Luke's South American Diary
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May 1999

31 May 1999

Our last month in South America started with an interesting experience most definitely not in the guide books. Julie, who takes her duties as patrona very seriously, had agreed to be god-mother to the office cleaner's fourth and latest child (who had been named Julie after the great benefactress and mentor), and by extension I had been roped in as godfather, despite the fact that we will be living in a different country and that we are both atheists. We had little choice but accept the honour thus bestowed, and so we dutifully went a long to the christening.

Julie had been to Eva's house a couple of times before, and as her barrio did not run to addresses (or even streets for that matter), we were reliant on Julie's memory as to how to get there, and how not to end up somewhere we would regret. So into the great black hole of southern Bogotá we journeyed, and after just a few wrong turns in less than salubrious areas, she did in fact find our way. Eva lives on the margins of a very marginal area, across a lively stream (which from the smell was actually an open sewer), and up some impromptu steps up the side of a mountain. The house, a rough brick shack, would have been just one room were it not for a rough brick wall which had recently been erected around the bed (the only bed as far as I could see), and of which Eva is touchingly proud.

The house has no running water, and only recently has electricity been tapped from somewhere, so how she manages to raise four clean, well-behaved kids I have absolutely no idea. I am sure she is in no way exceptional, but I now have a better understanding of why Julie was so shocked after her first visit and why she has taken her under her wing so (over a period she has passed on quite large sums of money both to Eva and to her equivalent in the Caracas office). At least they (the whole family) are very appreciative of her support, and even look up to her as some sort of a demi-god (which to them she may well be), and the whole neighbourhood poked their noses round the door while we were there to see the famous foreign lady. So we were something of celebrities in the barrio, and something of oddities at the service in the nearby church.

Meanwhile, amidst the scenes of mass hysteria (reminiscent of the Pope's visit) which accompanied Metallica's sole Colombian concert, things were gradually coming together in preparation for our exit from the country. Our Canadian visas came in double-quick time, I finally sold the car (at a sizeable loss), and all the other necessary bits of paper were gradually ticked off the list. Just to spite us, as the effects of La Niña started to weaken, we were treated to a series of beautiful clear days, with views from our terrace to the snow-capped volcanoes of Los Nevados, which we had not seen for a good year.

Julie’s office closed down on schedule, just a year-and-a-half after opening up, and a whole string of farewell lunches, dinners and booze-ups ensued. So our exit from Colombia was achieved in orderly fashion, and without any major upsets or panics. Julie (who had spent most of the last few weeks in Venezuela, closing down the Caracas office), was worried that Elena may have been upset and distressed by the removal, but she positively enjoyed clambering around on all the boxes, and all the emotional farewells were like water off a duck’s back for our Little Miss Independent-and-Adaptable. Our final reactions, as the plane taxied out to the runway, were a collective sigh of relief, not so much for leaving Colombia (although with its worsening economy and security situation, we were conscious that it was probably not a bad time to be getting out), but more for leaving behind at least Phase I of the tedious and depressing administrative hassles associated with an international move.

With four cases between the three of us (which supposedly was to serve us until we could move into a house in Toronto, which realistically could be two or three months), we made our usual whistle-stop tour of our relations in England over a period of a week. We took full advantage of the chance to foist Elena on her doting grandparents, and to stroll unencumbered through the pretty buttercup-strewn fields of the English countryside in full-blown Spring, and through the drab but safe towns. Despite an unusual spell of quite reasonable weather, we did not feel any great pangs of regret at leaving once more the country of our childhood (least of all grimy, depressing London), and other than family and friends I think any ties and bonds with England have long since been severed.

We arrived in Toronto to yet more administrative hassles (Phase II), but of a lower order entirely. After five years battling bureaucracy in South America, everything felt so easy that it was almost a joy to register for social insurance numbers, arrange a mortgage, shop for a new car, etc, etc. Information was freely available (I had already found most of it over the Internet), and a (free) phone call was all that was needed to resolve any remaining complications. Where was the challenge? Where was the spice, when everything was so straightforward? Elena was already having a whale of a time, spoilt rotten by our friends, and so enamoured of the beach, the parks and the glorious warm weather, that she asked, with great seriousness, and only days after our arrival, “Can we live here for ever and ever and ever?”.

Our second first impressions of Toronto were on the whole just as positive as they had been on our first entry over 10 years earlier:

So, already footsore and weary from tramping the streets looking for houses and cars, and with our new life in Canada stretching tantalizingly before us, it is time to wind down, to wish you all the best in your own travels, and to put to rest once and for all…

Luke's South American Diary

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