My adventure began at a moment of restlessness for the people of Bogota. On our late-night van ride from the airport, the director of LIZWAN ministries, Natanael Lizarazo (hence the LIZ-), described to our small church-group the problematic situation with the city’s mass transit. The bus drivers are expected to go on strike soon. Several million people will be without transportation. Things may get chaotic, but don’t worry, our safety is ensured. Welcome to Colombia.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Driving through Bogota, the first thing that strikes you hopefully isn’t one of the aggressive, reckless drivers, which seems to be every driver, but rather the energy and vivacity of the city; everything seemed to be breathing, everything had something to say. The buildings were painted gaudy pinks and greens and blues, many of them covered with irreverent graffiti, much of it regarding the broken political situation of their nation. Soldiers with pigs’ heads, faces of politicians yelling some presumably clever phrase in Spanish, grenades, guns, children, all these were reoccurring themes everywhere we went. Everything, every wall, overpass, fence, every person walking down the street had something to say.
Walking through the city, one can’t help but wonder about the men with the word “POLICIA” on their uniform. They wore green jump-suits, military helmets, carried AK-47s. This was the only police force here, we were told. There are no traffic cops. This was the first line of defense, if, and when, the leftist FARC revolutionaries attack inside the city. The last time that happened, they took the ministry of justice hostage was some fifteen years prior. The building was firebombed, and all of the justices and revolutionaries burned to death. These soldiers were a constant reminder of Colombia’s continuing strife. This strife reached me on a personal level when we took a day trip to a city to the south-east named Villavicencio. Inside a small, hot house, home to Lutheran Mission La Victoria, we talked for a little while about the different work they had done teaching villagers crafts in order to make a living. We ate a little and went on our merry way back to Bogota. During the hours’ long drive, Natanael told us the story of many of the people of that congregation. We learned that ten years ago, the right wing paramilitary invaded one of the villages they were working in. Suspecting the men to be aligned with FARC, they lined them up in front of their families. A captain walked from one end to the other, decapitating each with a chainsaw. His men then played soccer with their severed heads.
Normally a story so horrifying would also be impersonal. Some nameless person across the globe I will never meet. That day, it was real. The people that I talked to, the ones my age, they lived it. That was their reality. I thought of my own family ten years ago. I felt sick. Suddenly all of the tragedies of the world were no longer gossip or hypothetical suffering; it was real pain and heartache, felt by people as real as you and me, as real as those people of La Victoria. The faces stuck of everyone we met throughout the trip stuck in my mind. I will never know all they’ve endured. My life is easy.
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