Episode 23: El regalo (The Gift)

When David Martínez was four years old, he and his parents took a bus to the north of Colombia to visit extended family for Christmas. They had many gifts with them, including a ham for the family dinner. But what should have been an uneventful trip turned into a dangerous journey that David would never forget.

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Transcript

Martina: David Martínez was 4 years old the day his father gave him a surprising present. It was December 22nd, 1997, right before Christmas, in Barranquilla, Colombia.

David: Papá llegó a casa del trabajo. Recuerdo que me llamó y me dijo que yo ya era suficientemente grande para tener mi propio dinero. Abrió su billetera y me dio un billete.

Martina: David received this bill from his dad as if it were a great treasure — his first allowance! He stared in awe at the picture on it.

David: El hombre en el billete era un señor con un mostacho delgado, igual al mostacho que tenía mi padre. El hombre parecía alguien muy importante. Y con el tiempo yo iba a enterarme que ese hombre era Francisco de Paula Santander.

Martina: As is common, the picture on the bill showed a hero from the country’s independence.

David: ¡No lo podía creer! Yo no sabía mucho sobre el dinero en ese tiempo. No sabía que unos billetes valen más que otros. Yo pensaba que con un billete yo podía comprar todo lo que quería, así que me imaginé que era millonario.

Martina: Soon David would be on a journey with his family through dangerous territory, and the gift his parents gave him would end up being as valuable as he had imagined.

Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories to help you improve your Spanish listening, and to gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I will be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again — and we also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

David Martínez was born into a typical middle-class Colombian family. They had just enough money for everything. His dad, Jahir, worked as a product supervisor in a soda factory. His mom, Angélica, was a medical saleswoman.

David: Mi papá era moreno, delgado, alto y tenía un mostacho como el mostacho del Zorro. Su personalidad era tranquila, un poco robótica, quizás por el trabajo que él hacía.

Martina: Angélica, on the other hand, had pale skin, dark eyes, brown hair. She was strong-willed, you could say, but at the same time very sweet. They established themselves in Barranquilla, a tropical city — not too far from the town where Angelica grew up, Sincelejo.

David: Y luego vine yo.

Martina: David was their only child.

David: Mis padres eran la combinación perfecta: mi papá tenía soluciones para todos mis problemas y mi mamá siempre tenía una respuesta para mis preguntas.

Martina: David remembers that they used to travel to Sincelejo every Christmas to visit his mom’s family.

David: Era un ritual. Y ese año, 1997, era especial por muchas razones.

Martina: His parents had bought presents for everyone: shirts and tennis shoes for the adults, a soccer ball for his older cousin, action figures for the younger ones and a Spiderman riding a motorcycle, for him.

David: Pero en ese momento yo no sabía nada sobre mi regalo.

Martina: Also, Angélica had spent hours cooking a huge ham with her special plum sauce. For the trip, she wrapped up the ham and put the sauce in a jar. Everything was right on track except for one detail: how they would get there.

David: Nosotros no teníamos un carro, pero siempre encontrábamos a algún amigo o familiar que nos podía llevar. Sin embargo, esta vez, el día 23 de diciembre todavía no podíamos encontrar a nadie para llevarnos. Tampoco podíamos volar porque era muy caro.

Martina: David saw his parents were worried and he had an idea. He had spent the last hours believing he was a millionaire, so he figured he could buy anything he wanted.

David: Les dije que podíamos comprar un carro nuevo con mi billete y viajar nosotros solos.

Martina: He could buy them a car! “A brilliant idea,” he thought to himself. Why not?

David: Bueno, mi padre me dijo que mejor yo debería ahorrar mi billete para el futuro.

Martina: So that only left one option: the bus.

David: A mi madre no le gustaba la idea. Ella tuvo una mala experiencia en esa ruta cuando ella era una estudiante de 19 años.

Martina: The 90s were a dangerous time in Colombia, especially in the northern region. It was the battleground of a civil war, where paramilitaries battled guerrilla fighters and the military.

David: Y muchos ataques y asesinatos ocurrían en carreteras como esa.

Martina: Angelica had been on a bus on that same road when the driver was stopped by a group of guerrilla fighters. A bunch of men wearing dirty clothes and holding rifles got on the bus and gave them a speech about the problems with capitalism and political corruption in the country.

David: Luego los hombres les pidieron dinero para la revolución. Nadie dijo nada. Mi madre les dio todo el dinero que tenía, unos treinta mil pesos.

Martina: All she had that day was about 10 dollars. Angelica was so scared by what happened, that after she reached her destination, she promised herself she would never take a bus again if she could avoid it.

David: Pero ahora no teníamos otra opción. Nadie nos podía llevar. Así que recuerdo que tomamos todas nuestras maletas, las bolsas de regalos y el jamón, y fuimos a la estación de autobuses.

Martina: At the bus terminal, with all of their luggage and Christmas ham in hand, David and his family struggled to find tickets. The terminal was full of folks trying to catch their buses on time.

