This post has been awhile in the making! I must admit it is going to be rather large, with a lot of photos. My trip to Columbia was amazing…in my four days in South America I took over 2500 photos, which then I edited down to about half that amount…and now I have picked a few to share with you!
I must admit before going to Columbia I didn’t know much about what my friend Jacob did in his work with Opportunity International (OI)…but after going and experiencing it first hand I totally understand more–not saying I’m an expert on micro finance at all, but I get what a difference it can make in peoples lives! After meeting and seeing some clients of OI I came back to Canada having to process (not only all the photos) but the experience..and I am inspired!
My trip down to Cartagena, Columbia was not that straight forward. I was flying on my own from Toronto to Charlotte to Miami (where I’d meet other people from the OI team) and travel on to Cartagena… I was totally cool with this.. I’ve flown a lot!! I was travelling with only carry-on luggage…and off I went..parking Milo at the park’n fly… getting checked in and at the gate all by 5am!! My first flight was great… but in Charlotte that’s when things started to fall apart!
The plane arriving to take me to Miami was delayed due to mechanical problems–that plane was replaced, but when it arrived in Charlotte—well it had mechanical problems again! (so I was delayed–and at that point I realized I would miss my connection in Miami!)… The Airline re-routed me (and another guy trying to get to the same place) via Atlanta. (then we’d go Atlanta- Bogata; Bogata to Cartagena…I was alright with this..but realized I had to let people know WHEN to expect me at the airport in Cartagena so I sent some emails (iPhones are wonderful!)
I fly to Atlanta, I do not remember taking off or landing on this flight–I slept solid! I get my new ticket and settle into the gate..only to find out that the plane arriving from ‘Hartford’ (where the heck is that?!) was delayed so that meant my flight leaving Atlanta was about an hour and 20mins delayed… so when I arrived in Bogata…I had 40mins to attempt to clear customs, switch terminals and get on my flight… the airline didn’t even let us attempt this…I missed the last plane Cartagena that night! The airline put me (and the other American guy) plus a bunch of others who missed their connections up in a hotel that night.. This process was a bit stressful…and now I can smile about the crazy experience. But while it was happening I thought to myself, I hope this white unmarked van really is going to take me to a hotel, and bring me back the next morning…to the airport and not taken into the mountains somewhere! I so wished I had MORE spanish… and wish that I was more rested… You see at this point I had been up from 3:30am (EST) and it was close to 11:30pm (CST)…it was a long day…
It all turned out alright–I was able to call Jacob who was in Cartagena and tell him where I was, get a few hours of sleep before I got up and headed back to the airport and flew my last flight!!! You know what this is what travel is all about, delays, missed connections etc… but next time I fly I’m trying to have more ‘direct’ flights so the chances of this happening again is smaller!!
I arrived in Cartagena…on Wednesday morning almost 20hours after I should have! It was HOT and HUMID! But I met up with the other people in my group alright..and it turned out all good!!
I must tell you I took a lot of photos while travelling around on the bus…some of them turned out amazing! The one below is a photo is one of those photos…
Our group stayed in two different hotels in the “Old City”…here is a shot of my hotel from the street!
The rest of Wednesday morning I spent with the rest of the YAO Insight group…they left to do some sightseeing..while I stayed back and met up with Jacob and a few other people and we had lunch and then headed out to visit a client!
We visited with Clevis Berrio (pictured below)…she started a sewing business and was financed for loans to help buy more machines to grow her business. Her business specializes in making maternity clothes..as well as children’s clothes. Her story was amazing– women would come into the shop where she sells the clothes trying to sell ‘candies’ to make money… Clevis started a foundation that allows pregnant women to come be trained how to do ‘finishing’ touches on some of the clothes–the embroidery etc…and then they are paid for doing this work.
Clevis shared her vision for her business in the backyard of her property of how she wants to make an open ‘air’ kind of workshop at the back because working in the house is so hot for the women. What struck me is that this woman had so little..but what she did have she shared..with others that had even less. At that point I knew that this trip was going to be even more special.
Wednesday night, we went to dinner together as a group..we walked through the streets of the “Old City”…
I was able to capture some fun images even without a tripod!
The coolest, biggest door to a church EVER!
Looking up at the church…
Such a busy day! I left Cartagena with the group and headed out to Arjona which was about an hour and a bit away (depending on the traffic!). When I’m travelling I love how things aren’t always like they are in Canada–which is SOOOO REFRESHING!! As we were winding up and down roads..
I made a few of my own observations:
1. there didn’t seem to be any time you couldn’t pass a car, ie
2. motorcycles like to pass and drive between two lanes of traffic
3. it was like some high organized dance routine of cars merging and participating in… that I don’t think I could ever drive in Columbia because I have two left feet!
The other thing was how people travelled… the two men below were sleeping; their main objective was to keep the eggs IN the back of the truck… after I took this photo… the man on the right woke up because one of the jugs on the roof was leaking on his head and it woke him up! But I was glad to capture this image before we passed them on the next curve!
This is one of the streets in Arjona…
One of the many children I took photos of… they loved to see themselves on the back of my camera!
We met Tulia Pacheco(the woman 2nd from the right of the photo)..and had a tour of her house..she recently was able to be a part of the “Roof/Floor” Project where clients that have participated in a few ‘loan cycles’ can apply for a loan to get a roof or a floor… (as having a dirt floor in rainy season is a lot of mud; and the same thing is with holes in the roof!)
