America: Love it or leave it? I’m leaving it for love. The Coronavirus Chronicles

As we lounged on the bed of our Air BnB in rural Bogota in late May, Camila and I listened to the entire album of Springsteen’s Born to Run, on shuffle. Having been nearly inseparable for over five months, she had received a steady diet of Springsteen and other “Americana” music.

We were contemplating our goodbyes, not knowing when we would see each other again, yet holding out hope we could create a life OUR way. Normally a benefit of living and working hard in western style countries. There was strangely no angst. Just sadness at having to be away from the one I adore.

Those of you that know me, know I have been a supporter of couchsurfing.com since 2007 when I started grad school at Humboldt State. I have hosted over 50 people at my house in Árcata and in Bellingham where I showed travelers the areas where I live. The premise is a free, local, verified and safe place to sleep and check out the area. It can be a social network too as I maintain friendships with those I have met years ago. Think free Air BNB.

While in South America in 2019, I couch surfed a few times and normally when searching for a host, I chose a woman.

Interested in yoga for many years, it is normally women in Latin America that practice yoga, there are fewer hosts and well, women tend to be more discerning with travelers for obvious reasons.

Arriving in Bogota early January of this year, I had built three days in to see the city on my way to Medellin for a month of Spanish to enhance my consultant opportunities. After two days of exploring, I wanted to stay with a local in Bogota before I left for Medellin.

Searching through couchsurfing, there was one person that had an interest in yoga, travel and outdoors (not easy in a big city) and I sent her a request to stay.

When she opened the door, this five foot tall attorney for the military, used to having extreme boundaries set up for men, was gracious in her welcome and showed me my couch. We launched into an hour long conversation in Spanish about her job, my career, her family and our common interests.

Asking me if I wanted to walk down the street for tacos (of course), I started finding myself drawn to Camila. We switched to English (I had no idea she spoke it) and started connecting more. A night of running into her cousin and her old friends and fun and dancing (me wearing my old guy travel outfit of hoodie, long johns, shorts and sandals with socks) at a club only strenghtened our connection.

Having to leave for Medellin the next day was causing me angst. Who is this woman? Raised in completely different cultures, how could we possibly see the world the same way? And will i miss out on a potential relationship?

I had built a one day buffer into my schedule, I changed my flight, and the rest is history. We maintained our relationship over the next month (needless to say my Spanish suffered) by weekends together and then I came back to Bogota after the Spanish class. We planned to travel together in Colombia when her vacation started and after my week long sojourn thru the southern part of Colombia (with a completely spontaneous spiritual Ayhuasca session. Look it up), we met in Cartegena. No work, no school, we traveled and even went trekking for four days to Ciudad Perdida; the Lost City. Although only climbing to maybe 4000 feet, the stunning 20,000 foot snow capped peaks showed their heads on occasion and i dreamed of someday visiting their beautiful spires, only 20 miles from the coast!

Four days of being led by a local indigenous guide (who called the white man “little brother” since we are intent on fucking up the world with our greedy habits), we got to explore their ways and have our first experience together. We also were unaware the world was about to change.

At the end of the trek as we finished our lunch and jumped into the jeep for a return to the beach, Camila mentioned she wasn’t feeling well. By the time we got back to the hotel, the puking began. Having many puking treks under my belt, I knew the approach to take. Wait a bit.

Camila got worse and was puking every few hours. Finally, with my bad spanish we got a ride to the local pharmacy. Supposedly there was a doctor there that could help. Closed.

It was now pitch black out and we were informed that the nearby “clinic” was 30-40 minutes away along a notorious “narco” hiway. I negotiated (poorly) a tuk tuk to take us to the clinic. They checked Camila and gave her several very unsanitary IVs (I mean the nurse literally took an empanada delivery while putting the needle in.)

Returning to our hostal, her wave-like symptoms continued as did the puking. Okay. We gotta leave. The 2 hour bus back to Santa Marta (the nearest hospital) had me feeling a bit better as to her care. She was amazing.

No help there as the tests were negative and antibiotics I gave didn’t help. Okay. Back to Bogota and a big hospital.

At this point we knew there was good care, I got to meet Camilas parents and we spent one of our few nights apart as she stayed in the hospital and I in her apartment. More tests. Day 7 of no food and constant puking.

For some reason, other than a short relapse, the problem resolved itself the next day. While at the hospital in early March we were hearing of this coronavirus thing coming there. Uh oh.

Camila went back to work and we pondered our future. We had become extremely close during the illness and I started meeting her extended family.

News of the virus worsening had Bogota contemplating a “simulated lockdown”. Camila said let’s get out of here, I can work remotely. We will return after the simulation.

I grabbed my guitar and backpack, a few changes of clothes and we secured a quiet air BNB an hour outside of bogota amongst strawberry farms.

Well four days turned into 6 weeks there and two weeks elsewhere as we clandestinely moved around a country in complete and total lockdown.

Our days consisted of an early rise for stretching and meditation, Camila working and me out for a hike with the five farm dogs. Only allowed to visit the town for groceries once or twice a week, I would grab my empty pack and, making sure the doggies didn’t follow me, made the 30 min walk to get supplies.

I was pondering at this point what to do. I meet someone that shares my life view and whom I adore, but i can’t stay in Colombia for four more months. Or indefinitely. Hmmm

Well, changing my humanitarian flight home 2-3 times and discussing our future, i was stressing about leaving someone I didn’t want to leave. Ultimately, our relationship going super well, we decided the time was now for me to head home. Late May.

This could be just the longest story so I’ll try and keep it short.

The fear of never seeing Camila again was there. But we were committed to keeping our relationship close and normal until Colombia re-opened. Projected for September.

