The twists and turns of trying to attain the “European dream” formed part of his life ever since he decided to explore a new continent. He overcame linguistic barriers, found love, and also his place in this world: in Henley-on-Thames, surrounded by his family.
After a day of intense working, when the first lights of the English night begin to a glow in a seemingly never-ending winter, Orlando talks about his feelings towards remaining in Europe, despite being born in Colombia.
Armenia, his homeland and the city where the main resources come from coffee and banana plantations, was what inspired him to study agricultural administration to dedicate himself to working the land and to be close to his people.
However, the cruel reality of the the country prevented him from reaching his dream of buying his own house. “A salary there is only really enough to pay rent and to eat” he says. Then the idea of moving to Europe and, just maybe, making his dream a reality, began to cross his mind.
Coincidentally, one of Orlando’s good friends was settled in Henley-on-Thames – where he had married an English lady. He provided Orlando with an invitation to travel to the United Kingdom and try his luck, surrounded by new faces and a new language.
When he arrived in a Henley-on-Thames he didn’t delay in finding a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Marlow, a neighbouring town.
Orlando says: “When you arrive in England without speaking English, you don’t have many options. Whatever job you’re offered you accept”.
During this time, he spent two years living with an English woman and they had a daughter together.
However, Orlando’s visa expired and he had to return to Colombia. His longing to return to his life in Europe and his daughter, who had remained in the UK, encouraged his daughter’s mother to write him a letter of invitation, meaning he was able to return to Henley-on-Thames.
On his return he rejoined the same restaurant chain, though now in his own town, meaning he no longer had to travel. In order to start saving money he started working nights as a cleaner.
Time went by, he separated from the mother of his child and he then met who is now his current wife, Federica. Unfortunately, after two years his visa to reside in the UK again expired, so his family who were based in Spain encouraged him to live there.
Months of waiting lay ahead of him: he had to return to Colombia for 9 months where he waited until he received a job offer from his mother’s boss; working as an estate agent in Seville.
He was there for 3 months and then got a job in a 4 star hotel as a waiter.
Federica reignited their relationship and travelled to Seville, where she learnt Spanish and worked in the same hotel as Orlando as a receptionist.
In September 2007 they got married and had their first son. Following that, Orlando’s brother helped him to secure a post in the maritime agency, where his good level of English was essential. Federica’s second pregnancy created another turn in our protagonist’s life.
Convinced of the need to be close to his wife, he asked for paternity leave, and although his boss hadn’t refused, when he returned to work there was a letter of dismissal waiting for him. The reason: personnel cut.
For 8 months he couldn’t find a job. Under these circumstances he returned to England where it took him just two days to find a new job working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant, in the town of Henley-on-Thames.
Within two months he was behind the bar and by the third month he was part of the staff as a waiter. Soon his wife and children followed, back to English soil.
Interestingly, Orlando explains how in Spain he suffered some racist discrimination for being Colombian, however, in England he says he has always been treated with respect.
He states that in England, a waiter is treated with equal respect as an engineer. It is perhaps for that reason, as well as having his wife and children there, that when he goes on holiday to Colombia he misses Europe. For him, Henley-on-Thames is the very centre of his life.
(Translated by Eleanor Gooch)