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“I’m starting from nothing. I lost everything back in Venezuela. I had my own natural soap factory but the crisis made it impossible to get ingredients. Then the government began to take 70% of my earnings. I had to close it down. Things got so bad that I couldn’t even find food for my baby. I had a little money, but there was nowhere to buy food. I’d wait in line all day for one bag of flour. We could go days without eating. When I tried to breastfeed my daughter, I’d almost faint. Leaving the country was my only chance. I’d never said ‘goodbye’ to my daughter before. She was screaming my name when I left. It hurt worse than giving birth. But I didn’t have a choice. I told her that I was going to Colombia. I told her that I was going to make a diamond, and I’d bring it back to her. Now I sell key chains in the street. When I make some money, I send packets of food back home. I’m trying to keep a good spirit. I’m doing OK. I grew up very poor. I came from nothing. So I’ve been here before.” (Bogotá, Colombia) ------My interpreter Juan has kept in touch with Rose, and we put together a small fundraiser if anyone would like to help. Link in bio.
“I didn’t even start gambling until I was 43. I thought I was mature, but I was as vulnerable as a child. I started going to the casino once or twice on the weekends. It was a social thing. I’d just play cards with my friends. But I had good luck in the beginning. I started to win. And I started to love it. I couldn’t wait for the weekend. Soon I started to go during the week. I’d work the early shift and I’d have all afternoon to play. I abandoned all my responsibilities. Once you start playing-- you forget that you’re hungry, you forget that you’re thirsty, you even forget that you have a family. I lost the grocery money, the rent money, everything. Winning felt great. And losing made me need to win. I’d make up excuses every time I came home empty handed. I’d say that I was mugged, or that my work hadn’t paid us that week. Eventually I had to sell my car. I lost our house. I lost my wife. We’d been together for twenty years. I just took for granted that she’d always be around. The only thing that I didn’t lose was my daughters. They sat me down one day, and said: ‘Dad, either quit gambling, or quit this house.’ And I never played again.” (Medellín, Colombia)
“Sometimes I’d start crying in class for no reason. Then when I got home from school, I’d just go straight to my room. I couldn’t even talk to my mom about it because I’d just start crying. People would tell me: ‘Just get up, exercise, and take a walk.’ But none of that helped. Things got so bad that even the school was watching me. I started bawling during a chemistry exam and I ended up in the school psychologist office. I remember thinking: ‘I don’t care if I ever see another chemistry exam again. Or my friends. Or my mom.’ And I started to get this feeling that I was definitely going to do it. I was going to lock myself in my room that night and take a bunch of pills. The only thing that stopped me was imagining my mom finding my body. That was three years ago. That time seems so far away now. I found a great therapist. I learned so much about myself. There’s so much that I want to do now. I want to travel. I want to get married. I want to have kids. There are so many poems that I haven’t written and songs I haven’t heard. So it’s terrifying for me to think that I came so close. My problems were small back then. They were teenage problems. But I came one step away from not being. And I had made the decision to take that step. I’m afraid that I can go back to that place again. And next time, my problems will probably not be so small.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I think I’m obsessed with the idea of finding a girlfriend. I think about it all the time. I really want to know what it feels like. I’m twenty-four. I’ve never been in a relationship. I’m terrified by the idea of being alone. And I think that this desperation comes out in my energy. The last girl I dated told me that I just needed to ‘let it flow,’ and ‘see what happens.’ But I don’t know how to do that. I tried too hard to please her. I wanted to make her fall in love with me. I had to know for sure that we were together because she felt like my last chance to not be alone. My anxiety ended up ruining everything. When I finally get a girlfriend, I’m not sure how it will feel. Maybe it will be great. Or maybe then I’ll just be terrified of losing her.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
(3/3) “The night I deserted was the most frightening moment of my life. The guerrillas would have killed me if I’d been discovered. I ran away in the middle of the night. I found a road and hitched a ride with an oil truck from Ecuador. I tried to cross the border but the army arrested me. I thought for sure I would be executed. But they gave me the chance to demobilize. The first thing I wanted to do was see my family. It was too dangerous to return home so I sent for them. I thought my father would push me away, but he was very happy to see me. My sisters told me that my disappearance had been very hard on him. He had gotten very sick. I’ll always live with that regret, but we were able to spend four years together before he passed away. I’ve rebuilt my life from scratch. Leaving the guerrillas was like being born again. I had no skills. There was a lot of prejudice against me. I had to work as a waitress and go to school at night. But I’m almost finished with law school now. And even though it took a lot of suffering to get here, I finally have the life that I imagined as a young girl.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
