Obtaining my Colombian ID allowed me to start building a new life in Bogotá after moving from the United States.
I sucked in my gut, gripped my drawstring backpack tightly and shoved my way off the crowded TransMilenio bus. When it comes to these giant, red buses that zip through Bogotá, shoving is the only way to get on and off during rush hour. I was meeting a friend at a bus station about 30 minutes away from my neighborhood in the northern part of the city. We planned to walk to a nearby indoor soccer field to play with his friends.
Not wanting to stand in the middle of all the chaos that is Bogotá’s bus system, I crossed the street with a herd of people and positioned myself outside a corner store. The sidewalk was cracked and jagged pieces of concrete stood erect, waiting to trip anyone who wasn’t paying attention. A young woman sat on the sidewalk silently crying a few feet away. I glanced in her direction as I slowly typed a message to my friend informing him that I was standing on the corner awaiting his arrival.
As I looked up from my phone, a police officer in a lime green jacket approached me. He politely, but sternly asked me to present my cédula—the identification card that Colombians carry. My heartbeat increased slightly and I looked around to see who might have been watching us.
“I don’t have a cédula,” I said to him in Spanish. “I’m not from here.” I hoped this explanation would suffice and he would let me wait for my friend undisturbed. No such luck. He asked me where I was from, how long I had been in Colombia, where I learned Spanish and why I look Latina. He then asked me for another form of ID.
“I really need to go. I’m late for a soccer game. Also, is it normal in Colombia for you to be asking for my ID,” I questioned, trying to sound polite but confident. I have never personally had a negative encounter with a police officer in the United States or in Colombia, but I was scared. I didn’t want my passport number entered into some kind of system. I didn’t want him to give me unnecessary hassle in hopes of getting a bribe. And even though I was in the country legally, I didn’t want to be deported.
He typed my passport number into a handheld gadget and told me that I shouldn’t be in this bad neighborhood alone. After he returned my photocopy, I crossed another street and typed another message to my friend a little more quickly. “Dónde estás???”
About two weeks later, a man unceremoniously slipped a plastic card under the glass that boxed him into a little room inside Colombia’s immigration office. I looked down at the piece of thin plastic that had the words “República de Colombia” written in gold letters at the top.
It displayed a picture of me that resembled a mugshot. (I have an unshakable case of resting bitch face and my nerves were fried the day the picture was taken after spending hours in various government waiting rooms.)
I was holding my cédula and I was as delighted as the day I was handed my driver’s license. I thumbed the sleek plastic, smiled and thanked the man behind the glass. I resisted the urge to grab the security guard and plant a big, sloppy kiss on his forehead on the way out of the immigration office. On the 35-minute walk back to the bus stop, I blasted Wiz Khalifa’s “The Thrill” on my iPod.
Walking on a dream
How can I explain
Talking to myself
Just travelin’ the world
My cédula and my 2-year work visa mean I’m not just a tourist here in Colombia, this is my new home. It means I can legally attempt to cobble together a life for myself, a task that seemed impossibly daunting six weeks ago when I arrived here with nothing. It means I can make friends and cultivate relationships without the looming knowledge that I will have to leave the country once my 90-day tourist visa expires. It means I can spend more time trying to improve my Spanish and learn about Colombian culture.
Six weeks ago, I wrote about my decision to come to Colombia without a real plan. I didn’t have any job prospects nor did I know a single person, but I was optimistic. My cédula and visa are tangible evidence that my optimism wasn’t misplaced and everything is slowly coming together.