Friday, 11 May 2012

Cambridge to Colombia

Over the past months I have become more and more tangled up in this world, delving deeper into the local dynamics of conflict. I have become accustomed to the way that war seeps into all aspects of life. When a group of us are walking along a path and we get held up, we don´t joke about traffic jams but about military checkpoints. I have gotten used to the way that all jokes told here have something to do with conflict.

I hear on the radio of a civilian nearby whose legs are blown off by a land mine and who dies before reaching the hospital. I hear that the young daughter of a female leader was shot and killed whilst in her mother's arms. I talk to an old man about his life and his two sons who were killed by paramilitaries. Indeed, often when I ask people in their 40s or 50s whether they have children the response is ‘not anymore’ or ‘well, of the ones that are still alive…’ A woman tells me about when she was 14 and saw armed actors in the countryside for the first time. It makes me think of her daughter, who is now 14, and who has seen all three groups, the military, the paramilitary and the guerrilla, pass by her house on numerous occasions. I have discovered where cocaine is grown in the region, where the guerrilla hang out and play football, leaving their huge guns by the side of the football field, and where paramilitary forces plan to collaborate with the State and multinationals to exploit coal and oil.

It’s fascinating to see the ways that information flows and gets tripped up and distorted along the way. Local news here is consistently unreliable. I discover that the victim I just mentioned, killed by a mine and presented on the radio as a civilian, was actually a paramilitary.

Here there is never one truth, yet multiple layers of perception so easily twisted to the interests and aims of those with power and influence.

I have learnt to rapidly and easily distinguish what “those people” means with only very little context, as well as the different names for the armed groups… paramilitares, paras, paracos, parascos, parĂ¡sitos, primos etc.

There are some photos up on my wall of Cambridge, some from the winter with a snowman outside of Kings College, with a snow duck outside of Emma. Photos of the spring, flowers blooming outside centuries-old stunning architecture. I point them out to my colleague and we comment on how there, there are no combats. There, there are no armed actors. There’s the odd friendly policeman willing to give you directions, but no chance leftwing insurgents will open fire on him. There are no kidnappings or threats either. I find it strange to imagine life without these things and my thoughts not being constantly occupied by the strategies, locations and movements of armed groups.