Neiva, Colombia in April of 2022.
It was around 2pm when my body began to feel warm. The brightness of the bedroom was inescapable because the sun was radiating with full force. I tried for a moment to hide underneath the covers of the bed, pretending that the day hadn’t started yet. It was no use. The shine from the sun and the heat of the early afternoon were too much for my imagination.
It was time to wake up and start my first day in Neiva, Colombia. A growing sense of embarrassment began to take hold in my mind.
I overslept is what was repeated in my head.
My hosts, Yesi and her mom Piedad, were probably patiently waiting for me to get up so we could have lunch together. I was overthinking because I had just arrived in Neiva from Bogotá last night. Between the change in timezones (Neiva is 2 hours ahead of California), the duration of my trip (about 17 hours due to a delay), and a new sleeping environment (Yesi lent me her room and she used the extra bedroom), hopefully they wouldn’t mind.
Setting myself free of the bedsheets, I rolled to one side of the bed in search of my phone.
Tapping the screen, to my surprise, it was only 5:30 in the morning.
No way. It was surely a lie.
Checking the temperature, it read 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Somehow, my phone must have experienced a glitch during the trip. I did a Google search to confirm the actual local time and it was now 5:31 in the morning.
It was at this moment I realized that I was in a new world.
My first thought was:
So this is Neiva.
The sun was already shining in Huila’s capital. It seemed like the city had been brought to life. From Yesi’s window, which was on the fourth floor of an apartment building, the familiar sound of cars, construction, and movement echoed from feint directions. For the first time, and maybe the only time today, I suddenly felt cold. A chill went down my spine as the view brought back memories of my former home in Missoula, Montana. This was technically a city, but from the window was a sea of lush vegetation, with a sprinkle of urban sprawl nestled throughout the green horizon.
I attempted to navigate the scenery in search of Missoula’s Mount Jumbo or Sentinel. The mountains of my home weren’t anywhere to be found, and in the deep distance, a hazy jagged line crossed the sky. A looming mirage at the deepest point in a cloudless atmosphere, the Andes Mountains stood watch.
Reverting my attention down to the parking lot, I could see people walking dogs at a casual pace. It was peaceful and tranquil. My eyes traced the dimensions of the lot, processing my new view. Along the border was a protective wall with barbed wire. One of the people with their dog stopped to chat with a uniformed guard. I could make out that a gun was holstered next to his waist.
The reality of this new location came back to me.
So this is Neiva..
Outside the walls and gate was a world I didn’t understand. It was too early to think about it so I returned to something I knew and could control: the covers of my bed.
I forced myself to stay under the sheets a little while longer and managed to squeeze in about an hour of rest before it became necessary to leave the room and start the day.
Groggy, jet-lagged, and partially disoriented, I opened the door of the room not knowing what to expect with my first morning in Colombia. It was 7am, feeling more like 2pm, as I hobbled to the kitchen like a weary pioneer who had just survived a harsh winter. Anyone or anything could have been around the corner: Piedad, Yesi, a hungry monster.
The numbness of fatigue was my shield as I turned to see my hosts already awake.
My brain wasn’t fully functioning and probably a few word exchanges took place at that moment in time. One sentence stood out. It was the first phrase I remember from that day and it was perhaps the most beautiful. These words evaporated any fear or worry about my new home.
“Are you hungry?”
So this is Neiva…
To be continued…