The tale begins in Bogota, Colombia, a city of approximately 8 million. Bogota invites you in with the refreshingly cool air of the Andes, and a predictable yet often somehow surprising soak at 4pm on the dot each day. If you haven’t got an umbrella then you will enjoy a premature swim in the buzzing streets of a grey, yet vibrant city.
Alex had travelled on several different buses from Chile through to Colombia. She had just a month to make it to Ecuador to join old friends and meet their family for Christmas, of course on arriving she got sick and stayed in bed all Christmas. No delicious food for Alex. She travelled through desert, salt flats, many a night bus, jungle, beach, forest, till she reached Bogota, making friends on the way, playing music, busking with kind strangers, climbing mountains etc... She was excited to arrive in Bogota where she would study Anthropology, apparently for the rest of the year.
In a stubborn attempt to prove wrong all who told her 'long-distance never works out*', Sophie was for the umpteenth time visiting Colombia for 'love', although this time she would be studying International Studies for a year at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, a wise move.
Much like Alex, Sophie had travelled via various and precarious means the width and breadth of Colombia, and had not escaped being violently ill in the most northern, beautiful and remote cape, 'Cabo de la Vela' and returning to Bogota to spend Christmas celebrations either vomiting, sleeping, or drinking Coca Cola because "its good for upset tummies" according to all Colombian relatives.
Alex and Sophie were bound to meet. By some magnetic force, it seems. Both regular sized, white, blond-haired, fiddle-playing, spanish-speaking, travel-curious, politically conscious, environmentally aware, ladies.
So in 2014, they met via the cofounder of Unity Effect Emily Johnson.
By this stage, Emily had convinced Alex to stay an extra six months in Bogota, dead broke, Alex accepted on one condition; that they would busk VERY regularly on the streets of Bogota, and around Colombia.
Emily, a go-getter, studying at the same university, also, played fiddle, and she played guitar, and sang rather exceptionally, really.
The three ladies hit it off, from the very first jam. The very first busking trip. They even organised a concert at a friend's theatre.
Through these experiences Sophie and Alex forged a unique friendship. They parted ways, Alex leaving Sophie in Colombia. Of course, they were destined to meet again.
When Sophie returned to Melbourne, after finishing her studies in International Studies, Alex had completed her Honours in Anthropology and was volunteering for a few different organisations. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Dandenong, importantly.
Sophie had volunteered at the ASRC kitchen in the past, and was millimetres away from signing up again, when Alex cautioned her that it was frustrating because she wasn't enabled to contribute with her specialised skills. Alex wholeheartedly supported the ASRC and what they were doing, however, admin work wasn't the most fun (excel really, sitting looking at excel, staring into the blank soul of exHell). Alex expressed that she felt she wasn't really helping people, as her exsmel skills were shit, to say the least - she felt her efforts would be better put towards making people laugh with her terrible sense of humour and helping them feel some relief through creative expression. Sophie felt Alex was on to something. So, after long and multiple chinwags, Sophie and Alex proposed to start a music group at the ASRC.
This was the beginning of something quite meaningful.
More in the next chapter...
*For the record, long-distance didn't workout, although she gave it a good crack and "it was worth it, so take that pessimists", she said.