We had just finished our morning with the president and seen our friends off to Medellin, Baranquilla, Baru. Then there was us, the Bogotá group. The bus ride back to the finca was quiet, nobody spoke much. The driver always had reggaeton playing, no matter the hour, but I put my earbuds in and closed my eyes to the odd warbles of Cocorosie. Soon I would be meeting my homestay hosts. What I had learned just two days before was that I had a roommate situation, which is a rare placement to win. The girl was my age and a former WorldTeach volunteer who lived with the Colombian man that she had met and fell in love with. It sounded like a wonderful situation for me. A young couple. I wasn’t sure how I would have reacted in a true family situation, particularly one that I couldn’t communicate with. I am a heavily communication based person. I was both ecstatic and nervous to meet my new roommates who could potentially become my friends, or at the very least a buffer into this foreign world.
At the finca we sat in the living room and watched the clock tick. We killed a couple hours lounging before the buses showed up. About seven of us loaded ourselves and our heavy suitcases, duffels and backpacks into the bus destined for the northern areas of the city. We waved goodbye to the finca and set off for the big city. One by one I watched my friends walk off the bus and hug their new host moms, host dads, hose siblings, host dogs. One by one the bus emptied until it was just me, the young girl who was coordinating our meet ups and the driver. I hadn’t realized I would be last or how far away I would be from my fellow volunteers. My heart raced as I tried to make small talk in broken Spanish with the coordinator and looked back to the wake of traffic behind the bus. Further and further north we ran. It got dark out. It seemed like hours from the last stop, but I think it was no longer than 45 minutes. Finally we pulled up to a gated townhome complex. I gathered my belongings and stepped off the bus.
In the secured glass entryway I waited for a minute. A Colombian man about my age with dark rimmed glass and short well-kept hair walked in with a petite brunette in tow. They both smiled and the girl said “hello”. She was definitely from the States. This was my host family. I smiled warmly and hugged them both. Orlando, the man, took my suitcase. Nell, the girl, offered to grab my backpack. I hugged the coordinator goodbye and followed them to my new place. Nell warned me that she had friends living with them for the next two days, a guy from France and a girl from Spain. They’re really cool though, she told me. All I could think was that I had dropped into the heaven of homestays.
Orlando and Nell opened the door to the townhome and welcomed me in. I immediately ran into two strangers in the small sitting room that we entered. They smiled and greeted me, both speaking in English. He was carrying a small speaker into the dining room area and she grinned at me and bobbed around as she spoke and giggled with Nell and Orlando. They were so friendly. That first night, the five of us sat around the dining room table sipping on beer and trading music. The frenchman, Guyaton, loved reggae. It made me laugh. It reminded me of home. The girl from Spain, his girlfriend, Sarah, was just the happiest, giggliest, most positive human being I had ever met. They had spent the last few years traveling the world together and teaching. In two days, they would be using the money they saved to spend ten months on bikes traveling from Colombia to Patagonia. Basically, I was in love with them. They carried the adventurous spirit I hoped to conjure in myself.
My hosts, Nell and Orlando, welcomed me into their space with open arms. They offered me food and showed me around the house. The next day, Orlando took me on a bike ride to see how long it would take me to bike to work. We rolled up to my school and he pointed at the tall white building with blue trim. The windows I could see were lined with books. A library. They had a library! The day was sunny and we passed by walls and walls of colorful and tasteful graffiti as we biked back home. I was ecstatic and already feeling at home. Later that day, Nell took me on a walk to show me the store where we buy produce, the store where we buy cereal, the store where we buy bread, the store where we buy meat, the store where we buy shampoo and conditioner. It seemed there was a different store for nearly everything and they were all within a five minute walk of our house. So cool. That night, my hosts and their friends invited me to a going away dinner for Sarah and Guyaton, where I would meet two more of their friends – a music producer and a quick witted blonde Colombian who warmed up quickly. The first few days passed so quickly as I got to know Nell, Orlando, Sarah, and Guyaton. So well that the morning Sarah and Guyaton pedaled off on their cross-continental tour, I walked out to see them off and my heart fell a little. They would be back in October, though. And until then, I had my amazing hosts to keep me company. Colombia was quickly turning into home. I was excited for what the year had in store.