Dearest friends and family,
I’m going to tell you all about something really special this week…la collectiva. We all know what a taxi is, right? Little yellow car where you get in, go to the desired place, and then pay? It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5-year old kid alone or a family of 4, the price is the same based on the total distance traveled? Well, la collectiva is a little different. In la collectiva, it’s not a little yellow car but rather a little white bus of about 10 seats. The passengers don’t tell the driver of the collectiva where they want to go or make route change requests because the collectiva goes to a predesignated location of high interest and anyone that wants to go there, climbs in. The hitch? The collectiva doesn’t leave until all of the seats are filled.
So why would someone want this service? Well, it’s infinitely cheaper and very handy when you are broke. A taxi from our house to Rumichaka (Ecuadorian border) costs about 10,000 pesos ($3.40). The collectiva from the terminal which is about a 10-minute walk from our house to Rumichaka costs 1,800 pesos ($0.60) per person. So, like I said: cheaper. What I haven’t yet mentioned is the most marvelous part of the collectiva – how destiny decides who will climb aboard to fill the other 8 seats of the little bus.
Today we boarded up again, handing our 1,800 over to the not-very-friendly driver and started to wait. We were the first 3 to arrive (Elder Welch, Bermejo and me) going to pick up Elder Soto who is coming back to the area. Of the 7 remaining seats, 1 was taken by a very dirty, weary-looking, bearded traveler almost immediately. We were now 4. I was surprised when this man greeted me in broken English and introduced himself as Osvaldo from France. All of a sudden a million questions came to mind as I flustered a bit in my intrigue. Why was he traveling in Colombia? What was he going to do in Ecuador? Why did he speak English? What had he seen and what stories could he tell? Did he have a family? Friends? When was the last time he had been “home”? When was the last time he had a shower? I went with the first question that came to my mind: how do you know English? This simple question blossomed into a 10-minute conversation that eventually touched on all of my other questions. Osvaldo had lived in England for 5-years after realizing at a very young age that the life he had been born into in Paris would not sustain him. So he struck out on his own and has been traveling ever since. He’s learned 6-7 languages and expressed deep respect and admiration for our work as missionaries and the devotion we have to our faith. Osvaldo had lived briefly as a monk years earlier before deciding to travel and pursue “universal understanding.” I could fill the rest of this letter with the impressions from my discussion with him – perhaps I will at a later time.
Next to board was a family of 5, an older male, 2 younger parents, a child of about 6 and a crying baby. Again a million questions flooded my mind. They spoke in a Bogota accent and were carrying a TON of luggage like they were on more than just on vacation. I wondered about their troubles and their concerns. A moment more and, in the distance, we see 2 Venezuelans, a mother and her son, running to the bus – the mother pausing to buy a water, angering and prompting a racial slur from the older man from Bogota. In a gesture of acceptance, the younger woman from Bogota picked up her crying baby to make room on the seat for the Venezuelan mom. The driver started the engine. We were off.
Maybe it helped that we arrived first and I was able to watch this scene slowly unfold but the whole experience really took me back. I got to thinking how incredibly different and diverse the backgrounds, experiences, concerns, pursuits and frames of mind of each of the 11 of us on this little bus. What was each person thinking as we made our way to the Ecuadorian border? What things worried them? What hopes did they have? What would they consider to be their greatest need? And what would they think if they could experience first-hand how we live in the United States? What would their opinion of that experience be? And, what would they want me to be more thankful for as a result of it? I could share the answers I imagined they would give but feel it would be better to just leave them there as questions for you – as something for you to answer for yourself.
Truth is, la collectiva is just a tiny microscopic slide taken from the gigantic image that is the world we live in. It’s incredible that we humans can live so completely, distinctly different lives on this same, one planet and that the quality of life can vary so drastically. It’s more than just interesting – I believe it’s critical that each one of us appreciates and recognizes this. I am so incredibly grateful and GLAD that I am here, that I get to recognize and live this realization and that I am in a position to hopefully help brighten and make any one of these lives just a little bit better.
Have an amazing week my loved ones. Stay positive. Stay smiling. And always, always look forward in faith. I love you all.