Colombia: Final Reflections

I think it’s fair to say that whenever we invest ourselves into something, we do so expecting a reward. When we go out searching, we want to come back having found something. We want clarity. We want answers. We want to end with a solid conclusion…

It is precisely for this reason that I have struggled to submit this final blog post. After an entire year spent living, breathing and dreaming in Colombia, I find myself unable to ‘wrap it up’. I’m still grappling for some final and decisive ‘lesson learnt’.

It’s clear to me that I want my time in Colombia to be some kind of bildungsroman novel, a neat little coming-of-age narrative with beginning, middle and empowering end. A story which sees me returning to the UK triumphant, as this ‘awoken’ and ‘complete’ man…

But of course, things never quite work out like that. Life is a non-linear story. It is much more like a collage of messy, colourful and overlapping moments, pieced together with surplus amounts of glitter glue. At least that’s how I’m seeing it right now.

So rather than unfaithfully reducing my time in Colombia to some sort of ‘chapter’ in my (non-existing) ‘story’, I’d rather share a bit of the wild and glittery mess:

Colombia, for me, is a crucial encounter with a magician in Bogotá who taught me how to see through his tricks… when I first met Pedro, he plucked a plastic dove from my ear and told me to “fly”. Over the following months, he would do this to each and every person we met – from athletes to Miss Colombia candidates, young offenders to priests, business moguls to soap opera stars, terminally-ill children to university deans.

Why?

To show me that magic is never ‘magic’… it is something that can be constructed, controlled and claimed. Once we begin to master the art of creating our own magic (and projecting it onto the world), the world responds accordingly. The smile of others, fills us with light… and we spread light back out again. This is where the real magic happens.

Colombia, for me, is questioning my relationship with privilege, comfort and material things. Seeing the way a close friend in Barranquilla lives the life of a king despite not having a penny to his name; how losing yourself to cumbia music, sunshine and freshly-caught fish is a much more productive waste of your time than pulling out your hair in the pursuit of capital. A cold Águila beer. A crucial World Cup win. Salsa at La Troja bar. An evening overlooking the Magdalena river. The costeños of the Caribbean Coast know how to celebrate in a way that I have never seen before…in a way I didn’t really think was possible. Celebrating is as important as desiring. Something I certainly needed to learn. ¡Juepa Je!

Colombia, for me, is the example set by an extraordinary group of hip hoppers in the outskirts of Medellín. These young rappers, who have lived through the city’s most atrocious and brutal times – namely the Operación Orión massacre in Comuna 13 – dedicate each and every day to promoting music, art, the written word and agriculture as an alternative to all that pent up violence and anger. Seeing the way that Medellín’s forgotten children look up to their idols… seeing real grassroots change…seeing how kids as young as 5 rap about their frustrations and traumas… how they care for their urban gardens with pride. They taught me the importance of the word sembrar (to sow). Whatever you do, make it bigger than you, make it be something that can germinate, grow and nourish others; use your time to produce something that transcends it…

Colombia, for me, is conflict, and ‘letting go’. Wonderful tussles and contests on the football pitch, in the workplace, on the rooftop of my house, on deckchairs, in the pool, on a night out, on a night in… conflicts in my mind and in my heart. Colombia was about learning to negotiate with people who have values I had never encountered before. It was very much about learning to negotiate with myself and my emotions, in the best possible way. It was about letting go of people I love at times, and about sacrificing things that I want either now, wanted in the past or may well want in the future. Colombia is a radically different life… something that so fundamentally filled me, and which I will need to reflect on in this coming year. Is Colombia what I want? There are huge cases for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Colombia is pure magic. I made Colombia for myself and Colombia made me. That’s all I can really say right now as I’m a bit confused and one of the best years of my life has left me with more questions than I can dare answer.

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