¡Hasta luego, Colombia!

Finja Koester

On a weekend big city getaway to Cali, something you become very fond about when living in cast-away Tumaco, I found myself as one of the last guests in an artsy bar. Having chitchatted with the waiter all night, he accompanied me outside while I was waiting for my taxi. Through a weird coincidence we then found out that the we had been in the same place at the same time roughly a year ago; not just any place though, but in fact an ETCR (Territorial Space for Training and Reintegration for demobilized FARC members) – he as an ex-combatant living there, me as a researcher doing fieldwork. We did not meet back then, so what were the odds that we met now, hundreds of kilometers away in a setting that could not have been more different. Just when I was about to ask him about his ‘new life’ he apparently had embarked on in Cali, my taxi came and I had to leave. This short encounter left me puzzled and had a lasting impact on me – never have I felt so much at home in Colombia, never have I felt more confirmed in that what I am doing is right.

Looking at the past two and a half years, I have spent more time in Colombia than in Europe. There’s just something enthralling about this country – sometimes it drives me crazy but it somehow cast its spell over me and keeps drawing me back, again and again. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had my downs (let’s collectively mourn the day I found about 25 dead cockroaches in my shower) but overall, I cannot find the words to describe how grateful I am to once again have been allowed to meet grand personalities, explore the great depths of enticing jungles, and experience the exoticism of the Pacific Coast. Thinking back to endless days on lonely beaches, with the sweet sound of the marimba playing in my ears, feels like a distant memory already now that I am back in Europe. But I know it is all still there. As Gabriel García Márquez said La vida no es la que uno vivió, sino la que uno recuerda, y cómo la recuerda para contarla“ (What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it).

Picking up on Gabriel García Márquez, one of the greatest Colombian novelists, it is often said that his works are representative of “magic realism“ – fiction that integrates elements of fantasy into otherwise realistic settings. He himself said that this literary style reflects the reality of Latin America, and especially his home country Colombia. I can only second this. I am utterly fascinated by this country and all its facets, yet there are things I simply cannot grasp. One moment you are the happiest while dancing the night away to the alluring rhythms of salsa, in other moments you find yourself dazed by the horrors of the armed conflict and the cruelty of human deeds. Leaving after some intense months in Tumaco, said to be one of the most complicated regions in Colombia, center stage of drug trafficking, raging violence, and forced displacement, I think I have managed to at least come a bit closer to understanding Colombia. The beauty of Tumaco lies in its people, that are humble, resilient, and welcoming, despite having to build their life on fragile terrain in so many aspects. I am definitely not the same person after experiencing what I experienced in Tumaco, and I am so very thankful for that. I will come back, that is for sure, and this is only a hasta luego, not a final goodbye.