(Pictures are not mine – have given credit where I could find a link.)
Once in a while, life shows us beauty in the most unexpected of places. I’ve had many experiences like this, but one that stands out in my mind is an experience I had while I was living in Cartagena, Colombia.
Cartagena is found on the northernmost tip of the South American continent. It is both an ancient and modern city, but retains all the luxuries and amenities of any “first world” city. Yet, on the outskirts of Cartagena, there lie several small villages where many homes are no more than shacks and do not have electricity or running water. I had the privilege (and yes, it WAS a privilege) of staying at one of these homes a few years ago when a group of boys from my church went on a campout. It turned out to be one of my most beautiful memories.
To get to the village, we rode an old, rickety bus for 2 hours on a very hot, humid day. All the windows were open and the bus bounced along a dirt road, dust blowing through the open windows. The youth were chattering excitedly and I smiled at their enthusiasm. I was still struggling with the heat of the day and so I tried to lean my head back to sleep.
I must have dozed off for a little as finally the bus pulled over and we were at the end of the road. I stepped off the bus into the bright, afternoon sun and gazed at where we stood. The road literally ended right into a muddy swamp!
I wondered how we were going to cross to our campsite when I noticed everyone head down to an old dock. There was a very ancient, rough-hewn canoe pulled up next to it. I stood there, a little dismayed, as I watched the first of our group step into the canoe and begin to be rowed across. There was only one place to sit and that was for the person who navigated the boat. So the other occupants had to stand.
After a little while, I relaxed as I watched each person cross without incident. The navigator would tease sometimes, but no one fell in. Finally, it was my turn. I was a little terrified at the idea of tipping over the canoe, so I stepped in very carefully and then balanced myself. I cringed at the idea of what swam around in that tropical water and was hoping against hope that I would not fall in.
The navigator was very kind and did not tease me with any sudden motions, but glided smoothly across the water. I grinned at the ridiculousness of the “gringa” trying to stand in a canoe as it crossed a muddy swamp, but I also reveled in the unusual moment. It was with a breath of relief, though, when I made it to the other side of the swamp and stepped off the canoe.
We walked only a few blocks and then arrived at our “campsite”, which was really just the grounds around a very small home. The caretakers, who were relatives of one of the boys, were gracious and welcomed us warmly. They seldom had visitors in their remote location, let alone an American “gringa” and I was treated with a great deal of respect. They were kind and their children were shy and sweet. I chatted with the family as the others unpacked and began the business of getting set up for our stay.
The home was really nothing more than an aged, cement house with a tin roof. The grounds were mainly just brush and untended fields with the swamp only about 200 meters away. It was not my normal idea of a campground, but the remote location away from the crowds of humanity was refreshing and peaceful. Besides, the family was so pleased with our visit that I couldn’t help but be touched by their generosity and kindness. And on the other side of the island, as I was to discover the following day, was a beautiful beach and more memories to be made. (But that will be saved for another entry.)
Later, after dinner and conversation, everyone begin to settle down and find their sleeping places for the night. I sat on the porch of the old home and began to contemplate life as the sun descended. One young man sat next to me and we talked about church, school and his home life. As the colors of the sunset began to fade, I noticed strange little glowing lights pop up over the nearby field. Completely delighted, I realized that the lights were fireflies! I had never seen one before!
As the darkness descended, many more lights popped up. I sat in awe at one of nature’s beautiful and elegant displays. A sense of joy filled me as I watched the lights of our newfound friends dip and sway. It was almost…magical.
For some reason, the scene filled me with reverence and I wanted to be part of the magic. I began to sing quietly. My young friend joined me and our voices blended becoming the only sounds to fill the night. Laughter faded away, conversations hushed and even the rustlings of the nearby jungle seemed to grow quiet. The notes of our soft song and the dancing lights harmoniously intertwined and the spell seemed to weave its magic through the air.
As the last notes of the song drifted away, the stillness remained. No one wanted to break the silence…nor forget the moment. I took a mental photo and tucked it away amongst my most cherished memories.
Life doesn’t give us many chances to make captivating memories, but upon this occasion, nature and humanity harmonized to create beauty in an unpredictable way. I am so grateful when I get to observe and at times, partake of these inspiring and unexpected moments in life.