The Call of the Tropics

I’ve done it. Reserved a flight for Barranquilla, Colombia in three weeks time. It’s been a long-time wish of mine to return to the barrios in Barranquilla where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Fifty years have passed, yet the imprint left by those experiences and those people continues strong. A formal invitation in Spanish arrived by email announcing a ceremony commemorating a total of twenty-five years of Peace Corps service in Colombia. Not twenty-five consecutive years as for many years as it was considered unsafe to send volunteers there.

I’ve been filled with apprehension while taking this decision. Browsing Internet I learn the new reality of the city and the barrios of Las Américas and Santuario. They have changed drastically. Some roads are now paved and shacks have become solidly-built, though still humble, homes. These began as invasion barrios, shanty towns with no plan or organization. I once knew my way in the dark through the labyrinth of dirt roads. Now I would lose my way.

My doubts peak with an email from the Barranquilla Peace Corps office responding to my inquiries. Las Américas is now considered a “red zone”, off limits for Peace Corps for security reasons! I read online news items of criminals, murders and gang fights. On the other hand, there is news of large new schools, a new health center (the first one was my last project while working there), football programs for kids.

I will persist. I want to be adventuresome. Flaco Bob, from my old training group, emails that he is going and offers to accompany me in my searches. He knows the city well and has contacts. I dig out old letters and jot down names and the address of a godson in a more-established barrio, whom I last heard from in 1996. Will I be able to locate my dear friends Petra and Fidelia in Las Américas? I have no addresses for them. No one used street names or house numbers in those years.

I’m gathering photos, letters and yellowed newspaper clippings to take. I am hopeful. I want to hear once more the wild, wonderful cacophony of the frogs in the night.

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