Monday, September 26, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Police Chief

Imagine the following scenario:

You have just moved to a new pueblo in a foreign country where you are still trying to understand those around you. On your second day at site, you are approached by a member of the community stating that the police chief is looking for you. Heart hammering, you stammer in your best attempt at the local language, asking why? The community member has no idea - they were just tasked with bringing you to this meeting.

This actually happened to me. On my second day at school. With my coordinator playing it up to the point where I thought I was legitimately in trouble or had done something illegal despite not leaving my house. As it turned out, this initial meeting with the police chief, Melquecidec Vargas (or Mel for short), turned into a friendship that will soon span continents.

Mel was born in Sardinata, a pueblo in Norte de Santander (a department located on the border with Venezuela) in 1989. He grew up with two sisters, who both married at a young age. As a family, they lived in the country, a ways away from town, in a simple house made out of wood. As a kid, Mel loved playing soccer with his friends, both during and outside of school. This is a passion that has continued to this day, as at least once a week he can be found playing with the fellow cops in the plaza.

In addition to soccer, Mel also enjoyed going to the river and splashing around there with friends, and his current girlfriend, who he has known since he was a child and has been "dating" since he was 9 (according to him). He also played lots of other popular childhood games, like Hide and Seek, when not busy with his studies at school. He looked forward to school, as learning new material and seeing his friends were highlights. However, group work was a pain because it meant that he had to get up early to meet his classmates due to the distance from town that he lived.

As the end of high school was approaching, Mel knew that he had to make a decision regarding his future career. He had narrowed it down to being either an architect or a police officer. After taking some time to help his parents after graduation, he decided to join the police force and entered into the Police Academy. Following four years in the Academy, Mel was assigned to Repelón as police chief, arriving here a week before I did (talk about perfect timing!).

Life in Repelón is not all that different from Mel´s life in Sardinata. He is a big fan of the tranquility and relative peace and quiet that the pueblo offers. Mel also agrees that the people here are super friendly and he loves spending time near the Laguna del Guajaro just on the edge of town when he has time. The one thing that he absolutely despises is the condition of many of the roads in town, which he experiences often in completing his rounds.

In adition to learning English (through his own efforts and our casual conversations), Mel is also learning a bit of German as he would one day like to visit both the United States and Germany. The United States is one of the most developed and organized countries in the world, Mel feels, and he would love to be able to experience that for himself one day.

Being friends with the police chief has it pros and cons. On the plus side, I know that I have someone that I can always rely on to help me out if I were to ever get into a bind. It's also pretty sweet to tell friends and family back home that I'm best buds with the head cop in town - never a bad claim to be able to make. However, the life of a police officer is also a hectic one. Schedules are constantly changing at the last minute and finding time to actually hang out is really difficult.

Despite all of these challenges and obstacles, my time here in Colombia would not have been the same without Mel. From becoming my running buddy to sharing Dia de la Velitas with my parents when they visited in December to letting me use the copier/printer at the station whenever I wanted to, he has helped make me feel comfortable and safe while living here. For that, there are not enough words of thanks that I can offer him. I'm already looking forward to his visit to the United States! ;)