While living in Cartagena, Colombia, I taught English at a bilingual school. This school was located about 10 miles away from the city which was done on purpose as a protection to the students who often came from wealthier parents. And it was actually very pleasant to get away from the noise of the city and enjoy the farmlands and countryside.
One day, towards the end of the school year, the teachers were finishing grades and correcting tests. The students were officially off for the year, so some of the workers were not there. Unfortunately, I (and a few other teachers) had missed the announcement that both the cafeteria and school store would be closed. Essentially, this meant no lunch. I suppose I could have waited until I arrived home around 4:00 pm to eat, but I was hungry as I’d had very little for breakfast.
So proceeded the adventure to find lunch. I went outside of the school to ask one of the workers where they usually bought their food. They said that there was a house “just a little ways down the road” where I could go and order lunch. I said ok and set off, not knowing what to expect. (The picture below is an actual photo of the road I took.)
I had walked about 10 minutes when I suddenly encountered a very muddy patch. It crossed the entire road and went well into the weedy grasses on the side. I looked down at my flip-flops and looked again at the very large mud hole I would have to wade through. Some parts of the road had dried out and undaunted, I thought I could make it. I was only about halfway through when I lost my balance and my right foot fell into a very deep, muddy hole. I tried to pull my foot out and could hear the squish as the mud sucked down my flip-flop. I groaned as I now had to put my hand down into the mud to get out my shoe. It was too late to turn around at this point and knowing the rest of the mud was just as bad, I finally just took off my shoes and walked barefoot through the ankle-high red mud.
Images of what was in that mud kept running through my mind: parasites, cow manure, and so much more. (Fortunately, I did not acquire any dreaded disease.) I finally reached the makeshift wooden gate of the farmhouse where I went to order my food. Needless to say, the people that lived in the small, worn-down, cement farmhouse were shocked to see a white woman with mud up to her calves and all over her hands come walking carefully down their path. They immediately found me a place to wash up (which was really quite useless since I had to go back the way I came) and sat me on their best chair on their porch. Even though she had finished cooking for the day, this good woman ran back to prepare spaghetti, rice, and fried plantains over her outdoor fire. The food was good and filling and the hospitality was excellent…a five-star farmhouse.
As I finally made my way back to the school, once again covered with red mud, the workers laughed and I joined right in. I knew I made quite the picture, but my sense of humor got the better of me at the irony of the whole situation. Here was an American who was used to the cleanest of eating establishments, now half-covered with mud and eating like the locals. It was a wonderful moment and I have seldom enjoyed eating a meal more.