Give me Energy

Yesterday I stood in line with Luisa waiting to have her schedule approved at the University. I stood in this same spot with her last year in August, and we hopped line to line, laughing in frustration at the inefficiency of the system.

I recall it taking a full day to register for classes, have them approved, and pay for them. With no data attached to my phone, and with the looming danger having nice electronics stolen, last year I sat in line bored, unable to talk, and hungry. I entertained myself by talking to Luisa and wondering what the people around us thought of my presence: a strange girl at the local university who couldn’t speak Spanish.

I was parallelized by the fear of walking 12 steps away to a shop selling sandwiches. Despite my hunger, Luisa was prodding me to ask for sandwich: “me vendes un sándwich por fiz.” She stuffed bills in my pockets, repeating the phrase over and over, nudging me. Be Brave. But I couldn’t do it. I handed the money back to her and asked her to step out of line to do it for me. When she came back, I was disappointed in her for not thinking to buy water. And I was disappointed in myself for not stepping up to ask for my own food. Is not that the basic skill of survival?

Yesterday, After staying up late, and standing at a street corner for 45 minutes waiting for a bus with standing space, we were tired. Luisa mentioned how maybe a Gatorade would provide her with the energy to enduring the stupidity of the waiting process. I was just bored.

I scanned the area looking for anything to relieve us, and I saw a store across the street. “Wait here,” I told Luisa. “I am going to go get us something to drink.”

When I approached the old woman running the 40 square-foot storefront, she greeted me the way it is customary in Colombia. When they say hello, they do it three times. When they say goodbye, they say it 5 times: “Buenos dias! Bienvenido. A la orden.” Her skin a lovely golden brown, and her voice both soft and harsh. Good morning! Welcome. I’m at your service if you need anything.

I asked her if she had drinks, and she pointed me to glass shelf which displayed the 6-8 options–not like the 50 choices in a US convenience store. Of the few options, half of them were juice. Not high-fructose corn syrup juice, real juice with sugar and water. For me, an apple juice box sounded good, and I got an energy drink for Luisa. I asked the woman how much I owed her and was surprised to hear only 1200 COP, the equivalent of about $1.40. I tucked my change in my pocket and wandered back to Luisa, who had advanced one place in the line since I left.

While I knew I did not want the energy drink, I offered her both drink options out of courtesy, and she left me with the apple juice. She offered me a sip, and I obliged, even knowing I hate energy drinks. They are syrupy and overly sweet. Their intense carbonation burns my nose, and they leave a sugary coating on my teeth. I took a sip anyway, and was surprised to find that it was quite different from what I expected. Yes, sweet, but not like drinking kids candy. Slightly effervescent, and citrusy. Certainly, nothing to make me cheat on my apple juice, but better than I’d thought.

I plunged my straw into the box and sipped away carelessly reflecting on the ease of my purchase. Just a year ago in nearly this same location, I was too paralyzed to buy a sandwich. Now, the act seemed natural: When you want something, go buy it. I not only learned the minimum vocabulary to make a purchase, I learned courtesy of saying hello and goodbye, how to tuck my cash away in the store before I stepped foot into the street to be safer, and how to entertain myself in line by talking to people I never could before.

When we got all the paperwork finished, we took a bus back to the house. Buses are so full in Bogota, that you are considered lucky to get a seat. We made due by sharing a seat on the way back. As we did, I realized how much I have truly changed in the last six months. Not just my accent nor my experience, but I am a braver person than I ever thought I would be. Of course, it does not require much bravery to order a sandwich or ask for some drinks. But those little braveries led to big ones, like traveling to Peru by myself and climbing Machu Picchu. Boarding buses to unknown cities for the sake of adventure.

It’s been a hell of and adventure, and I am proud of how far I have come.

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