Communication, Ciao

I left Colombia a week ago. Within five weeks my volunteer job had become an environment where I felt undervalued and alone, not because of language, because on daily  treks to town my functional Spanish was understood by locals with whom I shared  cold beers, and by the folks who fed me, and sold me goods. It was also enough to communicate with my students. I left because I was too old to fit in.

My idealistic and unrealistic notion that I’m ageless, that my skills and energy trump the numbers rose to the fore, and were trounced. I was unable to rise above the feeling of being treated like a child, or as Karen, a young woman in the park said, ‘like a mother or grandmother,’ by a young man who was uncomfortable with my presence.

I wasn’t entirely excluded, just not accepted. When invited to go for an ice cream with him and his staff, Daniella and Luisa, I trailed behind, the Hindi grandmother, keeping her respectful distance.  When invited to go out dancing, although I sat beside him, his back  turned from me the entire evening except for the offering of drinks. Dinners were affairs of exclusion.

Day by day, as my  classes diminished, I had little to do. Finally, on my last trip to the Parque  I was ‘taken’ to the boat by Luisa. This meant that she walked ahead of me, carrying one of my grocery bags, while I carried my backpack and the other grocery bag. It’s a good 20 minute walk into town and I had thought we would be catching a mototaxi, but when we continued to walk I asked, her in Spanish, “porque estamos caminado?” (why ae we walking?) She didn’t answer me, or if she did, I didn’t hear her. As I walked, I grew more frustrated. I asked again. Finally, when we were half way there,  she hailed a moto taxi and said, “Here Ruby.” One moto taxi. What? She would follow with my other bag. I would wait for her? It was ridiculous. I realized she was with me because It was assumed that I didn’t know how to buy a ticket or find the boat when in fact, I’ve bought tickets in many languages, and found boats on several continents. I was angry because I felt humiliated, because they viewed me as inept, incapable.  

Unfortunately I gave into my frustration. I refused the ride. I became  uncommunicative, and allowed my anger to rule. Walking in silence I knew my time there was over. My relationship with the small NGO had been brief, I hadn’t been happy, I hadn’t been productive. I had been in exile.  I needed to feel independent again, to laugh, to join my fellow travelers. On my return from the park the following week, I got my exit stamp from Colombia, a cab, money changed, a boat across the river to Santa Rosa, Peru, where I caught the slow boat to Iquitos and met a friend.

This afternoon I fly to Tarapoto. A small city on the edge of the Amazonian basin in Peru. I still have Deet. perhaps, before I head across the Andes to Chachapoyas, Cajamarca, Kuelap and Chiclayo on the west coast I will do a jungle trek.       

Still, my behaviour  in the face of hurt feelings shames me. I thought I had learned to communicate in the face of adversity, instead I reverted to being childish, and reacted as my mother taught me, with a cold silence. It didn’t work then; it doesn’t work now.







5 thoughts on “Communication, Ciao

  1. Susan

    Ruby, ageism is something that is so rampant in many countries. Latin countries as we know are usually good but there are always exceptions. People are lucky to have had you travel their way. They just don’t know it yet. :)) Take care and have fun!

  2. Elaine Ketner

    Its OK Ruby their loss and on to the next adventure and find some fun…….. We are OK in Pa… Just everything is under unrest and nothing I can do about it.

  3. alice

    Ppffftttt! Not the right fit for you, certainly! I hope you meet some wonderful people during your travels in Peru! XOXO

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