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.
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.
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.
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.
Interesting article. Thanks Richard for sharing your thoughts about this Colombia (Being Colombian, living abroad, I learn more from you than from any other source.
I am one of your podcast listeners.
Saludos desde Francia