The clerk in Denver International looks up through his azure glasses. He sees me, a fresh college grad escaping the grips of day to day existence. I smile Checking into my flight, I don’t realize that in thirty days I will be forever changed by my experience.
Jamaica: Paradise! Bananas and coconuts grow abundantly from uncultivated trees, yet times are hard. People ask for money while buildings lay in disrepair.
I meet Captain Eveready, pilot of a glass bottom boat. A jolly man, he shares himself and his experiences. He praises his homeland. He says money is occasionally tight, but asks, “How could anyone be poor in a beautiful place, surrounded by amazing people?” I meet another man on the beach who shares my name: Steve. With him the conversation repeatedly shifts to faraway places. Can he stay with me if he gets a visa? Can he borrow money? His eyes darken when making such requests. He emphasizes his poverty, but wears nice clothes, eats restaurant food, and drinks imported beer. When asked about his home, he has little praise.
These men are opposites. One sees wealth everywhere. Going to work is an adventure. He loves his home, and loves sharing it! The other looks for a way out, a better place to go, missing the abundance all around him. I promise myself when I return home I will savor every experience, every morsel of life it will offer, no matter what.
Colombia: I walk past a souvenir store on a side street in the north end of Bogotá. Guitar music comes from inside. A man is singing. I turn back, stepping into the store. I’m greeted with a smile. A conversation unfolds in English and Spanish. Introductions are offered: Profession, home town, instruments played. Saul, is an artist. He wakes up early every morning to open his store and pay the bills. In the evenings he works as a professional piano player, but his specialty is painting large murals. I note how robust he is. He works long days seven days a week, yet radiates more happiness than most urban professionals. He tells me about his mural on 12th street between 6th and 7th avenue. Leaving the store, I walk briskly.
I look up at the mural. It encompasses the side of a building. In the left a woman holds a village of multicultural people to her bosom. The colors are vibrant. The villagers are connected, happy. In the right a mounted demon sets fire to the other side of the village. His eyes are dark and a money insignia blazes across his chest.
I look down at the postcard Saul wrote to me.
“Steve: This is Colombia with two faces. One conflicted and dramatic, the other our happy vision of life. It is necessary for all people to help fix this problem. – Saul.”
Exiting the plane on October 8th I feel more clear than ever, the world is what you make of it. Now I see the face of life smiling back at me wherever I look.