I never thought I could feel so guilty going to the beach…

So I have made it through my first vacation within Colombia! Good news is, I saw another region of the country. Bad news is, Santa Marta is not so nice of a place… at all. The entire place is practically a slum. As we drove from the airport to our destination, we passed rows and rows of resorts and then we kept going.

I can’t even describe what I felt as we navigated through the rubble of apparent streets. I’m not sure if it was fear of my environment or the 3 days to come, disgust in myself for being a tourist in this environment or just pure sadness in the extreme poverty we were in.

View from our hotel, overlooking the slums.
View from our hotel.

I don’t mean to sound naïve. I mean to try and comprehend how poverty can look so different. Can feel so different. I grew up in poverty, but it was white American poverty. I lived in rural poverty in Thailand. I traveled through Cambodia and saw all the ruins of what the Khmer Rouge left behind. My exposure to this is not new, but this is another level.

I talk to my partners in crime, that are also on this funny journey called international development, and I try to come up with why this feels so different and why it is affecting me so much more.

Maybe it’s because Thailand was a Buddhist country and no matter how little you had, you still gave and helped. Maybe it’s because of the drug factor. Maybe it’s because of the lack of education. I still can’t pinpoint it, but this is how I feel.

This place looked like a war zone. There were starving people and animals lining the streets just sitting outside for lack of livelihood. There were no jobs besides selling and doing cocaine. Kids went to school for a whole 3 hours a day if any at all. Instead of hearing children laughing and playing, it was usually the sound of their cries. Foreigners were living nocturnally, only waking for their fixes. The control over electricity had been exported to a company in Spain who shut it off whenever they pleased. Water? Forget about it.

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Our hotel overlooking the slums.
Our hotel overlooking the slums.

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I am not trying to be critical or ignorant. I just wonder how communities, cities, entire regions in the world can just be forgotten about. I think that what I do for work is helping the world, helping someone at least. But what I have to admit and understand is that there will always be another level that is so difficult to reach. My curiosity will always get the best of me. I will continue to ask why and to try and discover the barriers of reaching this forgotten population. I just don’t know if it does more harm than good.

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