The poverty here in Cartagena is overwhelming. Truly. There are shanty-towns all along the edges of the city with houses made of strips of aluminum and little else. When my sister came to visit she kept saying all the children looked like they were straight out of Slumdog Millionaire. Granted she watched that movie for the first time when she was here, but the cultures are similar. The social atmosphere, the close living quarters and the swarms of olive skinned (or darker) children playing soccer barefoot in the street below our apartment. And we live in basically a middle-class Colombian neighborhood.
That being said, there is a stark difference between the lower class and the upper class. The middle class, as in most developing countries (yes, Colombia is still very much developing in some ways), is quite small. Lanre works for a private school and therefore I have had plenty of exposure to the upper crust of Cartagena. And it´s intense.
On Sunday I attended the Family Day at Lanre´s school and was offered a ride by one of the families that lived nearby. This is a typical family from his school. The father works and the mother stays at home. They have two children, both who attend Lanre´s (very expensive) school. The inside of their home is beautiful. Piano room, computers in each bedroom, flat screen televisions on the wall of each room and stainless steal appliances in the kitchen. I was jealous and compared to most Colombians my home in the US would be a paradise. They are also the proud owners of two vehicles – one car and one SUV.
This is not about harping on their wealth. Yes, they´re wealthy. There are wealthy people everywhere. I just want to show you the caliber of family I am discussing here. And let me take a moment to note that this wealth in no way affects their character as they are a really lovely couple with beautiful children. And I discovered this even through my very limited Spanish since their English is non-existent.
What I found remarkable was the ride to the school. It´s not close. It takes about 30 minutes to get there because it´s outside the city. So the two kids and myself hopped into the backseat. As soon as they got in, both children slid to the front of the backseat, the little girl standing between the two front seats. Then the Mom and the Dad pulled on seatbelts and off we went. Which is when I realized, there were no seatbelts in the back seat. None at all. And I had to resist the urge to pull the small, four year old girl who really should have been in a car seat, back from the gap between her parents seats where it would only take a quick stop to send her sailing toward the windshield.
I know some people may argue that seatbelts don´t save lives. But I feel like those people have probably never driven in Cartagena. People will die. Children, especially, will die. Luckily, no one died. But this place really needs some traffic laws reformed. Or they just need some traffic laws. As it is, I´m not sure they have any.