The Unexpected Cowboy

by Flor Khan (Germany)

I didn't expect to find Colombia


The droning engines of Internacional El Dorado bellowed from one eardrum to the other, causing the walls of the terminal to close in around me. The crowds of chatter expanded into tuneless chaos. I stumbled towards the boarding line, clicking the button of my pen in an attempt to battle the nausea. “Carlitos!” Amanda waved from the line, twenty or thirty people ahead. Carlos looked up and nodded his head in calm assurance to let her know he had seen her. He was dressed in plain Levis Jeans and a t-shirt, with handmade, all-leather cowboy boots he had bought a week prior to departure; they’d spent an extra 3 days just outside of Bogota, in a small town named Guasca, waiting for them to finish being hand tailored. Amanda’s shriek of excitement— paired with her California sunkissed skin and long, luscious blonde hair— grabbed the attention of too many. Security was tight. The lines seemed to compress and expand at various checkpoints, where passengers’ carry-ons were accessed for weight, height, and bulkiness. I had on my 10-year travel backpack adorned with tattered patches, which mapped the world of places visited; my notebook was glued in hand. Carlos was wearing a Chimu shoulder bag with orange and green snake images woven into the now shredding threads. He carried nothing else. Amanda and him had already checked their precious cargo, beforehand: four vintage accordions masterfully put together. I looked down at my notebook, feeling the heaviness of the cargo I was now carrying in the pit of my stomach. The sweat began collecting above my upper lip. An officer standing in the corner, inconspicuously dressed in khakis and a buttoned-down collar, slowly approached Carlos from behind. “Excuse me sir.” Carlos pulled forward, then turned with exact precision. “Will you come with me?” the officer said quietly. Amanda was nearly complete with boarding, placing her passport back into her purse and walking past the stewardess, without turning around. “Certainly, sir. What seems to be the problem?” The officer, paying respect to Carlos’ response and soft demeanor, spoke in a low voice. “You fit the profile of a narco traficante. We’re going to need to pull you in for some questioning, before clearing you for take-off.” As I leaned into the line, the humming engines heavied into my stomach. I was ready to release the bile now building in my throat. Carlos made his way to a side room, only a few meters from the line, with a window covered by yellowing blinders. The officer looked at him straight. “Esos zapatos, de donde son?” Carlos looked down at his boots. “De Guasco, señor,” he replied. “I know,” the officer announced. “I’m from there.” “Quítatelos, por favor.” Carlos removed his shoes and handed them to the officer. He took the right shoe and hit it on the table, with a precision placed on the edge of the heel. “Solid,” he said confidently, then swiveled the heel to the right. After a firm push, he uncovered a meticulously carved inner compartment; tucked inside was a small bag of basuco, a travel gift from Carlos’ teacher, Columbia’s finest cocaine chef in Medellin. “This right here is going to cost you life, hermano.” I looked up, following the bright light of the now fully illuminated airport terminal, thinking of how my life might have been different if my father would have never been caught, or if his drug mule— and mistress, at the time — hadn’t shouted out his name. What if she, too, had been caught? She wasn’t. What she carried home with her, after finishing my father’s itinerary to Miami, Florida, was 6 kilos of cocaine; a secure $80,000 worth of pure Columbian powder, carefully placed inside four, 1964 Deville, vintage accordions. This would later secure the payment of our family home, and the next years of livelihood for my brothers and I. Here I was, 24, standing in the very terminal which had altered the trajectory of my life; my goals, my studies, my pursuing a Master’s program in social justice had all, in some way, been tied to this very moment. I took a step forward, and boarded my way home.