The Anguish of Living Displaced
The following is an article originally published in Spanish, can be found here. After reading it I felt it was necessary to post it, I think it opens a little window for people that live in countries other than Colombia and even Latin America to understand some of our idiosyncrasies.
The Anguish of Living Displaced
Translated without permission By: John Guzman
My name is Leszli Kalli, better known as the little girl that was held for 373 days by the ELN(Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional – National Liberation Army) after being kidnapped in the taking of the Avianca(Colombian Airline) airplane. I am the one that published the diaries of her captivity. The one that had a walking stick in which it marked every day of permanence in the jungle. Today I live displaced. I put a period after the word displaced and I remain thinking about two greater words, two words that capture pain: kidnapping and expatriation. They are negative, dark, and I, 24 years old, already know them, as one knows a mother, as one knows a son or a sister. I had to get to know them.
To live far from Colombia, and the concrete possibility to return not in sight, creates a unique kind of anguish. One that puts to us in the situation to miss things that for those that live in Colombia are daily, perhaps inconsequential and even annoying, but for us they end up acquiring an almost sacred character. I speak, for example, of the anguish of never listening to the noise of horns in the street. For the two years that I have lived outside Colombia I have yet to hear a single car honk its horn. Here nobody honks and this silence kills. It mortifies me, even, to never hear a driver swear when another one stops in the middle of street to buy cigarettes. One ends up missing “the loose” things: a cigarette paid with coins, a stick of gum, a single package of frunas(starburst like candy) or an aromatic coffee of one thousand pesos(a dollar) in seventh street. It distresses to me to discover that I cannot go to a market where they sell cheap clothes and in which is worth it to bargain with the salesman, and there are steals and sales. Here there is nowhere to find that guy that, in ten minutes, sells you a dog of 300,000 pesos ($3000) in 30.000 ($300), making us think that we made the deal of a lifetime.
There is no tranquility, as peaceful as the place we live away from Colombia might seem, if one cannot stop to look around the work of a street painter who works with charcoal. You cannot imagine the pain of produce by not getting quirky lines from guys or at least to be object of a glance; the anguish to get ready for hours so that nobody dares to say anything. You really miss: the imprudent salesperson who says “you is getting fat” or “you have been eating all your supper, no?”, the stranger who in line starts a conversation and ends up giving you his opinion on what we should or should not do. Where I live, one can go out with a shoe on the head and nobody, nobody, is going to say a thing. I tested this: the other day I went out with the pajama trousers (little bears sleeping on clouds) for college and no one noticed. Here people mind their own business and back in Colombia everyone is one everyone else’s. That is my order in the middle of the chaos that is the beauty that I miss so much. Here everything is uniform, everything is very perfect to the millimeter. In Colombia, we all stand out and are active part of a landscape that is perfect, because it’s not perfect.
It distresses to never see the unmistakable face of Colombian people, people who live happy, that laughs, that is contented in spite of so many problems. People who look at you directly in the eyes, with mixture of malice and sweetness, that wants to know everything and knows of all thus does not know anything. Here people walk like hung by invisible threads that God does not manipulate but a gray routine. I have changed the capital of the noise for the capital of the cold and silence. And it hurts. That I have a new opportunity to live, that I am safer here than in Colombia, that to be here it is a gift of God to continue living? No, this is not a gift: here the trees are skeletons, the ground is covered with snow and there is always a frozen wind of twenty degrees below cero that, like a needle, chills the bones. It is called on to me to make the futile exercise of blaming this frightful climate, and I end up feeling like a cat that it had in Colombia, a cat that bristled and scratched when it tried to bathe it. Sometimes I want to bristle, to scratch and to get out of this city.
That is my anguish, knowledge that I do not belong to this place, and which I cannot be where I belong. And to feel that the only small piece which I have of Colombia is summarizes by a little piece of tricolor string tied around my wrist, because the time and the distance get in between and without wanting to they loosen other bonds (friendships and family), they break promises (those of the boyfriend) and only leave open the door of memory, in there I lock myself in when the anguish attacks me; when I feel that emptiness that grew in the middle of my chest when I was 21 years old and I knew that it had to leave the country. The one that I try to fill as soon as possible, that “is cured” with one of those hugs that give security, a hug of “everything is going to be ok”, like the ones our parents gave us when we were very small. And, nevertheless, time passes and that hug never arrives. Two years and a half and this pain still intact. Today I know where I cure it: today I know that it will only disappear when I wake up hugged by the Colombian sky.
This article really moved me in many different ways. Everything she feels I have felt at one time in another while becoming part of a society that is foreign to me. There are so many things that are so difficult for people to understand unless they have lived them. The easiest way I can illustrate the feeling is talking about growing up around mountains; not having them there when you look around promotes a feeling of loss in your soul. I am infatuated with the sky and on occasion it humors me by displaying the most beautiful clouds that make it almost seem like once again mountains surround me.
My situation is a little bit different than Leszly’s, I have been able to return to Colombia… not to mention that I was never kidnapped… but I still can feel the pain of being away from that place I call my home land. I am an American now, used to the way of life here and missing less and less the little idiosyncrasies of my beautiful but troubled country of origin. It is hard to find words to open a window to that world, and I have many times tried to write something to about it… hopefully this article will inspire me to write more about the things that are about Colombia; talk about things besides violence and drugs which is what most people associate the country with.