I feel torn. A real shift has happened in that I feel a part of things here (sometimes). All but one of my friends are Colombian. I have made close friends here, the kind that I can call when I need a shoulder to cry on or to share something really funny that happened. I have come to love and appreciate this country and its people, who have been through so much yet retain their warmth, joy and optimism towards life despite their circumstances.
I write all this to say that I have come to a place where I hate to write anything negative about Colombia. It feels like I am betraying those close to me. Yet, the purpose of this blog is to document the experiences of an expat and her family living in a foreign culture, and we all know this comes with a lot of ups and downs.
So what is it that I have to say that I don’t want, yet feel compelled to say? Well, right after I wrote the last post re safety and travel, 2 Spanish tourists were kidnapped in la Guajira, the desert meets the sea area of Colombia on the Caribbean Coast and the place I have most wanted to visit while we are here. We have been saving it for when our youngest gets a little bit older as travel conditions are very basic and somewhat rough.
The kidnappings seem to be motivated by desire for extortion (getting money from the victims’ families) and are a blow to tourism in a very pristine and desolate part of this country. It was very disappointing and unnerving (and awful for the victims and their families).
I have to confess that part of what was disturbing is that the friends I have talked to about it have just shrugged and called it “reality”. Of course, this has been reality for Colombians for a long time. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if the shrugging acceptance of things as they are (kidnapping, domestic violence, violence against children, bad roads when there is clearly money here) leads to things staying the same. What would happen if the majority of this country took to the streets and shouted, “Enough! No more violence! No more bad roads!” (Not that I am equating the seriousness of the two, but there is the same complacent shrugging for all of it.)
I hate to write this but a characteristic that I have observed here is a tendency to only care about those things that touch each person and those closest to them. The things that happen to other people, no matter how horrible they are, just don’t seem to matter or at least not enough to do anything about it. I know many estrato 6 Colombians (those of the highest income bracket) and not one of them is involved with charity of any kind nor seems the least bit interested in helping those who are less fortunate.
I have been pondering all this for the last couple of days and just as I was becoming quite disheartened, I went to a Waldorf school event at my daughter’s school and was struck by the amount of heart and caring here. How despite very difficult circumstances and economic and emotional hardship, people are struggling to build a better, more loving and humanistic future for their children. There is so much heart and soul here underneath.
I came to realize that I can’t judge a culture or cultural tendencies without having walked in their shoes. It’s easy for me to moralize having grown up in a place that was largely free of political violence or war on its soil (other than the various acts of terror that we have had in the US) and where free and honest speech is not only tolerated, but highly encouraged. There is something very important for me to learn here in people’s tolerance and lack of judgment of others. (Duh! Stop being so judgmental. Easier said than done. Try it for yourself and see!)
Just when I think that I have a handle on what’s going on here, I realize that there are deeper forces at play which I just don’t understand. It’s uncomfortable and scary but also exciting. After all isn’t opening my mind the purpose of going to live in a foreign culture?