We went to Tulia’s Trust Group Meeting…A trust group is a group of people that know each other and are accountable to each other. The way it was explained to me is like this. It is basically a ‘group’ loan, if one member takes their portion of the loan (rmemeber these are small amounts–usually the highest loan is about $150US) and doesn’t pay it back..well that means that the GROUP still has to pay that money…it’s an accountability’s thing that seems to work…
Trust Groups usually meet once a week with their OI Loan Officer to go over how much has been repaid etc. Also during these meetings OI Loan Officers go over lessons about stewardship and other ‘life lessons’
They met on the porch of one of the members houses..
The lesson of the day was about the recipe to leaving or getting out of debt…
It started to rain.. just as we were heading back to the bus! Let me tell you the streets got really muddy! We still headed over to meet Elisabel Ozozco and her husband… they make cheese! The bus got stuck in the mud.. so we got to walk! If you were following on facebook–I danced in the rain, (it was such a relief after the muggy hotness of the day!).. we finally got to Elisabel’s and took shelter in her ‘cheese factory’ in her backyard!
That’s where the magic of cheese was made… from separating the milk–(in the buckets) to wrapping it in cheese cloth.. to weighing it in the scale to sell!
Mmmmm, Cheese!! (I had a tiny taste even though it wasn’t pasteurized!)
On the walk back to the bus, I started to sport the ‘head-brella’… and did a bit more dancing!
Margarita and I… Margarita works for OI Columbia in the Bogota office..she came to help ‘host’ our group!
After lunch, where we could swim…we went to another trust group meeting where we could share questions with the members! Afterwards we hung out with some of the clients…and I snapped a few phoots… this is one of my favourites! Giving kids rides in the wheelchair!! 🙂
Getting back into Cartagena was a bit of a challege…it seemed like the road was blocked because of a protest of cabbies (two days a year apparently there is no ‘motor’ taxis and they blocked the road to make a statement about how they didn’t like this!)… I refer to this night as “Pizza and Protest”! We carefully crossed the street and were able to have some pizza at this roadside store…before our driver came back and said, “it’s over.. back to the bus…hurry hurry!” and then we were off again!!
In the morning we visited a school and met with some Youth Entrepreneurs…I took heaps of photos..but well didn’t want to overload you all with photos (as this is going to be the ‘BIGGEST’ post ever!)…
After lunch we went to visit Gerardo Guzman…he sells Bolis, which is a local corn thing served with cheese…it is mushed up, sugar and other things are added…and then scooped back into the corn husks and boiled… and it is YUMMY!!! 🙂
While Gerardo shared with us the process of how he made Bolis… there was a HUGE crowd of people (other than us) that came to watch.. (apparently we were interesting to watch!?) Normally Gerardo doesn’t do this on the street but instead in his house…for today he moved everything out to the porch so that we could all see!!
The end product… I seriously wish I could make this here in Canada it was so tasty, and to eat it with some cheese…yummy!
We walked through the streets to visit another client…I think this is one of my favourite photos of a street in Ajrona!
Here I am with Ana Alosta Fonsela and her daughter… she makes ‘bags’ and ‘hammocks’ and also sells candies!! My one thing I brought home with me from Columbia (other than my photos and memories) was this bag she made!!
After we met in Ana’s house… There was a party of sorts on the streets…it was the first time we had a ‘mob of people’ that were interested in what we were doing, where we were from…etc… (even though we didn’t share the same language…we could smile, and laugh together!)
I took heaps of photos of the children…
A ‘group’ shot of everyone from the street!! (can you see me?!)
These kids were adorable… as fast as I would take a photo they would press closer to try to see it on the back of my camera!!
I love this shot… I so wish I knew this little girls’ name…it is one of my fav images!
Here is Amauri and I… Amauri was our ‘body guard’…he kept an eye out for us while I was taking photos… The whole trip was so safe, nothing crazy happened at all (which I’m thankful for) that was one of my biggest fears before going…
Amauri and I had this joke…basicly that I was as strong as HE was! I love this photo and am glad that whoever took it (sorry I can’t remember) did an awesome job!!
While we were stopped on the high way to find a ‘Bano’… I used the “bano” and then came back to the bus…where most of the group was sitting inside… there was music awesome, latin music playing… and Amauri was of course standing on the street watching… I tried to get him to salsa…(so I did my best ‘salsa’ moves) people I am so not a dancer… (I probably looked like a fool!) and was totally oblivious to everyone else around me…
Including a cop that was watching…apparently I made his day… and he was smiling at me… (so after this realization I grabbed my camera) and took a photo of him…. Before I did… I looked at him from behind the camera with a question in my eyes, “can I take your photo?!” and he nodded… and apparently waved with his pinkie finger!!
Just to make sure that it was very clear that he indeed was a cop… I took one last photo of him at his cop-truck!
When I got home I realized that these were the LAST two photos I took in Columbia! You see after this I was whisked away and travelled on a public bus to shower.. before my red-eye flight back to Canada!!
I hope I didn’t loose anyone in this story… as it was a long one! I hope you enjoyed the photos, as much as I did taking them… I’m sure there are many things I have left out…by mistake or purpose…but well that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Four days in Columbia, South America… one more continent checked off my bucket list–(but more exploration in South America is required!)…But you know what the even greater thing is? Those four days…have changed the way I view and think about my life…and how I want to live it from now on! I found people living with joy, hope, happiness…in community worrying about others and helping them, even if they themselves have little. People living in circumstances that made me wonder..how can they be happy!? don’t they realize how little they have? that there is holes in their roof? But instead there was hope, and dignity and joy…
My lesson was that no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, you can always help someone that has less than you, and you can live your life with joy, hope and dignity! Thanks so much OI for giving me the opporunity to experience your work in microfinance in Columbia, South America