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  • Americans think they know the most when they don't know that they don't know. We tend to think with the globalization of this world that we have become more in touch with other cultures, and perhaps we have somewhat, but not to the extent that is needed to cause real change. There is a culture shock that when true, takes a hold of your heart and soul and never releases the life changing grasp.

    I went to Bogota, Colombia for the first time in 2001. It was my first experience in another country other than Canada. It was different, but metropolitan and easy to handle. Two days later when we traveled up and up and up through the exiles of the city, through the shanty communities with their laundry lines from corner to corner, through the never ending litter and dirt and sense of hopelessness, we ascended to the top of the Andes mountain and then twisted down and down and down into the heart of Colombian culture.

    With each mile we descended deeper into the unknown and unfamiliar "llanos" way of life and with it came the threat of terror and war. The trip was three and a half hours total, and an hour into it, we were stopped by Colombian military. The soldiers came onto the bus and announced something in Spanish while holding their AK- 47's and belts of ammunition. I had no idea what they were saying. You could cut the tension with a knife. We filed off the bus. Women on one side, men on the other. I was now separated from my intended, my translator and my protector. Our luggage was searched. Our identification was taken. I stood there in a group of women who looked different than me, spoke to one another rapidly in a language I could not understand, and watched as they frisked all of the men.

    The mountains were magnificent. They towered up around us like something in a National Geographic. They were blue and green and smooth like a painting. The trees were lush and green and vines and waterfalls tumbled down all around. The once thin air was getting to the breathable point now that we had descended a few thousand feet. I stood there in a stupefied state of culture shock wondering how so much beauty could be coupled with this much fear, and how I lived such a sheltered blessed life with no clue about the outside world full of suffering. It was life threatening to travel. Something I had never had to consider before. These people did it every day in the face of war and terror and the understanding that you may not make your destination.

    We did that five times. Five. The FARC and paramilitary strength were at an all time high, and the military tension had grown with it. The beauty of Colombia was under guard from many different sectors, and with it deep schisms were being carved, separating the people.

    When we finally piled into the bus for the last time, I stared out of the window while the palm trees and rice fields passed. I breathed in the air mixed with smoke, grass and memories. It was a journey for me that was both ending and just beginning.
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