(2/3) “I was the youngest one in the camp. I felt very happy at first. I didn’t have to cook anymore. I was having new experiences. The guerrillas taught me rules. They taught me how to use weapons. They told me that we were fighting for the poor. All of it sounded very good. But then basic training began and it was very difficult. I started to miss my family. My father’s birthday came around, and I could not stop thinking about him. They sent me to another camp because my father kept searching for me. I spent eight years with the guerillas. We lived in the mountains. I slept on the ground. I didn’t get a salary. The fighting was continuous. The army would bomb us day and night. And I didn’t speak to my family for a full seven years. I always wondered what happened to them. Finally it got to be too much, and I decided to desert.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
(1/3) “I knew nothing about the guerrillas before I joined them. The only thing I knew was that they lived better than me. I grew up on a farm in a rural area. We were very poor. My mother abandoned our family so I had to take care of my younger siblings. My father was a good man, but he didn’t give me any liberties. He didn’t let me go to town. He didn’t let me go to school. He didn’t let me have a boyfriend. I wanted freedom, and the guerrillas seemed like my only way out. They used to drive by our farm in their jeeps. They seemed powerful. Even the women wore camouflage. One day the guerrillas stopped by our farm to buy some chickens, and I told them I wanted to join. I was only thirteen years old. They told me to meet them at a certain spot at 5 AM the next morning. I didn’t even say ‘goodbye’ to my father. They told me that I was never allowed to speak to my family again.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“We’ve been at war in this country for over fifty years. There have been hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of victims. So a lot of people don’t like the work that I do. I manage a reintegration program for ex-combatants. I’m trying to take away the main tool of war-- human beings. We can’t punish everyone who fought against us. We can’t jail them all. That will only divide us further. So we must find a way to reconcile with the 60,000 ex-combatants that live among us. We must educate them. We must find them jobs. If we reject and stigmatize them, we will always be at war. Reconciliation is a very hard task. There are a lot of open wounds in this country. People don’t want to forgive. Ex-combatants are often viewed as monsters. My job is to show that their blood is like ours. If we can’t break the idea of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ we will always be divided. Reconciliation is the only way to change the course of our history.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I’m unemployed right now, but it’s my own decision. I’m trying to rethink my life. I’ve been a biology teacher for the past seven years. I’d wake up at 5:30 AM every day and wouldn’t get home until after 5 PM. Then I’d spend the evening preparing lessons or grading exams. Teaching was beautiful but I didn’t like the philosophy of the school. The focus was on being as productive as possible. The kids were stressed. They had no time to be children. I just didn’t feel that life should be like that. It can’t always be about growing, growing, growing. There have to be cycles. So I’m trying to take a step back. I’m trying to enrich myself without having an exact objective. I’m reading, and doing yoga, and participating in a dance group. But it’s been hard to appreciate the moment. I’ve always felt such a pressure to work. And when I’m not producing, it’s hard to escape the feeling that I’m doing something wrong.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“My father never valued my mother. She did everything for him. She worked all day, then she came home to cook dinner. My father just came home to sleep. She’d bring him his food on a tray. Everything had to be perfect: right colors, right napkins, everything. But he’d still call her names. He’d get drunk and yell at her for nothing. My mother was submissive and accepted it all. She’d even get mad at me if I tried to intervene. Eventually my father had an affair with our neighbor. And two years ago he left our home to be with her. Recently I spoke to him on the phone. He sounded depressed. He’d just broken up with the woman. He told me that he’d given her everything, but she still left him. He’d cooked for her, he’d treated her well, and he’d bought her whatever she wanted. But nothing was enough. I asked him if he realized what life was teaching him. He had no answer.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I’m really bothered by people using cocaine. I get angry when I see people doing it for fun. So many horrible things have happened in my country just so people can have ‘fun.’ Cocaine was the motor behind the war in Colombia. It financed the drug lords, the paramilitary, and the guerillas. It paid for the bombs, and the guns, and the kidnappings. It corrupted our government. It ruined our reputation. There isn’t a family in Colombia that hasn’t been hurt. All of us lost friends and family members. And this violence was funded by people who use cocaine. Yet none of them feel responsible for what happened." (Bogotá, Colombia)
