This is one of the questions I get asked most, as someone who has chosen to adopt (or be adopted by) another country to call home.
To be completely honest, the average length of my answer varies depending on my patience levels, and exactly who is on the receiving end of the question. The answers that I sometimes give feel inadequate to describe the complex feelings of belonging and joy that I have when I am here.
That said, however, Colombia is, like hundreds other countries, complicated to say the least. I am not here to romanticize life here through rose-tinted glasses, or to only focus on the touristic parts and ignore the stark reality that thousands of people face on a daily basis. Colombia is the student that most frustrated your teacher at school; she has so much potential and natural talent, but she occasionally gets caught hanging out with the bad kids and falling into the traps of corruption and self-destructive behaviour.
But she is trying, she really is. And some people’s prejudice keeps the negative cycle going round, when it is faith, patience and trust that will make room for progress. However, life here can sometimes seem so complicated, with endless bureaucracy, or lack thereof. Things which should take a couple of days can take weeks (I always did like a challenge). But on that same note, there is so much beauty in this attitude of “No te compliques la vida” (Keep it simple) and you eventually learn to let things flow at their own pace rather than always battling to paddle upstream.
So here I am, in a country that is different from my own in so many ways, yet, in all its foreign-ness it is welcoming, ever-curious, and full of surprises. Cartagena drew me in with her warm, mysterious charm when I arrived back in 2014 and never truly let me go. Even when I left for a year at the end of 2016, Cartagena left a very real mark on me, and I knew that some day, I would make my way back.
I was enchanted by the bluest sea I had ever seen, by the relentless, sticky heat, by the noise, colours, and the people with optimism as unwavering as the equatorial sun. I learned that everything in this country has its own rhythm, much like the dances I learned in the dark, sweaty bars on Friday and Saturday nights – salsa, bachata, merengue, champeta – you have to let the rhythm lead you, rather than trying to make up your own. Here, the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez seemed tangible – where tragedy mixes with beauty in equal amounts and turns real life into art.
Magical realism blends real life with fantasy so subtly that you barely notice which is which. Colombia has given me those moments, too. Looking down at the clouds and how they nestle into the purple shadows of the mountains from a big net suspended in the trees, or wading knee-deep in mud through a murky river in which we had just seen the menacing flash of a crocodiles head, or driving for hours on end through nothing but fields of cacti to reach indigenous tribes who crochet stories into hammocks. There are endless stories, but each one comes back to one single explanation: