My dear wife Star had no idea that the “Yes, I do” she beautifully pronounced the day God blessed the union of our lives went beyond the promise of honoring me in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer … it also meant honoring my culture and the do’s and don’ts that it brought with it.
The cold, windy afternoon of December 21 was the day our marriage vows blended into one. The next day, we found ourselves at the Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma to catch the first of three planes that would take our love across borders to the land of Colombia’s Magical Realism, a term made well-known by Colombian Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I will start by saying that the magical aspect of our trip began the first day of a two-week vacation in the north coastal city of Barranquilla, my hometown. That first day highlighted the great variety of fruits, flowers, coffee, architecture, beaches, colors and music that ended up convincing Star that she had stepped into our Lord’s Promised Land. I did not have any intention of telling her otherwise. I knew the Realism, or should I say the realistic part of this new experience for Star was still to come.
Back at home that very first day, Star started to gain awareness that the cold, windy afternoon of her “Yes, I do” had been placed in the most remote corner of her memory; now a realistic 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) had left the inescapable mark of Colombia’s coastal sun. Star’s new “bronzed skin” (which Colombians would not hesitate to describe as a terrible burn) accompanied her for most of the trip, but also, as her new BFF, she would carry one of those medicinal body creams magically handcrafted by Colombian shamans, who possess the power of good and evil to heal almost everything.
However, Star’s beautiful white skin was not the only part of her body that felt the harmful consequences of coming in contact with her recently adopted new culture. My aunt Nicolasa, the self-proclaimed chef of the family, thought that Star should taste one of Colombia’s food delicacies: Sopa de Mondongo, a soup made from diced tripe (the stomach of a cow) with slow-cooked vegetables, served almost at boiling temperatures. The result: a queasy, unsettled stomach that kept Star out of my hometown panorama for the day.
Keeping in mind my wedding vow for protection, I tried to warn Star of the possible “violation of space” she could be exposed to when taking a public bus in my city, but she decided to go with the motto: When in Rome, do as the Romans do! To her misfortune, she was not in Rome, but Colombia.
Public buses in Colombia do not follow the same regulations as those in the USA. Bus drivers know that the bus does not have more capacity when three, four or five people are hanging out from the bus front door, which immediately communicates that in the interior of the bus, the passengers find themselves like sardines in a can. As a woman who struggles with claustrophobia, Star thought her days were over. Not to mention the rubbing, the poking, the pushing and the smell of sweat that Star had to go through to finally come to the conclusion that yellow would be her new favorite form of public transportation: Taxi cabs.
The list of different experiences with my culture that Star has come in contact with during our 12 years of marriage is never-ending. Many of these cultural experiences are more positive than negative. Many of the negative ones have become positive through the years due to our unconditional love for each other and for our cultures, but especially united through our love and the love of God.