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Re-reading, Re-learning the Reality and the ghosts of Violence


  “At the time my city was beginning to emerge from the most violent years of its recent history. I’m not talking about the violence of cheap stabbings and stray bullets, the settling of accounts between low-grade dealers, but the kind that transcends the small resentments and small revenges of little people, the violence whose actors are collectives and written with capital letters: the State, the Cartel, the Army, the Front. We Bogotanos have become accustomed to it, partially because its images arrived with extraordinary regularity in our news reports and papers; that day, the images of the most recent attack had begun to appear, in the form of a breaking news bulletin, on the television screen at the billiards club.”

This is an excerpt from The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. I read these chapters a few weeks before we visited Colombia, but re-reading these words now, they resonate differently. They echo what we heard from so many people about the violence of the past of Colombia. As Kate, mentions in her post (which will be posted next) That every institution has let down the people of Colombia, every government, military, paramilitary, NGO’s, the UN. We heard this not once, but several times during our discussions, interviews, and conversations with our several gracious Colombian hosts who had nothing less than a fervor in their voices wanting us to understand their country, its past and the hope for its future. We heard it over dinner in Bogota, again with Political Science Professor at Technologica de Bolivar in Cartagena, and from round-table discussions with professors at Javeriana.

Re-reading this chapter, the text from the pages jump out at me. they carry a heavier weight then the first time I read it, when I naively thought it just words from a novel.

I’m currently trying to write my piece on Violence and Security in Colombia for my paper and these words keep coming back to me. Trying to outline the violent history of Colombia’s past is more challenging than I imagined it would be. I keep trying to find ways to simplify the politics, the violence the history of Colombia, trying to find graphs, and diagrams to show to others but it cannot be simplified, it is complexity within complexity and attempt to simplify it dilutes the weight that it still carries despite the progress and change in security in Colombia, it still exists in areas, and the resolutions to the conflicts are still evolving. It is true, and I think we can attest to the comfort we felt and sense of security we experienced. But it is a transitioning economy where these factors are a not so distant past and present, at minimum, to understand this fully can only start the discussions for the great potential, possibilities and transition for the future.

The posts on this blog are posts from our trip at the end of February and beginning of March, I write these words today however, re-reading those posts, and reviewing our notes and delving deeper into our research and drafting our paper.

Prof. Shultz keeps asking us how this experience was a ‘transformative learning experience for us. This is just one small example of how the words we read on paper resonate the reality so much deeper.

Back to the plan: Here’s another post while in Bogota:

It is our 4th morning here in Bogota and as we sit at breakfast in our hotel, preparing for another full and incredible day, we are recounting our evening before, our days past since we came here. The people we’ve met, the places we’ve been, and the recurring themes. The intensity and complexity that each day carries feels both overwhelming but a feeling that it is not enough. We feel more and more certain that this is only the start of our immersion and understanding of Bogota and Colombia. Each day leads me to believe that one visit cannot suffice.

We are tremendously fortunate to meet some of the most incredible people who lead incredible, meaningful lives and feel such passion for their country that we can’t help to feel passionately too. There are a few things that keep sneaking up on me. The first I must confess are the Andes. No matter how many times I see them surrounding us as I look up, it still takes me by surprise and delight. There is something both humbling and peaceful to have them around us. We learned that there are four ecosystems in Bogota, which means we have much yet to learn about our surrounding environment. One day in the mountains on horseback, one day in the south, living in the north and a visit to surrounding neighborhoods just does not suffice. Fortunately we have a few more days.
The second thing that consistently surprises me is the generosity of everyone that we’ve met. Though we have initially been introduced through this academic journey, our contacts have rapidly become friends. They have shared their time and their thoughts with abandon. The recurring theme here: everyone’s excitement that we, a group of six graduate students, have taken such interest in their country, in the issues and the delights of their country. One that they are each committed to improving through their every endeavor. A banker turned ecotourism company owner who’s wife has created an NGO. An architect who is passionately involved with a massive development project for huge population of displaced peoples in Bogota. A writer/photographer/poet who has created his own NGO. It is clear that each of these individuals want more for their country and their people. The history of the country is complex, and while we feel little difference living in Bogota than living in Chicago in regards to safety. It is clear that this is still somehow a ghost lingering for the Bogotanos of the fear that they have carried for decades. Six years is a short amount of time to forget what the people have struggled with for decades, and in some parts of the country, are still struggling with. So while there is still these recurring conversations of the how modern the city is in which we are residing, and that it is safe and so much to do in most areas, Bogotanos confess, they still look over their shoulder, they still hold their belongings close and keep their eyes open. Yes the way we do in Chicago, but for them it comes from a place of much deeper wounded hearts. There is more to share, yet not enough time. And truth is our minds and hearts are experiencing so much but are still absorbing so much of which we are just beginning to understand.
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