All day, the house has been full of commotion as we prepare for tomorrow’s wedding. The bride and groom left early for Cartagena—the colonial walled city on the Caribbean coast that served as a Spanish fort against English pirates—where we’ll celebrate the wedding. The rest of the family will soon follow. But there are still things to take care of. My mother spent all morning marking and packing away the presents that arrived during the week. She now turns to her large, hard suitcases that have been lying open for hours. She makes lists and has everything ironed before she packs it. I’ve asked her to take my dress in her suitcase; I am sure it will be better packed than if I just throw it inside my soft leather bag. My father pretends to be reading some huge history book in his library, which we children (yes, we are still children in his eyes) will be lectured and quizzed on at some point during the weekend. Yet what he is really doing is damage control.
When one of us can’t find something, he will know where it is. When my 88-year-old grandmother calls with questions, he answers them. He makes sure everything is arranged for Padre Becerra, the priest who is traveling to Cartagena with my grandmother to perform the wedding. Padre Becerra married my parents 42 years ago.
My sister, who lives in Ecuador and has just landed in Colombia, calls from the airport in a state of panic. Her two children—Felipe, 7, and Tomas, 5—are in the wedding party, and she is certain she has forgotten their dressy clothes back in Quito. My father runs to the phone and takes charge of the situation. My youngest brother, Aldo, and I watch the drama unfold from the sidelines, smirking at our father who, in spite of all his huffing and puffing, actually enjoys being needed.
But there is one bump that worries him. Apparently there is a problem with Cristina’s visa that could prevent her and my brother from leaving for their honeymoon on Monday. Thanks to the record of fellow countrymen involved in international drug trafficking, and the massive emigration of Colombians due to the breakdown of the country, few countries welcome Colombian visitors. Colombians need visas to go almost anywhere, and the process of obtaining a visa is excruciating. Earlier this week, for example, a friend came to visit, her face so sunburned it hurt her; she had been standing, under the sun, from 7 a.m. till 4 p.m. at the U.S. embassy waiting for her visa. Another friend, an American who has a Colombian girlfriend, has a difficult time arranging to see her. He either has to come visit her here in Colombia or go to, say, Aruba, one of the few places she can go without a visa.
Two months ago, the travel agency organizing the honeymoon sent Cristina’s passport, along with her application for a visa to travel in the European Union, to the Spanish embassy. The visa was supposed to be ready last Monday. When the agents went to pick it up, they were told that it was not yet ready and that no further information was available. By Wednesday, the embassy announced that the visas were being delayed because their computers were down. That night the story made the news. Hundreds of people have been affected. Avianca, the national airline, which has a direct daily flight to Madrid, is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still, there has been no word about when the problem will be fixed. Hopefully it will be only a matter of days so that the bride and groom are able to leave for their honeymoon as planned. Regardless, tomorrow at 7 o’clock, when we all enter the church of Santo Toribio on Cartagena’s cobbled main square, and Felipe and Tomas make their appearance wearing their special little outfits (they were found), and the bride walks down the aisle and the chorus starts to sing, the happiness and music will not stop until dawn.
On Saturday, I will do things I only do when I am in Colombia. I will make the sign of the cross during Mass at the church. I will dance to the beat of Colombian music. I will be asked a million questions about my life—especially why I am not married—by men and women aged 10 to 100 that I have known for years. Soon I will return to my quiet life in the West Village, where I will hail cabs and roll down windows with no hesitation. And I will read about the rebels’ bombs and the paramilitary massacres in the English papers. And perhaps because I am not there to see the frustration and the fear in my family’s eyes, I am able to continue on with my life.