we smiled. We continued walking into the dark but didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so when we turned around and decided to get a beer. The fifteen or so of us gringos wandered up to the tienda as the locals spoke and pointed. Some of my groupmates spoke Spanish and gathered around the leathery men at the tables to learn more about the country we were so fresh to. The rest of stood sort of awkwardly in circles and shared the pasts that brought us there. This became our space, where we recooperated after classes and bonded with each other. We danced, we drank, we talked, we laughed. Nights blended into each other and left imprints of happiness. The idea that this time together was limited loomed close at the back of our minds. Although we spoke of visiting each other at our different placements, it felt like dreams. The orientation passed like lucid imagination. We were in Colombia but we were surrounded only by other Americans and a couple Brits. We may as well have been on vacation, with no idea what lay before us. We were supposed to be teachers, but hardly any of us seemed to have the background for it. We were supposed to be some sort of cultural ambassadors, but we had no idea how to approach this. But I guess that’s what we were there to learn.