Over a year and a half has passed since I met Oliga and Isabella on that beautiful day in Mongui. Lately, I couldn’t help but wonder about their well-being. I would find myself smiling at the photographs I’ve taken with them and how genuinely happy we were exploring their town. Since my trip ended, there has always been something bothering me since we said goodbye in June 2014. In my previous entry on Mongui, I explained that before our departure, we gave them a print of the two of them as a gift. Oliga was thankful for the picture, but what I did not mention was Oliga seemed a little disappointed. She asked “But where is the picture of all of us?” Her question struck a chord with me, and recently I have been thinking about what she said. Why didn’t I print that gigantic selfie for them?!
I decided to run an idea past Juan Andres, a friend of mine who lives in Sogamoso. I wanted to give Oliga and Isabella something to remember us by, but needed someone to carry out the plan. Juan Andres gladly accepted my proposition and even contributed his own household supplies to give to them. He filled a cardboard box full of anything from flour to sugar. I felt so much warmth toward his gesture to a family he has never met before. Truly, it was an amazing moment.
As we discussed the details over Skype, I realized how little I knew about Oliga and Isabella. I couldn’t remember where they lived. I couldn’t recall their phone number. I didn’t even know their last name. All I could remember was that their finca was west of the cemetery. I didn’t expect much of a result from so little information, but Juan was confident that he could find them. After all, Mongui is a small town with around 6,000 people. I wished him luck and asked if he could provide pictures of them and tell them that Donna and I were thinking about them. Here is Juan’s story in his own words on his experience!
Written by Juan Andrés Amador Saavedra
"When we arrived there it was a beautiful sunny day, I was with my mother and followed the instructions, and it was difficult to find them because we did not know exactly where they were. Finally, we found an old man, he was a little bit drunk and told me “yes I know her, she is the “frijolera” who lives...”. I didn´t feel that he was right, and I continued searching….
An hour later we were in the middle of nowhere when surprisingly a child appeared, I told to him “do you know them?” and said to me “yes, I know where they live”, I felt so good because I was tired. Then, we found their home, a little beautiful home.
I discovered that they were not there, they were at the farm, a neighbor gave me the Olga´s number and then I called her. She was totally surprised when I said that I was a friend of Casey and in a very gentle way she told me that I could find her in near to the cemetery.
40 minutes later at the cementer the story began..."
"There were two children waiting for us, two beautiful children named Isabella and Benjamin, I can feel how happy they were…there were 4 dogs near them…I can’t remember their names but they were beautiful too. Benjamin have a beautiful long hair and the first words they said to me were…“I’m Benjamin, I’m six, and I’m a boy”…maybe he thought that I’m thinking that he was a girl because of his long hair. That was a funny moment. We were talking about Casey and Donna when Olga arrived."
"She came with her brother, Petunia the sheep and Cleopatra the donkey carrying firewood. I felt so happy to see that, to see a mother who takes care of her beautiful family by herself. Speaking to them was one of the best experience in my life…"
"She invite us to their home and prepared something to eat, we talked about everything, their lives in the little town, about their sheep, dogs, and all of the happy environment around them. We laughed so much. I learned that we don’t need so much to be happy, to feel real happiness. They live in a modest way and have everything. I told her about the extraordinary paintings in a little store in town and she said that her neighbor was the painter. We left the house to find him."
"She introduced me to Juan Carlos Morales, I felt so excited because I love art. I wish I could paint like this. He learned painting in Mongui empirically. It was extraordinary, we talked about our perception of culture, and the failures of the government which don´t support anything cultural or tourist. They don’t realize the treasure in their hands.
To sum up, in this little town specifically here in Olga’s home, we lost the perception of time, we found nature, happiness, and another perception of the world. Here the time stops and go to a different rhythm, I can´t forget Casey´s expression “it is the real Colombian experience”.
At the end Olga said “Pegúntele a Casey que cuando viene a visitarnos, y usted Juanchito venga cuando quiera, usted sabe que todos son bienvenidos por acá.”
English: "Ask Casey when he will come to visit us, and you Juan come whenever you wish, you know that everyone is welcome here."
It means the world to me that Juan Andres delivered the photograph to them. He even wrote a message on the back of the picture for us. This story made me incredibly happy and I can't even put into words how much I appreciate this simple, but powerful act of human kindness. I hope one day to visit Oliga and Isabella again. I hope when I do, I will glance upon the picture hanging in their home and rediscover that one day in Mongui that changed my life forever. Thank you Juan Andres for everything.