During our third and final week in Villanueva, we were about to hit the panic button because Kimberly’s phone suddenly stopped working. And her phone is the phone, the one we use to make calls and conduct other necessary business. Dennis’ phone is mostly a door stop, though he can use it to get online, use Google Maps, play chess and watch Netflix. But it was beginning to look like his device would have to be conscripted into service as the primary (and only) phone until hers was repaired/ replaced. Which would involve shipping it back to the U.S., and then having it catch up with us somewhere in the suburbs of Who Knows Where.
Locally produced concrete laundry basins on the left. The laundry basin where we hand washed all of our clothing in our quarters on the right.
Unfortunately, local mail delivery left much to be desired. The Colombian postal service, called the 4-72 (that’s the official name, not a nickname) didn’t even have an actual outlet in town. So in order to ship something to the U.S., we had to go to a private carrier, as recommended by our hosts; but at the one place they recommended as a possible solution, we were told that, lo siento, they couldn’t do the job.
On the other side of the coin, however, delivery of an incoming item (not through the government service, but through a private parcel carrier somewhat like UPS) was speedy and efficient. Our replacement for the Steripen that went on the fritz (actually the replacement for the replacement that was stuck in customs purgatory in Ecuador) had been waiting for us when we arrived in Villanueva. So we were able to manufacture safe drinking water throughout our stay without having to buy it. But while getting items shipped in was a breeze, getting them shipped out was a nightmare. Fortunately, we didn’t have to, because the phone decided to start working again. Phew.
A treed hedge hog, discovered by Kimberly, provided an impromptu lesson at the rural campus.
While the post office was missing in action, the local library was quite a wonder. This oddball structure had caught our eye as soon as we walked through town from the bus. It looked like a work in progress, unfinished piles of stone held into place by wire mesh. Later we learned that this was an award-winning design by 4 university students, and that construction was carried out on a low budget utilizing materials from the area and labor provided by former combatants in Colombia’s civil war, as part of a rehabilitative program.
One day, Dennis was biking to an errand when he decided to stop at the library and take a peek inside. Going upstairs to the children’s section, he introduced himself to the librarian (with the aid of Google Translate) and told her about our history as children’s entertainers. She asked (also with her translator) “Would you like a tour?” And so she and another staff person showed him around the library. She informed him that this library was “4th in the world”. Did that mean someone had ranked it the fourth-best library overall? That was unlikely, though it did seem to be a fine establishment. It turned out that she meant it won fourth place in a design competition.
The next day, he brought Kimberly back and served as tour guide for her. Out in front of the library, some kids were participating in a class to learn folk dancing such as we had witnessed and indulged in. There were guitar classes and a chess club inside, and even a recording studio. In a little hallway behind the studio was a jumbled heap of old musical instruments, which the librarian had indicated to him were about to be discarded — which was a heartbreaking pronouncement, making him wish he could adopt a bunch of them and stuff them into his backpack. But when we both went back, these instruments had been organized more neatly, leading us to suspect (and hope) that “discarded” really meant “donated”.
As we were winding down our stay in Villanueva, we met our newly arrived replacement at the language school: a tall, affable German fellow named Johann. Our hosts took all three of us to a restaurant for dinner, and the food was quite tasty. It was only the second time we’d eaten out during our entire trip .
Meanwhile, we were wrapping things up with our students, of whom we’d become rather fond. On her last day at the rural campus, Kimberly was presented with a batch of handmade farewell cards from the younger students. Dennis was enjoying his final sessions with the older students and their writing. (One that especially stood out was a 13-year-old named Sebastian who had a wild imagination and a fondness for anime and Legos, with the result that he liked to decorate his writing assignments with hilarious drawings.) One day, the father of the school director, who was also heavily involved in the school’s operation, assembled all the students and gave them a stern lecture because there had been reports of a couple of students being bullied. But he also discussed with them the plans for a proposed school trip to Europe, which had been postponed because of COVID and was now slated for October.
The teachers presented us with a boxed gift set of strawberries covered with exquisitely decorated chocolate. Yum yum. And we added our parting messages to the bulletin board alongside those of previous volunteers.
On Friday night, our hosts came by to say adios with some fancy Colombian beer, which they shared with us and Johann. They also brought a parting gift of more black tea, which as we’ve mentioned before, is rather scarce around here. It’s just as well that we said our goodbyes then, because we didn’t have a chance for a proper farewell when we left the following morning. When we were all packed up, we had one of the teachers call a cab for us, and it responded with record speed, whisking us away on the first step of our journey toward our next volunteer destination.
Scenes from the School Bus
Bird Corner – Nothing but Birds
February 28 – March 4, 2022
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