I had just booked a hostel in Popoyan, when I got a message from a recruiter in China, wondering if I was available for a Voov meeting. Voov is the Chinese equivalent of Zoom. I’d downloaded it, at her request, but had never used it. Now she wanted to do a test run, making sure there were no kinks before scheduling an interview with a principal in Beijing. I told her just a minute, and ran to put on a dress shirt.
After a few minutes her face appeared, mostly hidden behind a COVID mask. There I was, on a smaller screen, looking like a hermit in reading glasses. Things seemed to be working OK. We scheduled the interview for two days later. Hopefully, the internet would be working in Popoyan.
Popoyan was only a few hours away, so the next day I slept in and checked out as late as possible. In a moment of weakness, perhaps, I went ahead and posted a link on Facebook to the sample song and poem galleries I’d recently created on my website. I always say if Facebook is your only platform, then you don’t have a platform. I don’t have a platform. Within five minutes I had about eight heart emojis. This from people who could never be bothered to visit my site. I was sorry that I’d posted the link, and considered taking it down, but decided to hold off and see what happened. It wound up bothering me all day. All my dreams are golden until I release them. Then comes the taint.
When I got to the bus station, I discovered how huge it was. There were too many bus companies to choose from, so I just went with the one with the biggest sign. Apparently, what they had going to Popoyan was a minibus that was leaving in five minutes. As I was considering it, a dwarf appeared beside me, ready to be of assistance. Once I had my ticket in hand, he raced ahead of me, beckoning for me to follow, as if our real destination was Oz. He seemed to know everyone who worked at the terminal and shouted out greetings to one and all.
The bus was blue on the outside, and all blue vinyl on the inside. There was no legroom, so I took a seat in the corner of the back bench. It was too high to see out the windows. I felt trapped up there. Along the way we stopped to pick up anyone by the side of the road who wanted to get on. Before long the bus was packed, with most of the passengers standing. A mother and three of her daughters were crammed in next to me. By the time we arrived, my left hip was seriously distressed.
Popayan is known as the White City because of all of the whitewashed colonial buildings in the historic center. I’d written out directions once again, thinking I might walk to the hostel, but was glad I didn’t when I saw how long it took the taxi to get there from the station. I’d booked a private for two nights, this time getting a whole dorm to myself. There were six beds to choose from and a balcony that overlooked the street.
Right away I went out walking, finding I was only a few blocks from the Parque Caldas. I knew it wasn’t a big city and had the whole next day to explore, so started walking towards a church on a hill that appeared to be just outside the city limits. The Iglesia de Belen didn’t look hard to get to, but there was no direct path to it. I had to follow a road that wound through the hills behind it.
Near the top, a man on a motorcycle, with a woman behind him, pulled over to warn me that some of the people in the area were not good people. I should be careful where I walked. Now I was paranoid. A group of young people were sitting on a car that was parked between the church and where I was, smoking and having noisy fun. I decided to chance it and walked past them with my eyes on the ground. They left me alone. Service was in session when I got to the church, so I took off my hat and stood in the back, taking pictures when no one was looking.
Out front of the church there was a walking trail with a series of statues depicting Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. It looked like it could be a shortcut back to town. After a few hundred yards I saw a gang of young guys making their way uphill. When they noticed me, a few of them seemed to speed up, so I turned and quickly walked back to the church. They didn’t follow me, and may have been up to nothing, but now I felt anxious and just wanted to get back to my room.
When I did, I saw that my Facebook post about the sample song and poem galleries had gotten only fifteen likes and two comments, one from my mother, and another from a guy seeking attention for his own agenda. That made my stomach hurt. I’d come to Colombia with this big project in mind, hoping perhaps that completing it might lead to a change in my fortune. Now it was clear that no one had the interest or attention span to read even one of my lyrics or poems. How would making five hundred of them available online ever change anything?
If I could live on one compliment a year, there were still many years I would’ve starved. I knew better but couldn’t help myself. At the end of the day, I still wanted to be accepted, and feel like I’d done something of value with my life. Most of the time, however, I felt like a failure, not just at art, but at everything else, as well. I couldn’t go on. I needed help. What I wouldn’t give for one enthusiastic person in my life, outside of my mother, but there were times when even that seemed to be asking too much.