One month in Medellin convinced me that I needed to pick one neighborhood in the big city to live and spend most of my time. Medellin felt much bigger than I anticipated, and all the people and traffic and noise made it difficult at times to enjoy the city. Also, my efforts to establish a community English program did not materialize. Meanwhile, I had the good fortune of being offered the opportunity to visit Marinilla, a town that is about 1.5 hours from Medellin by bus.
I liked Marinilla instantly. It is a town that is filled with generations of hard-working and friendly campesinos, or country folk, who take pride in their community. People move away, but inevitably come back. Most of the people in Marinilla are Catholic, and the town is fairly conservative … however, there is a thriving artistic community that also gives the town a progressive feel. It is about the same size as our town of Prescott, so it is big enough to have some conveniences that I enjoy without being too big.
So it was that as I walked in Marinilla that first day, I kept saying to myself that I could live here. I returned about 3 days later to explore more fully that idea, and on that second day I meandered into the courtyard that houses the local library, the Office of Tourism and Culture, and what is called the Casa de Cultura (i.e. House of Culture). As I stood in the courtyard, I said out loud “I think I’m going to be teaching English here.” Call it a mystical experience or whatever you want, but I just had this sense that this was the place where I would establish the English program that I had planned for Colombia. In the first office I walked into I met Francisco, who is the resident artist and whose paintings are beautiful, and I explained to him that I would like to offer free English classes to the community. His eyes got big when I said that, and the next thing I know he is introducing me to the Director of Tourism and Culture, and the next thing I know is that we have about 60 adult students who have expressed interest in starting English classes next week. I’ve also met the city’s Educational Director as well as the newly elected Mayor of Marinilla, and I have people stopping me in the streets to ask me if I am that English teacher that they’ve heard about, or to tell me about when they tried to learn English, or to tell me about someone they know who is learning English, etc.
I don’t want to speak too soon, but it looks like this little English project that God put on my heart might be a success. And when Francisco expressed concern about the program growing bigger than he or I imagined or could possibly handle, I contacted a few online expat groups to seek volunteer English teachers, and it looks like there are 4 people who are going to commute here from Medellin to help out. I sure hope they show up. You’ll hear more about this English project in future blog posts, but before I end for today I would like to tell you the amazing story of how I found my apartment here in Marinilla.
In contrast to Medellin where there are for-rent signs everywhere, I have never seen one for-rent sign in all of Marinilla. Everywhere I went for a week or more, people would tell me how difficult it is to find an apartment for rent in Marinilla. As a result, I contemplated looking for an apartment in the nearby town of Rionegro which is a much bigger town … however, I did not feel at peace inside about that. So, the night before I would make the 1.5 hour trek from Medellin to the Marinilla/Rionegro region yet again, it became clear to me that since I would be teaching English in Marinilla, I wanted to live in Marinilla … even if it meant living in a hotel. So I abandoned my plan to go to Rionegro that day, and went to Marinilla instead.
When I landed in Marinilla I decided to try a different approach, and this time I went to the other side of town away from where most of the apartments are located. I had not walked very far from the bus stop, and I was standing in front of one large apartment building looking up at it when some guy walked by, but when I asked him if he knew about available apartments, he said that he did not live in Marinilla … but nonetheless, he pointed to a little tienda a block away and said that they seem to know a lot about the town. So I went to the tienda, and when I asked the owner if she knew of available apartments, she flat out said “no.” However, at that very moment she was giving change to a customer who looked at me and said, “Are you looking for an apartment?”
This is where it gets amazing. So Jose walked me to his apartment which is 2 blocks from the central park, took me inside and showed me his studio apartment … he just happened to be moving out that day, and all his stuff was packed and in the middle of the kitchen. So then he asked me if I needed anything to furnish the place, and I said of course because I have nothing. So he told me he would sell me his stove and gas canister as well as his bed, and he told me the price and I of course said “Okay!”. However, at that point we had not even spoken to the landlord … so he asked me if I knew someone local who could vouch for me, because if not I would be out of luck since all business in town is done by connections. So I told him no, but that the AirBnB lady in Medellin where I am staying would vouch for me. So Jose told me not to worry because he would vouch for me, and he cautioned me not to tell the landlord that we just met on the street 20 minutes ago. So then he had to run some errands, and he told me to meet him in the park at a specific time. When he returned he said that the landlord was now home and that I needed to be prepared to pay both him 420,000 pesos for the bed and stove, and to pay the landlord the first month’s rent in CASH. He also said that we needed to hurry because the landlord was waiting for us. At that point the thought flashed across my mental screen that me, the naive gringo, was about to give away about $230 USD in cash to perfect strangers. So Jose walked with me to the ATM, and I had to make two 600,000 peso credit card cash advances (since there is a per transaction limit), and then we stopped at a tienda to ask for blank receipts that both Jose and the landlord could use to give me a receipt for my payment, and then we walked back to the apartment with my wallet bulging with pesos. We met the landlord, and Jose explained that I was a friend … Carlos the landlord looked like a very successful and wealthy 40 something old guy, and seemed like a real nice person. Carlos handwrote a receipt for me and I gave him 350,000 pesos in cash, then Jose handed me the keys in front of the landlord. I told Carlos how much I appreciate the opportunity to live there, and that I hoped he would study English with me (to which he smiled and replied, “We’ll see), and then Jose and I walked up to the apartment. I paid Jose 420,000 pesos in cash, and then he left to go get his friend who has a car. Twenty minutes later Jose returned with his friend in a little beat-up Toyota or something, and I helped him load his stuff in the car and he was gone. I had left Medellin at 7:30 in the morning, and by 2:00 PM I was alone in my empty apartment two blocks from central park AND ON THE SAME STREET AS THE LIBRARY WHERE I WILL BE TEACHING ENGLISH!!!!! And get this — the monthly rent is 350,000 pesos … about $105 USD. Simply amazing … and I feel truly blessed by all of it.