Colombia can be dangerous. Life to many is cheap. As I open myself up more and more to local news media and hear more tragic stories of friends and their families, I find myself no longer able to deny the fact that killing is more common than I had once imagined and often quite illogical. Killing an innocent cab driver to display one´s ¨manhood¨, killing over lovers, killing over ice cream - I feel as if I have heard it all. This isn´t guerrillas and paras we´re talking about, although I´ve certainly heard plenty of stories for which they could be held responsible as well. The people who are commiting these atrocities are just civilians. I generally meander through my surroundings with my rose colored glasses securely afixed atop the bridge of my nose, but it is important, even necessary I would say, to take them off now and again. Colombia is undeniably a country soaked and marinated in a bloody history of violence and extralegal means. This is far from the onl historical legacy and certainly not one that Colombia holds alone, but it is one I find increasingly difficult and dangerous to ignore.
Last week four young guys assaulted and robbed me on the streets of Cali. What seemed like a mere thiry seconds later, I found myself standing in the street, frozen in shock - no more wallet, no more cell phone, no more messenger bag. What remained with me in that moment aside from the clothes on my back was the visual impression of two knives pointed at my stomach and throat, my hands clasped behind my back. The sound of screeching tires finally broke me out of my trance as a car chased the aggressors down a small side street. People came to help me, the police (corrupt as they may be...they practically offered to sell me the marijuana they had confiscated earlier that day) arrived within five minutes, and all was well. I am absolutely fine - so don´t worry about that. After the police arrived, I hopped in their van and we drove through parts of town I know I will never see again - parts of town I have been told time and time again to stay away from. Here, just a few blocks away from the robbery, the cops thought we might find our culprits. The search was unsuccessful, but I did see what I never would have seen otherwise - ¨the hole¨ of downtown. Here, trash is piled to the rooftop and people scattered about in seeming disaray. It truly seemed like something out of a nightmare. I was hard for me to take in - hard for me to believe.
According to the jokes of my friends here, the robbery was my official caleño welcome, but I am taking it more as a wake-up call to be more cautious. It also slightly deflated my naivete in a healthy way. In academic study and daily life alike, I tend to brush the violent, the curel, the difficult aside; however, that only causes more harm. There is almost always good and bad, just and injust, peaceful and violent. We all must work to create in ourselves a balanced worldview that contains each in its appropriate share for if we do not have a tight grasp on reality, how can e ever hope to reform it?
Coming soon - tales from my weekend in coffee country (pictures included) and updates on my work at La Corporación Educative Popular!