The palm trees rattled as a humid breeze brushed across my face. As I rolled up my pants to dip my toes in the pool, I surveyed my surroundings. Tidy, green grass encompassed the pool and neatly pruned bushes dotted the courtyard. White-washed townhouses with blue trim stood at attention in even rows, like a militia awaiting orders. Rolling green mountains loomed in the background, the only clue that this townhouse complex wasn’t located in my home state of Florida.
In fact, I wasn’t even close to Florida. I was thousands of miles away in a Colombian city named Villavicencio. An impromptu road trip with my boyfriend and his family landed me in this townhouse community and I couldn’t help but think how different it all felt from Colombia’s capital Bogotá, a city where I had been living for a little over a year.
A pang of envy washed over me as I imaged what my life would look like living in this idyllic townhouse complex and away from Bogotá. I wasn’t jealous of the people living in those townhouses. I was frustrated with an economic dynamic I have come to find myself stuck in after choosing to live in Colombia.
From my experience of working and living in Bogotá, the capital city is an expensive place if you earn pesos. The areas of town that have less crime, less graffiti-riddled walls and less litter are more expensive to live in. Of course, you could make that same observation about almost any city – it’s cheaper to live in an ugly neighborhood full of crime than it is to live somewhere with charming boutiques on every corner and trees shading the sidewalks. But in Bogotá, the playgrounds of the rich and privileged, seem like the average-looking playgrounds of middle class America.
For example, I chose to go to Chili’s to celebrate my birthday. When I lived in the United States, I used to dine at Chili’s or similar restaurants at least three times a month, but in Colombia, it’s considered a place to go for special occasions unless you’re rich. Having a car means you are doing well for yourself and having two cars means you must be a drug dealer. Not really, but you get my point.
I know how privileged I am to have grown up in the United States, and not everyone in America can afford a car, much less two, or are financially stable enough to eat out multiple times a month and still manage to float some money into a savings account.
I’m well aware how ironic it is for me to be writing about how luxury, or just how middle class American luxury, seems woefully unobtainable in Bogotá. I would be remiss not to mention all of this is coming from someone who earns significantly more money than the average Colombian. So imagine what the person living in the slums of Bogotá must be feeling earning significantly less than the average Colombian salary.
Back to the nice townhouses in Villavicencio. I couldn’t help imagining living in one of those suckers. I would put a hammock on the balcony, a rocking chair on the porch and open the sliding glass doors to let the cross-breeze flow through the house. A car would sit in my driveway, ready to whisk me to the grocery store, so I wouldn’t have to lug two oversized bags home like I do now.
I contemplated this new life on the three-hour ride back to Bogotá. A life with a car. A life with a pool. A life where I didn’t have to wear a jacket every single day to shield me from the ever-present chill of Colombia’s capital city.
As we zoomed along the curves of the beautiful Andes mountain range, I felt guilty for wanting so many of those materialist things when my life was overflowing with blessings. But even more than the guilt, I was acutely aware that the lifestyle I so desperately wanted had the classic trappings of the American dream. It was the dream so many people in Colombia yearned for, and the one I had politely declined when I quit my job, sold my car, gave away my stuff and moved out of my tranquil apartment complex with a pool in Florida to pursue the life of adventure.