Friday, August 26, 2016

Face of Repelón: The Elder Statesman

People that are able to self-teach themselves another language amaze me. I have met a multitude of humans throughout my travels that have learned English or another language solely through movies, music, and self-motivation. Many of these language learners have never taken a formal class or stepped foot in a country that speaks their second or third language fluently. Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of getting to know one such person that fits the above criteria: Rafael Torrenegra Polo.


Born in Repelón in 1961, Rafa is easily the oldest member of my community clases. However, he doesn't let his "wise, old age" hold him back from continuing the learn and improve his English abilities. Growing up, Rafa was one of 12 children. Both of his parents worked extremely hard to raise himself and his siblings. This work ethic was instilled in his parents at a young age - Rafa's mother grew up without a father and his father began working when he was in primary school just to make sure that there was enough food to eat. Despite these tough conditions, Rafa and his siblings have managed to become successful members of society. Today, his siblings hold titles such as doctor, lawyer, pilot, engineer, and mechanic.


As a child, Rafa's mother loved to sing to her children. This helped foster a love of music in Rafa that continues to this day. His father told many stories about the world around them, helping to spark an interest in Engilsh in Rafa at an early age. When Rafa wasn't learning new songs or soaking up new knowledge, he was outside playing with his friends. Their favorite game to take part in was baseball. In addition to baseball, Rafa also enjoyed running, riding horses, and playing an assortment of popular pueblo games.

During school, Rafa was an excellent student who enjoyed reading books and learning new things. He hated missing classes (which is not a sentiment shared by many students today) and truly enjoyed the teachers that instructed him. After high school, Rafa continued his education by taking many courses offered by SENA, which is a Colombian public institution that is focused on the development of educational programs to help foster employment throughout Colombia. In addition to these courses, Rafa started learning hundreds of English words through the assistance of a dictionary and the Bible.


Throughout his lifetime, Rafa has held an assortment of jobs, including a renter of land on the island San Andres, an insurance agent, and a security guard. It is through all of these various jobs that Rafa has met some of his closest comrades in life. One of his favorite aspects of life in Repelón is just that: the people. Walking down the street and being greeted by neighbors and friends is something that isn't found in the cities. However, there is a prevailing culture of poverty that sometimes tends to suffocate the spirit of the citizens in town.

Rafa has had a lifelong dream of visiting Germany. He sees the German society as one of equality and full of lots of opportunities for both its citizens and those that visit this beautiful country. Rafa also would like to visit the United States someday. Through his eyes, the USA is one of the msot powerful and important countries in the world today. The inhabitants of the USA have many opportunities and the ability to enjoy a good, well-rounded life. Rafa feels that Colombia should use the USA as an example of how to further develop in the future.

Rafa's vast prior knowledge of English has brought some interesting dynamics to my community classes. He is always willing to participate and give his thoughts. Sometimes, he is so willing that he overshadows the other students. While many other teachers may become annoyed and quickly fed up with this behavior, I embrace it. This desire to participate and continue to grow after so much time and effort is one of the truly enduring qualities that I will never forget about Rafa.