During our time together, we had discussed Camila coming to the US. It was then, through research and immigration lawyers, I got a closer look at Donald Trump’s (and Stephen Miller’s) sinister plan to stop as much immigration into the US as possible.

Right after Trumps inauguration in 2017, while most were focusing on his “Muslim ban”, he and Stephen Miller instituted a required in-person interview for visas from most countries that were non-European. Taking a page out of suppressing abortion in Texas and other states (sure you can get one but there are no providers), Trump and Miller slowly and quietly cut funds and staff for immigration of nearly any kind. Before the Coronavirus, the wait for just an interview in Bogota was over three months!

Now if i have any right leaning friends left that read my posts, I ask you, “do you have any immigrants in your family or inner circle that have enriched your life?”

An Italian immigrant that makes wine? An Nepalese Sherpa you met in Colorado? A Germán brewmaster like my great grandpa? An Irish musician that you share beers with?

Throwing down the gauntlet against nearly all immigration, including visitors, is the one thing that makes me want to leave our country. Hey, I understand we have an immigration issue. I also think I have a pretty deep understanding of the immigration issues. And I have some ideas for solutions. But blocking all visitors makes our increasingly ethnocentric country even more so. And demonizing those that want to enter our “shithole” country at times for reasons beyond their control does no one any good. And quite honestly i don’t want to live in a country that wouldn’t even consider a woman for a simple visitor visa that is more educated and worldly than 80% of the US population. Just because the president thinks that way. That makes us weak and self centered.

So back to my 120 days of torture. We spent days and nights apart on ZOOM cooking together, doing yoga and watching movies. I tried to stay active between back injuries and catching up on my life. Mountains and kayaking. Garden and house repairs and roommate swaps. All the while stressing out that come September, Colombia may still be closed.

After September 1, several flight cancellations had me flying to Florida to visit my aunt and uncle, and sitting in Miami waiting for that first flight to Colombia. I had addressed my house and health issues, shipped my van to Chile, and prepared myself to be with Camila without a plan.

Landing in Cartegena on the very first non humanitarian Colombian international flight in nearly 6 months (the Colombian president met the flight!), tears welled up in my eyes. We made it. Now it’s all good.

A week on a semi-deserted island to reconnect and plan our escape was bookended by a few nights in beautiful (and deserted) Colonial Cartegena.

We made it back to Bogota to get Camila out of her apartment and help her finish quitting her job (both things planned before she met me). Leaving her job required 11 signatures including the Minister of Defense. Leaving her apartment one month early required 6 trips back and forth from her parents house to Bogota to deal with moving, painting the place and the difficult management companies. To make things a little more interesting, I was slowly approaching my six month annual visa limit in Colombia. AND my van was on the slow boat to Chile. And guess what? They aren’t open for foreigners yet!

Fortunately, Panama opened for foreigners last Monday so these COVID refugees have a plan. We are going to visit a group in the jungle of Panama called http://www.Geoversity.org with whom we connected thru my friend Myrna back in April. It’s a potential work spot for us both. And we can chill and help out until Chile opens. Hopefully.

So why the whining Bob? Well it would have been nice to simply have Camila come to the US. Yeah I know COVID has changed things, but these ridiculous policies were in place before. And your republican politician friends have stood by and said okay to every dickish policy move made by a man, while clever and rich, has a room temperature IQ and the heart of a Tin man.

But Bob you’re an American! Yeah but I’m a human being first. And that man is inhuman. Climb onto any justification you want. You’re a lifelong republican. You like some of his policies. He’s right about China. So what? He’s an ass and no one can disagree with him or his pathetically useless family without being labeled dangerous or stupid.

You heard it here first. I’ve voted. He wins re-election? I’m out. Selling my house and living elsewhere. And it’s not because I can’t deal with that asshole. It’s because I don’t want to live in a country that has decided decency doesn’t matter and 35% of the population is okay with that. That disagreement with someone means war.

I’ve checked myself closely when i disagree. You’ll see my tone doesn’t attack those that disagree. Except for him of course. It attacks the idea.

I didn’t say his people are bad just because they voted for him. Sometimes twice. I’m just saying we have different values and I’m a spoiled white American who can make these choices. I’m fortunate enough to get to choose my life. And certainly you can argue as an American, that luxury was foisted upon me. Likely. But it’s not written in the Constitution, or the Bible or whatever book you choose as your gospel for living, that your allegiance to your country is unconditional. Or that you must stay there. Just because I happened to be born here. It’s a choice.

Make it better, people shout! Easy to say except when you can’t agree on simple decency. There was a day when I could disagree on policy with my republican friends. But most would denounce the KKK.

Joe Biden has flaws. Yet he knows it. And he will seek consensus and at least attempt to find common ground. He’s not radical enough for me, actually. But at least I’m not afraid if my 10 year old nephew sees his speech. And his policies don’t go far enough to offset dramatic economic divide, a broken healthcare system and environmental devastation. All those policies along with common decency are more important than money to me. Well actually nearly everything is more important than money to me.

I won’t renounce my citizenship. I’ll visit my family and friends. But I won’t even attempt to smooth over the massive rift I will have with a country that won’t even give Camila and I chance together. Even if we were married, the wait time for a visitor visa is well over a year. Just to visit! Yeah. That’s the country I wanna live in. Nope.

So vote. Not for me. Vote for the ability to disagree based on fact and logic. Vote for decency. Vote for honest discourse. Vote for the ability of all to have a voice and a vote. Vote for humility. Vote for strength through compassion. Vote for fairness. Vote for truth. Vote for democracy. And I hope we see you next year!!

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