Hometown Boy

Today, I ventured out for a quick meeting at the school. I had every intention of returning to my jet-lagged laziness as soon as I chatted with the principal, ran a couple of errands and caught a few minutes of the homecoming parade for Carlos Bacca, Puerto Colombia’s own World Cup player. It had been excruciating to watch my team, mi SELECCION!!, play while I was in a different country, far from the people who have shared their culture and their team with me.

But, as fate would have it, I caught a ride with some of the mayor’s men…straight to City Hall, through the police barricades, up to perfect vantage point!

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The plaza was packed with all of the presumed 40,000 inhabitants of the greater Puerto Colombia community, all sporting the tricolor jerseys, air horn in one hand and camera in the other!

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The closer Bacca’s fire truck got, the louder the crowd! Overhead, the clouds hinted at another long-awaited friend: rain.

No matter how grandiose the World Cup stadiums must have been, filled with millions of admirers and transmitting live feed to billions more, Carlos Bacca looked right at home in his pueblo, fist bumping the firefighters as he came off the truck and through the crowd.

Other celebrities might shy away from the outstretched hands and shouting kids, but like a true porteño, Bacca smiled and hugged and laughed and shook hands all the way into City Hall.

Puerto is already the warmest of places, where people prefer to laugh than to cry, to hug even strangers and to invite you for dinner even if they don’t remember your name. (“Blond girl” works just fine for me!)

Bacca has exuded his pueblo’s positivity and closeness throughout. He played soccer as a kid in the barrio, going to Cisneros school and collecting bus fares to get by. He married his childhood sweetheart and took her and their kids to Spain, where he plays for Sevilla. Even then, he’s made a point to stay connected with his country and hometown, visiting often to see his parents, who still live here near the plaza.

Tonight, he greeted all his family, friends and fans with a quiet smile and warm handshake, letting everyone share their exuberant welcomes and joyful pride.

The mayor spoke, everyone sang the national anthem and Puerto’s hymn, then they presented him with a certificate (costeños have an inexplicable obsession with certificates).

Bacca spoke a few short minutes about his town pride and love for where he came from, hoping to continue inspiring the young people to dream. I know many of my students idolize him, and I was glad to see him acknowledge his influence.

After the speech, my mayor’s office friend again pulled me into City Hall, this time upstairs to take a photo with Bacca’s himself! I’m his biggest gringa fan in the world, after all!

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The crowd of policemen, the mayor, Bacca’s family and city hall employees all headed downstairs and into waiting cars…I jumped back in with my friend and we took off.

“Where are we going?” I asked in between their mayor’s office gossip about the event.

“To Bacca’s dinner!” They laughed at their gringa.

We drove to a country club in the nearby town, passing policemen at the gate and winding up a hill overlooking the ocean.

By this point, my starstruck, jet lagged gringa brain wasn’t even surprised when we pulled into the parking lot next to our football star and proceeded inside to a catered buffet!

The atmosphere was much more intimate, with only about 50 people present. Bacca made sure to greet most of the guests and stood for a couple more rounds of smart phone selfies. The room buzzed with whatsapp and Facebook notification sounds.

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Not soon after dessert and a final picture, we all started to say goodbyes, bringing the whirlwind evening to a sweet end (strawberry ice cream and a selfie!)

And just like that, another day in the life of this incredulous, sleepy and very blessed PCV came to a close, letting her fall asleep a few more memories richer.

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