The experiences of a Colombian refugee, so often marginalised and rendered invisible, are related in this moving account.
At noon I would take my son to school, accompanied by the unforgiving Salvadorian sun and also missing the comfort of a private car. Suddenly, I felt homesick, this bloody homesickness that is rooted in my soul, started to play with my memories and brought back the good times in my homeland together with the time when I had faith in everything and promised everyone that there was nothing impossible to achieve. At that time my future and my son’s future were “safe”, we used to live together with our large family and we would meet every Saturday or Sunday to eat beans without realising that those were the best moments and that they would later voraciously feed my new guest: Homesickness.
I stared wondering once again what had happened with my 27 years of work and effort, those that would guarantee that we would always have what we needed, that the words “poverty”, “starvation”, “begging”, “overcrowding” and “pity” would never visit my soul. And for the last eleven months silence has always been the only answer and stoicism has been the best alternative.
There are already too many questions I have asked myself without being able to give them an answer since I had to leave my country. Somebody I do not even know condemned my son and me to death, just because I was telling the truth. Just because I wanted to prove that in Colombia there truly are three million internal displaced and thousands more are in exile. Just because I wanted to prove that death has left more living-dead than those who have actually died. Because I wanted to say that the women in the countryside and in the forest have lost their men and now just wander about selling themselves or their children so they do not starve. Because I painted with images the ghost villages, plantations and crops that had been destroyed, burned down and then abandoned and which now belong to those who are responsible for the beginning of horror in my country.
That is the only reason why I am now here, without the “safe future” I worked for. I live in a guest house, with all my life packed, waiting to be taken out of these four suitcases and three cartons where I had to put it. My shoes are mixed up with my son’s toys, with my sisters’ and my mother’s pictures wrapped in a plastic bag so that they look good when I will put them in the picture frames I bought, with my Colombian cook book that I brought so that the distance would not erase from my memory how to prepare a chicken broth. I also brought my journalist certificates and prizes which I had to tear from their fancy frames so that I can prove that I did spend many years of my life working to have a good future for my son and me.
And among my luggage, hanging from the return ticket that I never used, the brutal questions appear. Why do I have to wait for somebody to give me today’s lunch? Why am I collecting shoes, clothes, notebooks and even money? Why do I have to wash toilets, tidy rooms if I read Journalism at the University for four years and then worked as a journalist for twenty years? Why am I here trying to convince a strange government to let me work legally? Why do I have to convince the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, that my son needs to be near his family and that I do as well? Why do I have to write so many letters to show a lot of people who I do not know that those numbers in their files actually belong to human beings with a name, a soul, with lost dreams, with children without a future, but with RIGHTS.
The same situation is lived by all the others: Juan Carlos, his wife and three children; Carlitos, Claudia and their two children; the trade unionist’s widow, she arrived with her two little children; the Castro family; Miss Gomez, and the new one, he arrived this week saying that the others who are in the list of refugees to El Salvador will be arriving soon, they will increase the number of Colombians exiled all over the world.
They all have the same guest living in their souls: the godforesaken homesickness. Yes, I bless it now because thanks to it I keep alive the seas, rivers, mountains, the desert and the forest of my dear Colombia. I keep alive my mother’s smile, my nieces’ and nephews’ hugs, my friends’ nagging, and my sisters’ advice. I keep alive the pain at seeing the black children in the cold corners of Bogotá, learning to live in the internal exile, missing the plantains and the Choco forest. I keep alive the anger and the powerlessness in front of a hidden and treacherous enemy. I also keep alive Mario Benedetti’s words when he said:
“To kill the man of peace
to beat his front clear of nightmares,
they had to become a nightmare.
To defeat the man of peace,
they had to affiliate forever to death,
assassinate and assassinate more to continue killing,
and condemn themselves to an armoured solitude."