My Message for Suscal

I met Alberto in the small park near my hotel as I walked up the hill for breakfast. We talked for awhile and then Alberto asked me to prepare a message for the people of Suscal and to deliver this message during the evening church service. I agreed to do it.
I thought I would make remarks about the simple beauty of their mountain culture and the strength of their religious beliefs and how this made their happiness. This I would contrast with the unhappiness of my country and its conspicuous consumption and rejection of religion.
But as the day progressed and I thought more about speaking to these indigenous people, I realized I knew nothing about them. I was only presuming they were happy. I knew nothing of their lives. They wore black wide-brimmed hats and the women had purple or pink handmade dresses and they were all very short and dark and Indian looking. That was all I knew of them. I didn’t understand them in any deep way. Not like I knew America. America I knew well. America I could speak about. But why should I tell these people about America? Why not leave America where it is and leave these Andean mountain people to themselves? Indeed, I had come to South America to receive messages, not to deliver them.
I realized I could not address the congregation. I knew this would disappoint Alberto. I would not know how to explain it to him. I decided it would be better just to miss our meeting at 6pm. If I ran into him before I left I would say I had fallen asleep. I had disappointed people before and I would certainly do it again.
It was better this way. To not make these people any more interested in America than they might already be. I carried with me an intoxicating and dangerous poison and I did not want to spread it. The Spanish had come and changed these people and American culture could easily finish them off. I had not come here to encourage it.
With or without me these people were being changed. In Suscal I saw as many internet shops as food shops, each filled with young people going online. Facebook and videos and games were what they looked at. It wasn’t any different than in Western countries.
After speaking with Alberto I ate breakfast on the avenida principal and a boy and girl at another table watched me as I ate. Neither of them wore the traditional clothing. The young man was dressed in baggy, hip-hop style jeans and the girl in a t-shirt and jeans. When I spoke with the woman who ran the restaurant the boy and girl laughed. My Spanish is of the Colombian north coast and it no doubt was a surprise to hear a strange, long-haired, blue-eyed man speaking it. I thought to myself: though they dress as gringos at least they are not so knowledgeable of gringos as to no longer stare and laugh at them. Verily, when the young can no longer stare and laugh at a foreigner Suscal will have been altogether lost.


  1. A very good observation, fucking spot on, with the laughter and the staring. I had the same thing in Barra Velha with the girl who worked at the store with her mother--she began to laugh when I began to speak. Yeah, my nasal vowel accents are bad (they don't have them in Spanish, even in the North Coast Colombian you speak, I think), but what made the mother and daughter so distracted was the fact that an American had arrived in their store and was on a bike and speaking their language. They just got on the phone and called the guy I needed to speak with instead of selling me a phone card.

    My point here is that I've seen it. I've seen how the small towns are still amazed at what I say and the large towns don't give a shit. I see pockets of innocence and wonder and old towns and old ways where people haven't changed. When I first arrived here I saw three shirtless guys, maybe in their mid-teens, walking their oxen down a dirt road. They weren't ashamed of the rural nature of their Saturday morning and it seemed to make sense to them to do what they were doing. So different from the surf towns I would soon encounter, with gross materialism and insecurity infected from American surf culture

  2. And what, indeed, can one say? To bring the history, to bring the story of this western baggage, to tells the tales of the fallen culture. Who should hear such horrors?

  3. indeed. but how do we, as western men, enter among them, to attempt to live as they do without damaging them. i have forwarded the idea of coming without money, only coming to them with skills they perhaps need. perhaps there is some other way.


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