Tag Archives: life in colombia

Ten Years in Colombia

It’s more or less ten years to the day from when I stepped off the plane having decided to move my life to Colombia. It had been a rollercoaster ride up until this point, near death experiences, the life of a freelance vagabond and journeyman journalist and plenty of tall tales to share over a drink or two. I was prepared for Colombia, or so I thought, after seven years on the highways and byways of the Americas. Certainly, Colombia was not foreign to me with a work trip to the Pacific for WWF in the late 1990s under my belt and various other visits prior to my move in 2007.

La Paz

Ten years ago I would never have taken this photo. Ten years in Colombia

So, as I sit here at my desk in my Bogotá apartment, I move from one opinion to another about my life in Colombia, perhaps displaying all of the loyalty of a brood parasite. I am not Colombian, I will never be a Colombian and I will continue to be infuriatingly punctual to almost any appointment. Some things you just cannot shed. But, I live here, have a Colombian family, own a business, pay taxes and therefore, have the right to share an educated opinion on the goings on in my adopted homeland.

I realize that this narrative stream of consciousness reeks of creeping narcissism. It’s our need these days to convert from “being”, to always filling time with “doing”. It’s as if our society is on course for a precipitated catastrophe due to our all-out hedonistic quest for self-exploitation and relevance.

Which brings me neatly to the subject matter of my doomsday entry reflecting on how life has changed after ten years in Colombia. Not only life has changed, but I have changed too, of course. Everything is a spectacle today. We are all armchair activists, although this was momentarily lifted when we marched the streets to push for Colombia’s Peace 2.0 after the plebiscite referendum was rejected back in 2016. The peaceful demonstrations long now resigned to our collective imagination we are back to believing the illusion of a digital reaction making a difference. To quote President Trump: “Wrong!” Virtual hordes are one thing, but the actual physical presence of thousands of people united for a just cause and flooding the streets and present, demonstrates a much stronger social cohesion.

Ten years in Colombia

“Wrong!” Ten years in Colombia

Studying Colombia, the politics and the country’s culture transports me through periods of naïve optimism, paralyzing pessimism and punctuating my days with academic prophecies of potential outcomes. That it has now been reported that the contracts for the construction of the Zones of Concentration organized to receive the FARC guerrillas across the country were fed out as political favours to companies with no business in this field has left me disillusioned. What of this now? And so, we mobilize on Facebook, Twitter and all of the other platforms in what is then declared as an unstoppable social movement proving that this “democratization of the debate” will herald a new way of thinking and will enforce a new degree of transparency on those insistent on manipulating further an already corrupt system for personal gain.

Ten years ago, I would never have spoken out so vehemently against unjust behaviour. Back then it was simply a reflection of the “Colombian condition” and normal conduct here. And yet, our moral outrage is designed to bring about change but without a physical presence it is presented with a feeble social cohesion. And before I continue, remember that these outbursts of indignation are spread on platforms which are all owned by someone. These owners all have an agenda too. There is no democratization of the debate.

Let me clarify this. I use twitter almost religiously and this allows me to replicate what I want to read. That’s why I am led to believe that my side will win the Brexit vote, the Yes vote in the Plebiscite and bury Trump in the elections.

“As is so often the case in a foreign country, even in one that starts to feel like home, the compiled differences in language and life experience isolate you, making you hyper aware to minute details.” wrote Nolan Peterson in Newsweek.

So, ten years in and with no plans on going anywhere else, unless of course the dream job pops up and permits us to transfer en famille to Rio de Janeiro, part of the package is to grapple with the local politics in all of its complex morass of intrigue. And once you come to terms with this, remember then that the act of governing itself is an act of marketing. Political opinion polls are equivalent to market research and…we are no longer active agents but passive consumers. Just like what is today known as” Public Relations” would have been referred to as “Propaganda” in the past.

1984 Graffiti in Bogotá. Ten years in Colombia

An older generation of gents in suits found conversing in downtown Bogotá speaks of an “impoverished” culture. But they are mistaken as this is to bow to an extremely bourgeois definition of the concept itself. If there’s a message to be delivered or a lesson to be learnt from a reflection on ten years, it’s that you must be adaptable to different forms of eclosion which are today’s cultural expressions and demonstrations.

Peaks and troughs, ups and downs but they have been rewarding, these past ten years in Colombia.


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2015: The Year of the “Colombia Moment”

All too routinely when I make mention of having experienced a “Colombia Moment” on these pages or in conversation it is related to something altogether negative in its nature. Since my term has started to take flight into the lingua franca of the expat community, perhaps it’s worth mentioning that there are favourable connotations to a “Colombia Moment” however bizarre or backwards they might seem. Perhaps we could liken a “Colombia Moment” as the personification or the acting out of a Colombianada? If you are unsure as to what a Colombianada is, then check out this page.

Back to "normal" life once again Bogota

Back to “normal” life once again Bogota

Having spent the last few weeks in my de facto hermitage away from Bogota in Mompos, I was able to hide away from the crowds of tourists behind the tall colonial walls of my own home, read, sleep late and reflect on events. Colombia once again has been lauded as one of the happiest countries out there, this time we’ve come in at No2. There is no denying it, Colombians are a jovial bunch. I would argue that Colombians can make light of almost any situation.

So, as I returned to Bogota last week from my coastal retreat, I was immediately hit with two versions of the “Colombia Moment”. Are they more frequent in Bogota? It got me thinking, whereas in Mompos I would probably refer to these moments as Macondian in nature and indicative of the garciamarquian heritage of the town, in Bogota, they are most definitely “Colombia Moments”.

Colombia Moment #1
Catching a taxi just the other day I had to almost aggressively convince the driver that there was in fact no more contraflujo. I realize that this decision to reverse the North to South lane of the Carrera Septima – after 31 years of allowing commuters living in northern Bogota to enjoy four lanes in which to return home at the evening rush hour – may have come as a surprise to many despite the fact that it has been painfully overdue in its execution, but, were I a taxi driver, I would make it my very raison d’etre to know the ins and outs and fluid routes within the city. That his radio was on and had actually just made mention of the fact was also quite remarkable.

The more I think about it, there are moments such as these in every city and location in the world. This is far from unique to Colombia, it’s the style and the nature which are unique I think. Perhaps I experienced my London moment last October when I visited my home city after an absence of five years and felt more comfortable speaking to Hispanic shop attendants and baristas in the West End in Spanish. And maybe I experienced a Canada moment in Calgary some years ago when I was accused of queue jumping in the post office. Being English, I would never for the life of me dream of jumping to the front of the line, perish the thought. But after so many years in Latin America, I found that in Calgary, given the enormous space left between those waiting in the queue, I could not tell where it began and ended.

Colombia Moment #2
In the Centro Andino over the weekend and looking for a diary for 2015 I ended up entering some upmarket shop selling only pens and asked after a year planner. “We do have diaries,” said the helpful shop attendant, “but the ones for 2015 have not arrived yet. If you would like I can sell you one for 2014 at half price?”

With a beaming smile set, disguising the confusion that was whirring in my head as to why I might need a 2014 diary, I left the shop and went home. Methinks that 2015 will not be short of “Colombia Moments”.

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