Playing is universal. All species play one way or another. But, why is it that kids play more than adults? Seriously, I think the disparity here is too large. As we age, we tend to lose the notion of play. In fact, I never hear adults use the word “play” to describe their activities of enjoyment. My good friend, Lance, who is a Fulbrighter living in Santa Marta has reacquainted me with the importance of play because whenever we are about to go do something fun he says something like, “let’s go play!” Yes, we may play slightly differently than children do, but I know for a fact that I still play, and I sure as hell hope that you do too.
About two and a half weeks ago, my good friends from home, Tyler and Jessa, arrived here in Colombia. It was great to get to share my life with them. On their first day, I took them to Ciudad Bolivar, and it also happened to be my first day volunteering at Hospital Vista Hermosa. I told my supervisors at the hospital that I am studying to be a doctor and they automatically jumped to the conclusion I already am one. Thus my name at the hospital is Doctor Ryan. I tried to tell them that I wasn’t quite a doctor yet, but they wouldn’t hear anything of it. Simply by being a gringo here in Colombia, people give me credibility that I don’t even have. Ty and Jessa also got to see and participate in the magic club at Bella Flor. The next day, they helped me teach English at the university. It has been a lot of fun having them here and I was excited to help them kick off their 2 and a half month long tour of northern South America.
So much happened two Tuesdays ago! First, my other awesome Fulbright friend, Joe, whom is in Bogotá, joined me at the hospital. He is a very talented juggler and we have been bouncing the idea of doing some performing together. Having him at the hospital added a whole other level of energy and surprise to what I have been doing at hospitals for the past four years. Amazingly enough, he instantaneously became a doctor when he stepped in the hospital doors. He is known at the hospital as Doctor Joe even though he studied political science in college. Not only did we leave every patient with a big smile, but we left with even bigger smiles on our own faces knowing that our work was enjoyed. After such a great day, Joe decided that he would like to join me at the hospital every Tuesday- I’m really hyped about it. That same day was the magic club kids’ first magic show at the foundation. It was their entrance fee for them to be able to go to Gustavo Lorgia’s production called Ilusión which features 8 different talented performers from around the world including Charlie Frye. Recently, I have been a little frustrated with the children’s lack of discipline and seriousness about the magic. In general, they haven’t been practicing as much as I would like. Despite this, I was really proud of their performances in their first show. There were over fifty people there: parents, foundation employees, and some of the kids who attend the foundation. Obviously, they still have a long ways to go, but after only two months of practice, I am happy with how they performed.
Ilusión has been running for about 10 days and today is the day that the kids are going. I went to check it out on Thursday- Gustavo was generous enough to give me and a date VIP tickets free of charge. I was seriously impressed with the quality and variety of performers in the show. Not only this, but it was great to see Gustavo in action. He is one of the performers, but he is also the producer of the show. Both before and after, he was in the lobby interacting genuinely with each one of his fans. The kids are in for a huge treat today. For one, they rarely get an opportunity to leave their barrio of Ciudad Bolivar which is at least an hour and a half trek from the city center. Also, they get to see their first professional magic show and will get to meet and take pictures with all of the artists after the show. On top of this, something really amazing is about to happen tonight. Two of the stars of my magic club are going to perform a brief routine on the big stage in front of the entire audience. They are going to be special invited performers of Gustavo Lorgia. I have never even performed in a show of this caliber, and after two months of studying magic, Daniel and Andres already have the opportunity to do so. I cannot believe this is happening. Gustavo is honestly one of the most generous supportive persons I have ever met. Let me tell you how all this came to be.
About three days ago I got a phone call from a guy named Carlos Lopez. He is also a magician and is the founder of an organization called conectando sonrisas (connecting smiles). He met some of the kids from my magic club last weekend at a camp he runs. He was impressed with what he heard about our project. He called me because he wants to collaborate with the project and support us in any way he can. It is amazing how this just fell into my lap because the next step of the project is to connect with other magicians interested in helping carry out the magic club after I leave so that it will be sustainable. Ironically, he is also bringing 15 children from a foundation to the show tonight and so we are going to join our groups. It was his idea to propose to Gustavo that one or two of my kids do a trick in the show tonight. I thought there was no way it would fly being that it is a professional show, but I figured it never hurts to ask. When we asked Gustavo, he responded enthusiastically without hesitation. So it’s happening! Just when I think there is no way for this project to get any better, it does. This is truly magic.
By the way, I apologize once again for the delay in the blog post. This seems to be a common theme, but know that I am doing my best considering the challenging circumstances of my life here. Often, I am just too busy playing. For example, on Wednesday, I got back from a weeklong trip to the coast to go play with Ty, Jessa, and my friend Lance who joined us for the whole week. The trip came together about 5 days before we left. I don’t work Fridays, and last Monday was a holiday. The flights were too expensive for these dates, but I found a way to do it cheap if I could get two days off of teaching and go for a whole week. Tough luck. My tutor Amalia and our boss, Patricia, were generous enough to let me take it off. They are really great. They believe that an important part of me being here is that I get a chance to know their country and see how wonderful it is. I felt obligated to do just that. It’s funny though, most of the professors I work with at the university do not understand that I am not officially a professor and that I am really more of an assistant. Therefore, sometimes they get jealous of special treatment like this. Thus, we decided that although I was going to the coast everyone else would believe that I was in Medellín for the week at a conference. Ohhh Colombia!
Ty, Jessa, Lance, and I had an amazing week. We spent 4 days sleeping in hammocks and playing in the turquoise waters of the Carribbean at Tayrona National Park. It is a true paradise. Because it is a national park, there are no resorts, just pristine jungle nature leading to sandy white beaches and refreshing crystal clear water. It was a rugged four days of snorkeling, swimming, eating, drinking, and beach naps. As you can see, I learned a lot at my conference in Medellín! I was in dire need of some beach time as I missed the late Seattle summer and there is no heat or beach anywhere near Bogotá. After Tayrona, we went to a fisherman’s village called Taganga which is just north of Santa Marta. It was an interesting cultural experience as it has blown up with backpacker tourism in the last 3 years, so it was a mix of coastal fishing culture, with the party backpacker culture. From there, we went to a great mountain village called Minca, where we spent two days exploring the rainforest of the highest coastal mountain range in the world- Sierra Nevada. There, we drank coffee while we sat next to the plants that the beans came from, we tubed down a river with class two rapids, and I even got to do some waterfall jumping. What a week. What a life.
Something amazing is happening here. It’s something I can’t quite put my finger on, but I can definitely feel it. I hope you can too. We are all kids at heart. We all yearn to play. To play is to let go and enjoy; to be a child and drop our enormous egos that weigh us down. In Spanish, we often use the verb aprovechar, which translates to: take advantage of. In English, this usually has a negative connotation. In Spanish, it is quite the opposite and can have a connotation similar to enjoyment. It is a mistake if we do not take advantage of the opportunities we are presented with. Life is too short and precious to be complacent or bored. There is too much to aprovechar. Que aprovechan la vida!