David: Mis padres fueron a una empresa con autobuses nuevos. Lo más importante era que estos autobuses no paraban en medio del viaje. Eso era algo muy importante en esa época porque era más seguro. Desafortunadamente, ya no tenían boletos.

Martina: The only one with free seats was a red and yellow ancient bus that looked pretty much like a cartoon: the paint was falling off and the engine was loud like a boat.

David: No era mucho mejor por dentro: las ventanas estaban sucias y tenía un aroma a gasolina.

Martina: It was a really hot day —this is near the equator— and there was no AC. You know, that kind of bus.

David: Nos sentamos y en unos minutos el autobús ya estaba todo lleno. Había algunas familias como la nuestra, pero también campesinos con sombreros y sandalias de cuero.

Martina: Campesinos are farmers and they were wearing leather sandals.

David: Mis padres estaban tranquilos.

Martina: Remember David was only 4 years old, so regardless of what was going on around him, he was happy and in his own world.

David: Yo no quería perder mi billete así que lo puse en el bolsillo de mi camisa. Y allí se quedó cuando el autobús empezó el viaje.

Martina: After the bus left Barranquilla, the driver started stopping on the side of the road anytime he saw people willing to get on. It didn’t matter to him that there were no seats available. Passengers were soon standing in the aisle.

David: En una de esas paradas subieron tres hombres que llevaban bufandas de color amarillo.

Martina: Scarves in the middle of summer? This really made those three men stick out.

David: Los hombres tenían unos 20 años y el pelo brillante, con mucho gel. Uno llevaba puestos unos jeans y una camisa azul. Otro llevaba una camiseta blanca del club italiano de fútbol Parma. Y el tercero, unos shorts, camiseta gris y gafas de sol oscuras.

Martina: They walked to the middle of the bus and stayed there for a while. David felt his mom tense up.

David: Ella hablaba muy bajito con mi papá. Pero nada ocurrió y el viaje continuó más o menos tranquilo.

Martina: An hour before reaching Sincelejo, two of the men walked to the front of the bus while the other went to the back.

David: Ahora tenían la bufanda en la cara y no podíamos reconocerlos. El de la camisa azul, que estaba atrás, tomó un revólver pequeño de su pantalón.

Martina: The one in shorts yelled: “Everyone stay calm. Pay attention to what I’m saying. Don’t hide anything and nothing will happen to you.”

David: Uno de ellos cerró la puerta, así que el conductor y su asistente no podían hacer nada.

Martina: At that point, one of the passengers, a woman about 60 years old, started screaming for help through the windows and praying to God.

David: El hombre con la camiseta de fútbol fue hacia ella y le dijo: “¡Cierra la boca!”

Martina: Some children started crying, and their parents tried to get them to calm down.

David: Mi madre me cubrió la cabeza con sus manos, así que no podía ver nada. Yo no entendía lo que estaba pasando exactamente.

Martina: And then the men started going seat by seat robbing the passengers.

David: El hombre con el revólver se quedó al otro lado del autobús mientras los otros dos iban de un asiento a otro robando dinero, carteras y otras cosas de la gente. Yo no tenía miedo y tampoco pensaba en mi billete, pero podía sentir el miedo de la gente del autobús.

Martina: Anything valuable went into a garbage bag.

David: Cuando llegaron a nuestro asiento, querían robar a mi mamá y le dijeron: “¡Levántate!”

Martina: At that moment, Jahir stood up and told the robbers to leave Angelica alone.

David: El hombre con la camisa de fútbol le gritó: "¡Cierra la boca y mira a otro lado!" Pero mi padre no lo hizo. Él parecía un héroe de película.

Martina: The man with the gun got up close to Jahir and pointed it straight in his face.

David: Nunca olvidaré ese momento.

Martina: David remembers that everyone screamed when this happened, probably expecting the man to shoot his father.

David: En ese momento, mi madre reaccionó y le dijo a mi padre que él tenía que estar tranquilo y no decirle nada a los atacantes.

Martina: Jahir looked back at his wife in shock. He couldn’t believe it! She was scolding him! He turned to her and told her he was just trying to defend her…

David: Ella le dijo a mi padre que estaba loco y él se enojó. Entonces, ella también se enojó con él.

Martina: Now everyone on the bus was looking at this crazy couple who was arguing in front of a masked robber, holding a gun up to their faces.

David: Mis padres ya no tenían miedo por el robo, sino que estaban enojados como cuando estaban en casa.

Martina: Even the robbers looked confused for a little while. But then the one with the gun screamed at Jahir again.

David: Él gritó algo como: “Dejen el show o los mato”.

Martina: The robber looked very serious now. Jahir sat down. And the men proceeded with their business.

David: Los hombres abrieron nuestras maletas y robaron todos los regalos: las camisas, los juguetes, todo. Incluso robaron el jamón que mi madre preparó para la cena de Navidad.

Martina: When Angélica saw they were taking the ham, she stood up and called to the robbers. Tension filled the air again as one of them turned to her menacingly. What was she doing? David can only imagine the fear that must’ve swept over his father’s face.

