How I feel about being in Colombia during the protests

Living in a foreign country in the middle of a socio-political conflict isn’t easy.

May 9, 2021. Protests day number 13. Understanding how I feel about being in Colombia in the middle of the protests is complicated. Very complicated.

Over the last days I have felt overwhelmed with a kaleidoscope of emotions about the ongoing protests in Colombia. Writing down these feelings will help me, I hope, make sense of them, and better understand myself.

Here we go.

Fear.

Since the protests started, 31 people have been killed, mainly shot dead by the police. 1220 injured, 379 desaparecidos. Seeing what is happening in the streets to me is scary. We live mainly in our houses, in a tacit political lockdown.

Adrenaline.

The  adrenaline which comes about with a protests. I know that feeling quite well… and seeing the people marching for their right without fear despite the ongoing violent repression is thrilling. The march has in some cases been transformed into a techno party, with protesters singing with one voice “Libertad” – Freedom, in its apotheosis.

Adrenaline, I can feel it in my body.

Privilege.

I have the opportunity of living in this country in such an historical time.

Colombia history has witnessed several conflicts. Only in recent decades, the country has gone through the “Violencia”, the gory civil war of the 50s where about 200 thousands people died.

In the 80s, it witnessed the armed conflict between the Government, the far right militia groups, the ELN and the FARC. In 2016, protests followed the ratified ceasefire between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrilla.

And now this. I have the opportunity of seeing, feeling and documenting the current mobilisation from a vantage point. That’s the definition of privilege.

Intrusion.

While the protests are escalating in the streets all over Colombia, I peacefully sit in my room. The screams, music and firecrackers of the march as a background of my long days. I am witnessing what is happening from within – and yet as an outsider.

I’m not Colombian; instead, I come from the world of the colonisers. My knowledge of the country’s history and of the dynamics behind the conflict are limited. Yet I’m here, writing about what is happening in the streets. I feel as if I’m intruding, culturally appropriating the country’s present. How am I not?

(Inconvenient) impartiality.

As an international cooperation’s worker, I can’t join nor officially support the protesters. Beside denouncing through my social media the cases human rights violations the country is witnessing, I can do nothing.

Impartiality doesn’t always feel right.

Experiencing a country doesn’t mean just traveling and enjoying its beaches and landscape. To me, it’s an all-round, daily practice of sense-making, feeling, sharing. And from my safe room I am so very grateful for, I believe I’m making sense, feeling and sharing, nothing.

Uncertainty.

Will the protests continue for long? Is the political situation going to improve – or on the contrary, escalate? Will I ever be able to “experience” the country and to travel? There is no answer to these questions. I sometimes feel frustrated about the uncertain future; due to the protests it’s almost impossible to leave the city and to travel around, as the interurban roads are closed for security reasons.

Not only it’s hard to foresee what will happen in a week – even tomorrow represents the unknown.

I was speaking with my flatmate-the other day. He told me he has experienced several socio-political conflicts in Colombia throughout his life. Yet, he confessed, this feels as the most intense one of all.

We live in uncertain times; learning how to navigate nuances, how to be within uncertainties – that’s the challenge.

As I said, a complex kaleidoscope of emotions. That’s how I feel about being in Colombia in the middle of the protests. Writing down these feelings surely helped me see through them more clearly. About making sense of them – still figuring it out.

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