Sunday night I was invited to a friend’s family party. A nephew and his girlfriend were going to Chile for a conference and the family was seeing them off, helping them get there. I tried to give them 10,000 COP (about $5 USD) as a way to show my gratitude, but my money was firmly handed back to me.
They took my coat, sat me down, handed me a glass of hot sangria with a sugar rim. There was a rifa, where I won a hand towel with a green frog, and a small porcelain angel that I unceremoniously dropped and broke an hour or two later.They fed me ajiaco, my new favorite soup.
But the singing, oh the singing! That is what I came here to share. Once the eating and gift-giving was over, the two guitars came out and everyone, everyone sang. Even the shy 10-year-old who held the guitar with the strings facing up towards the ceiling, and murmured Hey Soul Sister. There were songs about aguardiente and being Colombian, being unable to find the right man to marry, unrequited love, gypsies, doing something versus saying you’ll do it.
Of course, with everyone else singing, I was cajoled into singing something in Russian. My repertoire consists of children’s songs or mid-90s rap. I chose Миленький ты мой, a short song, very repetitive. Luckily only the very last sentence of my a cappella rendition was captured on video.
Video evidence presented for posterity
The universality of it all is what I love most. That people in every country I have lived in, have sang together, played guitar. The songs tell the same stories – the beloved country, the hope and despair of love, the fleeting nature of youth. Whether it’s on a friend’s couch in Vermont, around a campfire in Russian summer camp, in dark Massachusetts basements, on Chilean buses - the words, language, setting may be different, but the guitar sounds the same and the heartstrings respond the same.