Travel Notes I

In these three vignettes from her travel journal, Camila Guiza-Chavez ES'19 discusses her trip from New Haven to her hometown of Medellín, where she witnessed a curious melange of poverty and color.

I’m currently on the train. The taste of this morning’s coffee is my only proof that I haven’t always been in this plastic seat moving backwards through the New England coast. It’s proof that I was, at one point, standing on firm ground. Normally I like to gaze at the window and let my mind be taken by observation, like a baby watching the turns of a mobile. Are humans just instinctively lulled by motion? Were we born to fear the thought of standing still? Normally I can spend the whole two hours to Grand Central watching the marshland merge into the ocean, and the ocean catch up with the land. I watch the trees run into each other like bowling pins and the towns go from clumps of close-lipped houses to cramped apartment buildings that leak graffiti dreams and scream in spray paint.

* * *

The informal economy here is booming. It’s blown through the roof and is threatening to smash through the windows. Streets that were once ideal for an afternoon stroll are now nearly impassable due to the density of merchants with their stands full of multi-colored leggings, leather belts in every shade of brown, woolen sweaters, and flowy, patterned pants. Tarps line the pavement, laid out with an assortment of crocs and combat boots, sunglasses, and trinkets printed with the Colombian flag (for the tourists, of course). Men push carts full of apples, avocados, mangoes, mamonsillos, and lemons. Good for lemonade, good for soups, good for colds, according to the merchants. Ladies sell chusos (skewers) and mazorca (roasted corn) and chopped fruit for a dollar. 

All this commotion certainly makes for a colorful outing in the city streets. It feeds the tourists’ insatiable thirst for the eccentric. Meanwhile, the people behind the stands count change with calloused hands. Leathered by long, steady work, their hands know what survival feels like. And after decades of violence that displaced them from the countryside, survival today feels a lot like polyester, pavement, and pocket change

* * *

I should have given you change yesterday when I walked by. I didn’t, on principle and out of habit and because the day had left me feeling like a wet rag wrung dry. But I have never known what it means to be parched – to live on a diet of sunlight and moonshine and the whims of passerby. I had enough, and I didn’t give. And when your typically happy eyes looked down with resignation, I added insult to injury by saying, “I’m just trying to make it work, too.” 

I said it with a shrug and a smile, the marks of surrender. I wanted to indicate that we are camarades on the losing side of battle. I am no officer on the side of the victors -- we all know where real nobility lies. You smiled knowingly and gave me that shrug in response, the shrug of surrender, offering me your camaraderie. It’s true, when you and I were born, our hands were soft like daffodils, with daisy petal fingernails, caramel brown. But yours have known too many shopping carts on the sidewalk, and have been rubbed into too many concrete curbs and not enough mugs of coffee or wool blankets or loaves of bread. ■