“My mother abandoned me as an infant. My father left when I was seven, and a year later I began working as a maid. My earliest memories are cooking and cleaning. When I turned seventeen, I got a job on a construction site. I met a much older man there. I thought he was very handsome. And he was so nice to me. He’d bring me flowers, and apples, and oranges. If anyone was aggressive toward me, he would defend me. He made me feel whole. It was the first time that I’d ever felt truly happy. When I found out I was pregnant, I was so excited to tell him. I thought I would finally have a family. He’d always told me that he wanted to be with me. But when I gave him the news, he said: ‘I have a wife and children. We can never be together.’ Even now it hurts to remember. It hurt me more than not having parents." (Medellín, Colombia)
“My sister was murdered when I was twelve years old. Her husband killed her because of jealousy. After that it was just me and my mom. I stopped studying. I became the black sheep of the family. I left the house and went my own way. There was a gang in the neighborhood. They gave me a place to live. They gave me work. They gave me marijuana and cocaine. I was always high. My job was to collect protection money from local businesses. There were five of us who made the rounds. When I turned fourteen they told me I was ready to ‘test the knife.’ There was a shopkeeper named Maria. Her husband was a pain in the ass. He would always scream at us and call us sons of bitches. So we stabbed him over and over. There was blood everywhere. I felt like throwing up. Afterwards I felt empty inside. So I just did more drugs. And the way I looked at it—if my sister got killed, why shouldn’t other people die? At least that’s how I always justified it to myself.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“We've been dating for a year and a half. It’s been a wonderful relationship but recently it’s changed a lot. I feel like I’m the one holding it together. I’m the one that calls. I’m the one that texts. We used to talk every day, but now she’s not even trying. Maybe she just feels smothered. Maybe she’s testing to see if I’ll stick around. I just don’t know. I can’t decipher what she wants. When I ask her directly, her answers are never precise. She keeps saying: ‘I’ll think about it.’ So I keep giving her one last try—over and over again. I just want to get things back to the way they used to be.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I gave the last nine years of my life to my job. It was all I did. My work made me feel ‘needed.’ I was an accountant and I could do things that nobody else could do. My bosses kept telling me how important I was to the company. But one day they asked me to ‘touch up’ some numbers to make them look better. And I realized I was giving them way more of my time than they deserved—so I quit. The first thing I did was rest. The second thing I did was repair the relationships that I’d been neglecting. I reached out to old friends. I arranged to be with them physically, and not just over texts or Facebook. At first I was nervous because I didn’t know what we’d talk about. It had been so long. But it was easy. One of them had just gotten a scholarship. Another was becoming a father. So much had happened in their lives that I had missed. It felt so good to reconnect. For nine years I’d been focusing on numbers. It wasn’t real. Now I’m connecting with people again, and I feel like my feet are back on the ground.” (Bogotá, Colombia)
“I didn’t even really like animals. But my daughter said she wanted a pet. So I brought home this kitten, and told my daughter: ‘It’s your responsibility. I’m not going to get involved.’ But now the kitten loves me more than the girl. I call him JJ. He’s always the first one to greet me when I come home. When I leave for work, he lays on my flip-flops by the door. He always wants to be with me. Right now we’re coming back from a trip to the store. My daughter is a little jealous. She’s always trying to steal him from me.” (Medellín, Colombia)
“It was a slip. The first thing I thought about was an abortion. I was only fifteen at the time. But after getting my ear chewed off, and all of the bitching, and all of the scolding, I decided to take responsibility. My daughter is three now. I’ve had to give up so much. I can’t go to university. I can’t go out, or go on trips. Now my life is nothing but a routine. I’m a slave to paying rent. I work seven days a week at a casino for minimum wage. I have to support my grandmother and sisters. My mother left the house in December to live with a man. I never talk about any of this. I keep to myself because nobody cares. Even if I’m happy—nobody cares. I only worry about my daughter’s happiness. I only think about her future. I have hope for her. But not for me.” (Medellín, Colombia)
“There was a lot of sickness in my house. My wife has heart problems and is connected to oxygen. I was drinking a lot. Everyone kept to themselves and stayed in their rooms. But one day I had a prophecy in the church that I would have a very big happiness. The prophecy said that someone was going to come and fill all the voids of my home. A few weeks later my daughter was pregnant. And here he is! He’s consumed my entire life. I get to watch him every afternoon. I want him to see me as the happy grandpa who never says ‘no.’ I don’t even drink anymore. He’s brought our entire family together. Recently my wife told me: ‘I can tell you are so happy. Your eyes are always sparkling now.’” (Medellín, Colombia)