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That’s Just the Kind of Day it is

November 29, 2011

This post may seem a little chaotic or disjointed but that’s just the kind of day it is in the world.

I woke up this morning to find that even after a course of antibiotics and several days of house arrest, I still have my sinus infection. What does this have to do with the rest of the world? Well my doctor informed me that it was no doubt caused by the extreme pollution here in Bogota and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in the world suffering health problems caused by pollution today. And at the same time, I see this morning that there seems to be no progress, or seemingly no longer even any interest in coming to any kind of new binding climate agreement at the Durban conference on climate change happening this week (Blame Canada).

And at the same time as people seem to be unwilling to deal with the future, the past seems to be repeating itself; I open the BBC to find the breaking news that Iranian students have stormed the UK Embassy in Tehran and caused extensive damage. For the younger readers out there, this is how the famous hostage-holding of U.S. diplomatic staff began in 1979, violent student protestors and militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held staff hostage for 444 days (Tehran Hostage Crisis).  (This later became one of the most famous international law cases of all time when the International Court of Justice found Iran responsible for its inaction, culminating in its failure to protect the diplomatic staff  (Case Concerning United States Consular and Diplomatic Staff in Tehran) There were actually several failed military rescue missions before diplomacy finally won out and an Accord (the Algiers Accord ) was struck in which Iran agreed to release the hostages.  And this is the somewhat coincidental segway that leads us to what I really wanted to talk about on this crazy day, another failed rescue mission, although a more recent one.

History repeats itself here in Colombia this week as well.

This past weekend, 4 hostages were killed when they were shot point-blank by FARC guerrillas during a rescue attempt by the Colombian military.  This is not the first time hostages have been killed during failed rescue attempts, and in fact it is one of the most common scenarios in which hostages die in captivity in Colombia.

One of the most tragic aspects of this story is that the hostages had actually been held for somewhere between 12-14 years.  Death is death. But imagine being held for 14 years, holding out hope every day that you would be released.  Then in the final moments, hearing the military approaching, thinking you are finally free, and in a split second it’s all over.

Those who have lived in a big city know the frustrations of traffic at rush hour, and this morning was rush hour like I have never seen it in Bogota.  Every street was chalk full of stalled traffic.  Even when I arrived in the old town, all of the narrow cobblestone streets had traffic lined up, some had even turned off their motorbikes and cars to wait.  When I arrived in the office,  one of my colleagues told me the reason for the traffic is that today is the day they bury the dead hostages.

It’s impossible to work. The sounds of honking, yelling, and frustration have risen up and entered our office through the second floor window. It is eerie in here today.  Almost the entire organization is out of town at a meeting and the normally lively office is almost completely empty.  On top of that, when I walked down the hallway one of the few colleagues here with me was listening to the Cranberries’ “Zombie”.

Bogota is in mourning. Speaking with friends this weekend, one friend explained how dear the FARC hostages are to Colombians’ hearts and how it is difficult to carry on as normal.  In a country where there are radio programmes dedicated to the hostages and loved ones call in to “talk” to their children, parents, and spouses, in hopes that they might actually  be listening from somewhere deep in the jungle, the news of hostages killed at the hands of their captors hits very close to home.

If there is anyone who might just get through to some of the guerrillas it is a brave 13 yr-old boy named Johan Martinez.  He is the son of one of the killed hostages.  Johan publicly scolded the FARC and told them they had just killed the dream he had of one day meeting the father he had never met.

One bright light in this dark day in Colombia is that in the middle of the commotion created by the rescue attempt, one of the hostages was able to escape into the jungle, and he has now been reunited with his family here in Bogota.

Although it poured rain here all morning, at lunchtime the sun started to peak out. I decided to venture out.

As in any big city, you see a lot of interesting happenings here in Bogota.  Take right now for example, I was just sitting on the patio of Juan Valdez having a coffee.  Juan Valdez is not a sketchy place, it is the swankiest coffee chain in Colombia. Colombia’s answer to Starbucks.  Sitting at the table beside me was a lady talking to herself, loudly. And every few minutes she would scream obscenities at the other customers.  Security tried to get her to leave but she just kept telling them call the police, I want you to call the police. In the end the security guard went about his business and she returned to hers.  Now before my experience working with victims of the armed conflict, I may have written her off as “crazy” but I’ve learned you just never know someone’s story.  She made me think of this lady who took the microphone at our consultation in Cali, she told us how she had not received any medical treatment (pyschological or physical) from the hospital, even when she told them she was a victim of the armed conflict and it was their duty to give her attention.  She said they wrote her off as “crazy” and sent her on her way.  She then said to us, I have had most of my family killed by the guerrillas. They killed my husband. They killed 4 of my children. They killed 4 of my siblings. They killed my uncle. You would be “crazy” too.  So when I see this woman at the table beside me, screaming obscenities I can’t help but wonder what her story is.

I then promptly came back to the office, fell UP the stairs and spilled the remainder of my coffee all over myself.

I guess that’s just the kind of day it is.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Farida permalink
    November 29, 2011 5:37 pm

    Allison, thanks for sharing your impressions. It is captivating to read about the real situation in Colombia. I am looking forward for your next posts. Keep writing you have got a true talent!!!

  2. November 29, 2011 6:27 pm

    Thanks Farida! Hope all is well in Geneva! xo

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