As I crammed myself into the back of the TransMilenilo bus like a sardine, a guy repping a white t-shirt, pony-tail, and a backpack on his chest with a speaker connected to a microphone began laying down his lyrics to a beat. Within 30 seconds of this, a well-dressed man interrupted the performance claiming that “the bus was meant to get people from point A to point B, not for delinquents to disrupt the peace.” At this point, the public on the bus began shouting in support of the hip hop artist. He began his performance again, only to be disrespectfully interrupted shortly after by the same man. Again, the public shot down the man and urged the performer to continue. Then, the pony-tailed hip hopper challenged the man to a rap dual. To everyone’s astonishment, the well-dressed man pulled a microphone out of nowhere and joined in on the performance. Absolutely brilliant. This was by far the best “bus performance” I have ever seen. These street performers engaged the public in a unique and surprising way and consequently received a great deal of attention, respect, and tips. They creatively brought two extremes into one cohesive and entertaining performance.
After stepping foot on the ground in Bogotá again, I was overcome with a strange sense of familiarity. It was different. No, it was the same. I was different. I was no longer Rian (Re-Ahn), my Colombian self when I departed, but was returning as Ryan, my Gringo self. Under the inquisitive observation of my naked eyes, little had changed in the 5 months after my departure from this massive city of 10 million. However, I felt different – no longer in the Rian groove. Back again, on behalf of Magicians Without Borders in order to revisit Magic Project that we began with a dream just over a year ago.
On my second full day back in the Bogs, Carlos and I made the lengthy trek to our magic club at Bella Flor in Ciudad Bolivar. The children had no idea I was returning. As I hid out of sight behind the bookshelf, our magic students trickled into the room. They were begging Carlos to take them to the hospital to perform. I smiled. Carlos began to teach them a new trick – awakening the spirits: the students closed their eyes as I made spooky noises from my hidden perch. Soon after this, we were happily reunited and the kids eagerly began to show me what they had been learning: the egg bag, magic with silks, sleight of hand with cards, clever mind tricks. Needless to say, I was impressed!!
Our magic club at Bella Flor now has 6 new students. These students are taught by the veteran students. Each Monday, the veteran students meet with Carlos for class or to perform at the hospital. Each Tuesday, the older students meet with the new students to teach them. It is a wonderful opportunity for the old students to deepen their understanding of magic through teaching and it is great to have the new energy in the club. Lately, there has been interest from some individual supporters of Bella Flor to hire our magic students to perform at private events for them. Nothing has materialized yet, as timing and transportation is complicated due to Bella Flor being so far from downtown Bogotá. I trust it will happen soon, and this will be a big step for our flourishing students.
During my visit, we brought our Bella Flor magic students to the famous magic school of Richard Sarmiento in Bogotá. This is the same magic school we were bringing our female students to before we ended our program with them. It is also the most prestigious magic school in all of Latin America and is Colombia’s equivalent to the Magic Castle. Our Bella Flor students had never been before because it is very far and complicated to get them there. Richard taught them himself and gave them many wonderful props and lessons. The kids were in awe – and the class went so well that Richard invited them to return on a monthly basis! The logistics will be complicated, but we are going to do our best to make sure it happens.
In addition to teaching magic, I performed a number of shows while there. Two of which were on Halloween. One of the Halloween shows I performed was for a foundation that offers services to children and adults with Autism. My show with them reminded me once again what this is all about. The environment was chaotic as everyone was excited and dressed up in costumes for Halloween. During the show, one boy would jump out of his seat every few minutes run up to the stage and then return to his seat just as quickly. Another boy kept trying to sneak up to get a peek in my magic case. In the midst of the chaos, there was a lot of laughter, shouting, and clapping. One girl in particular had a smile that gradually grew throughout the show. By the end, her smile stretched from ear to ear. As I was packing up my props to head to my next show, the special education teacher, Laura, came up to me in tears and told me that she had been working with this particular girl for many years and that this was the first time she had ever seen her smile. That’s magic.
The other driving force for my 3-week return visit to Colombia was to visit Johanna. It was so wonderful to see her! We celebrated our one year anniversary and took a trip to Cabo de la Vela which is located in the state of La Guajira. La Guajira makes up the northeastern tip of Colombia and is just north of Venezuela. It is a breathtaking and fascinating place. A humid dessert meets the Caribbean Sea and is accompanied by the rich Indigenous Wayuu culture. The Wayuu way of life is different from the rest of Colombia. They sleep in hammocks, make shoes from recycled tires and sewn cloth, use goats as economic currency, and have arranged marriages. Obviously, their culture is much more profound than this laundry list, but it gives you an idea. The Wayuu people have found a way to live in harmony with modern civilization without losing their tradition. For example, Michel, the director of the Rancherria we stayed at has a college degree from a Bogotá university in public accounting. He lived in Bogotá for 5 years, slept in a bed, and got his degree. Now, back in the La Guajira, he uses his skills to run the family business: a “beach ranch” and restaurant. He drove us around in their Land Cruiser, used his blackberry smart phone, but he still sleeps in a hammock, wears his recycled tire shoes, and barters using goats as currency. Amazing. Johanna and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together and we felt it was important for our relationship.
In addition to magic and Johanna, I visited Dr. Santiago and spent a day with him at his clinic and accompanied him while we recorded a program at the national radio station, Caracol. I also visited the university I taught at and had lunch with some professors and the new language assistants. Last year, I was the first and only native language assistant at the university. This year there are three. Ironically, one girl who is there on behalf of the British Council is living in the exact same apartment that I lived in during the first half of last year! She came upon it completely independent of any connection to me. We could not get over the odds that not only did we live in the same apartment, but we taught at the same university.
While in Colombia, I also received some exciting news. I am officially going to be a doctor! I have been accepted to Western University of Health Sciences Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program in Los Angeles, California. Western U’s DO school is one of the oldest and highest achieving in the country. This news is a huge weight off my shoulders and it now allows me to be in the driver’s seat of my future career as a physician. I have overcome the most challenging hurdle to becoming a doctor which is getting accepted to medical school. I could not have done it by myself and I am deeply grateful to my parents, professors, mentors, and friends who have continuously supported me in the pursuit of my dreams.
I am currently on the plane making hot tracks back to Seattle. After a month straight of being on the go between medical school interviews and Colombia, I am looking forward to getting back home. During my 3 weeks back in Colombia, I began to ease back into my role as Rian. Now, I am going to have to adjust to being Ryan once again. It feels like a lot of bouncing back and forth between identities. As I continue to grow and learn I hope to more cohesively meld these two identities into one identity just as those hip hop artists did so masterfully. I will be RiRyan, or more simply, Ryan.