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Fear of the First

Aruba to Colombia - July 2018

The memories drift in on their own. Staring out the plane window reminds of me of traveling as a child. I would look out the window, listen to music and leave the madness. It was an oasis. It was safe.

I land in Bogota from Aruba, hungover from my best friend’s wedding. After obsessing about this trip for nearly a decade—a multiyear round-the-world backpacking trip—I am reminded that I didn't bother to learn any other languages.

At the Bogota airport, two mothers help me order empanadas. They live in Minnesota now, but are back in Colombia to visit their families. I tell them I'm flying to Riohacha. They pray and grasp my arm with concern. They tell me it was a very dangerous place. La Guajira, Colombia’s desert region on the Caribbean coast on the border of Venezuela, is (apparently) known for being extremely dangerous. The refugee crisis related to a government meltdown in Venezuela put additional pressure on the already vulnerable region. I had picked it because it seemed like a nice starting point on Google maps to cut from East to West across the country as I moved counter-clockwise around the continent to sort out my own baggage.

I find my connection and board the plane. My white knuckles wrap around the armrests. I forgot to grab cash in Bogota. I worry that I won't find a safe way to the hostel. I feel stupid and unprepared.

It ended up being okay. Riohacha wasn't exactly safe, but the instincts developed from growing up in American cities helped mitigate risk. But I was unprepared for the suffering I saw. The overwhelming scale of child hunger blindsided me at a time when I was sorting out my own childhood demons. The difference was as strong as the guilt I felt. But overwhelmed with emotion and out-leveraged to make a difference, I prioritized caring for myself. I moved westward.

Fear can be a good thing. It's an indicator of challenge and growth. It's a mode we enter to cross into the unknown. Once there, we prioritize the most important. Where will I sleep? Where will I get food? Balanced correctly, fear subsides as our knowledge and instincts grow. Eyes start to look upward to gratitude and the mind towards action. We get better.


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