Reflective Thoughts on Colombia

Informant is a Colombian woman from the second-largest city, Medellín, initially trained as a bilingual teacher. She’s now a writer and artist. She asked if she could have a moment to think and write me down her thoughts and thus the eloquent response:

“My place of origin and my culture are a defining component of my identity, but I did not always consider this fact a blessing. I wanted to leave my country as soon as I had the ability to voice my intentions. The mountains of the valley of Aburrá oppressed me. The Ave María Pues(Holy Mary Now What!) with which problems are faced, the Dios Proveerá (God Will Provide!), the fact that Colombia is entrusted upon the will and design of the HOly Spirit (Colombia, El País del Sagrado Corazón) did not seem to be promising facets of a land blessed with every natural resource imaginable but riddled with the curses of inequity and corruption, compounded by the love of malice and shortcuts for every endeavor and where “el vivo vive del bobo”, he who is astute feeds off the slow witted.

From a very young age, children are taught to tell and listen to frequent jokes about women’s lack of intelligence, instructed about the constant double meaning of words, familiarized with the taunting of men as not being macho enough. All of these behaviors I observed spoke to me of traumas, hypocrisy and a machismo and a sexual repression that belied a very convoluted psyche that encouraged mediocrity. Despite the obvious corruption and distortion of values I read in our humor and our political and social atmosphere, the good-natured spirit of the common Colombian always lightened my preoccupation and desire to flee. The generous smiles and animated conversation with the simplest of people, from mango and fruit peddlers to taxi drivers has always fascinated me. The average Colombian is talkative, spontaneous and friendly, and only after being duped and mugged many times did I develop a self-preservation instinct that made me more guarded and quiet. Music, food, stories and color were constant elements in my childhood. I sought them as refuge, as tools for understanding and for deconstructing the confusing society in which I was born. I danced at the same time that I walked, at ten months of age, dancing equals celebration of every sort in our culture. Our food is always shared and central to any get-together, and it is varied, flavorful and masterfully combines different textures and gradients of sweetness, sourness and salty component. For example, my favorite meal, sopa de arroz, is a beef broth based rice soup served with ground beef (beef ground after being cooked, which results in a light, dry, flaky  “carne en polvo”; accompanied by tajadas de maduro, heavenly sweet ripe fried plantain, hogao ( the base of our cooking, a mixture of stir-fried diced onion, tomato, garlic, cilantro, and green onion) on a crunchy arepa (corn patty) and of course, the slices of avocado that accompany all of our delicious soups.

Our food and our music are the two most important elements that I have proudly taught my children about so that they know about their heritage, as well as our stories, both the globally recognized literature and our own family stories, so unique, so colorful, and which never seem to stop flowing from our relatives’ mouths and from my own imagination.

We come from a rich, bio-diverse, intensely beautiful and convoluted country. Sometimes I envision Colombia as a snake, preciously designed with minute patterns and colors, but which needs to be approached cautiously, and might just offer the poison to be converted into anti-venom to save your life, as contained in our unbridled, loud, intense zest and surrender to life and its pleasures, but tempered by the fact that that very exotic and beautiful creature might seduce you and sink its teeth into your existence.

Analysis: I found this touching, as a Colombian ex-patriat. There is some animosity nowadays when we return to Medellin. My relatives find I have been Americanized. I can’t deny it, and I’m very much thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given in this country, the ways in which I have learned to think. There doesn’t go a day when I don’t think about the Andes, though. Not one. There’s so much in my memory from that place, and there’s a special feeling that I can’t describe that is especial to that place. I think my relative, the informant above, puts her thoughts into words quite well.