David: Mi madre le dio la salsa de fruta que usualmente comíamos con el jamón. Y ella le dijo: “Así el jamón sabe mejor”.

Martina: “Take this,” she told him, “it tastes better with the sauce.” The whole scene was like out of a movie!

David: No recuerdo si los hombres o los demás pasajeros rieron. Yo solo miraba todo esto. Después, los hombres hicieron parar el autobús y ellos se bajaron llevando cinco bolsas llenas de nuestras cosas.

Martina: Until that day, David had never seen a villain other than the funny ones dressed up in black clothes from cartoons. In real life, villains looked pretty much like anyone, but also were way more scary and unpredictable.

David: Ese día, por primera vez, vi que mi país era muy peligroso. Y entendí por qué mucha gente tenía miedo de las carreteras, que estaban tomadas por la guerrilla y también por gente peligrosa con revólveres.

Martina: Once the robbers were gone, some passengers were mad at the driver and his associate for not doing anything to help the passengers. Some other folks came to see if Jahir was ok.

David: Él solo les dijo que estaba bien. Mi mamá me seguía abrazando con un brazo. Con el otro brazo, miraba las cosas que todavía teníamos. Solo quedaba mi ropa.

Martina: The bus then stopped at a police station. Jahir and other passengers reported the robbery. Jahir later told David and Angélica that the officers didn’t really seem to care and they said robberies like that were inevitable.

David: Para ese momento, ya solo queríamos llegar a Sincelejo.

Martina: Once they got to the terminal the passengers went to the bus company’s office. A man wearing a big gold watch told them he was going to report the incident to the authorities, but that the company couldn’t reimburse them for what was stolen from them.

David: Muchos pasajeros gritaban. Mi mama le dijo a mi padre que era mejor no protestar porque nadie iba a ayudarnos. Así que salimos de la estación sintiéndonos cansados y tristes.

Martina: David and his parents walked to the parking lot not knowing what to do next. They had no money, no food, no presents. David looked up at his dad and saw he looked worried. But then David remembered something.

David: Recordé que todavía tenía mi billete.

Martina: He put his hand in his pocket, and there it was: the shiny new bill his dad had given him.

David: Entonces, miré a mis padres y, feliz, les di mi billete. Les dije que yo podía comprar todos los regalos, pagar el taxi a la casa de mi tío, e incluso comprar el jamón de mi mamá.

Martina: Angélica and Jahir looked at each other and laughed. They hugged David close to them and let go of the worry that had had overwhelmed them moments earlier.

David: Ellos ya no estaban preocupados. Ahora reían. Papá me miró y me dijo que mejor yo me quedaba el billete.

Martina: “You should save it,” Jahir told David. “It’s only 2000 pesos.” It was worth less than a dollar.

David: Yo, de verdad, no comprendía muy bien. Pensé que ellos no querían gastar mi dinero y yo hice lo que me decían.

Martina: A little later, David’s relatives showed up at the terminal.

David: Mis padres le dijeron todo a los adultos y yo también a mis primos. Ellos empezaron a decir que mi padre era como el héroe de una película de acción al que los villanos no podían ganar.

Martina: On Christmas Eve, when the whole family was together around the tree, David’s only present was a pair of pajamas. You’d think it was a terrible Christmas, but David didn’t feel that way.

David: Yo todavía tenía mi billete. Lo llevé conmigo durante mucho tiempo. No recuerdo exactamente cómo lo gasté, pero el siguiente año recibí billetes nuevos e incluso una billetera. Los nuevos se empezaron a mezclar con el más importante de todos.

Martina: David now lives on his own and every two or three years he travels on that same road to visit his relatives for the holidays. Many things have changed since he took that trip with his parents as a kid. Now there’s a peace treaty between the armed rebels and the Colombian Government.

David: Todas las personas deberían tener una historia sobre cómo descubrieron que el mundo es un lugar incierto y lleno de sorpresas. Yo lo descubrí aquel día.

Martina: But what stuck with him was a lesson his parents offered him on that day.

David: Ellos me enseñaron que los villanos te pueden robar todo, menos el buen humor.

Martina: David Martinez is a radio producer from Colombia, living in Buenos Aires.

If you liked this story, we’d love for you to share it with others. At podcast.duolingo.com, you can find a transcript of this story and of all the other episodes. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss one. With over 300 million users, Duolingo is the world's leading language learning platform, and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes in making education free, fun and accessible to everyone. To join, download the app today, or find out more at duolingo.com.

And a huge thanks to all of you for helping us make Apple Podcasts’ Best of 2018 list! We can’t wait to bring you another great year of stories in 2019! We are taking a short break for the holidays, but we’ll be back in January with more stories from the Spanish-speaking world. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. ¡Feliz año nuevo y gracias por escuchar!

Credits

This episode includes recordings from rayprice, murkertrer, buzzmsc and monkeyman535 under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Author: David Martínez
Script Editor: Marco Avilés
Senior Editor: Catalina May
Sound Designer: Ana Lucía Murillo
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz Farga
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro