Londonderry, Ireland — Cali, Colombia
At the dentist’s office yesterday, the receptionist asked me where I had lived overseas and how long. I answered “29 years and Cali, Colombia.” This led to a conversation about her life as a child in Londonderry, Ireland . and my life in Cali and an exchange of stories about violence in our respective areas.
Lisa grew up in Londonderry during the years of chaotic violence between the Protestants (Orangemen) and Catholics (IRA). She spoke of her childhood in a place and time when every day shots were fired, grenades thrown, bombs detonated. She remembers her mother rushing to hide her and her siblings in a special place in their house when explosions were heard. One relative disappeared never to be heard from again. Lisa remembered that she and her mother and other siblings always had to carry a vinegar soaked cloth when they walked in the streets of the town to cover their faces when the air became polluted from explosions. The constant insecurity for the entire family took a heavy toll on her mother. Thus the family left Ireland for the US when Lisa was 9 years old.
Cali for several years became a very violent place. This was a combination of political groups and drug dealers. Kidnappings and assassinations were frequent. Hired killers would roam the streets. Known as “pajaros” they rode two men on a motorcycle, one to shoot as the other to drive. People connected to US companies were often a target. Our family for years had 24/7 security. This made my life less stressful than that of Lisa’s mother, who alone was responsible for protecting her children.
We had instructions to never ride in a automobile without an armed driver, which at times could be very inconvenient. This conversation with Lisa reminded me of one time when I had agreed to help a friend. My driver could not be found. So, Sonia arrived in her huge Mercedes and off we went to pick up another friend, Mary. We quickly noticed we were being followed by two men on a motorcycle. Sonia and her family were also being threatened and she carried a gun in her car. As we pulled into Mary’s driveway, the motorcycle pulled into the adjacent driveway . Disgusted, impatient, and more than a bit fearful, I angrily got out of the car, saying something stupid like “I am sick and tired of feeling intimidated.” ( Not very wise, I agree, which my husband strongly emphasized when I returned home!) As I got out of the car, I heard Sonia say, “I have you covered Patricia.” Glancing back, I saw Sonia crouched down with a huge gun in her hand. “Swell,” I thought. “Caught between Sonia and the pajaros.” I grabbed poor Mary, who was half my size and frail, and literally pushed her in the car. Off we sped.! The two men on the motorcycle never made a move toward us. We later learned they were looking for someone else in the house next door.
Lisa and I both agreed that one of the awful things about living where violence exists, at least in both our cases, is that you stay because, in spite of the aggravation and fear, you become accustomed to it. Probably a way of surviving.
I do not pretend to compare my experiences in Colombia during the time of violence to the horrific events in the Middle East today. This violence is utter destruction of homes and towns and people living there. Another scenario completely.
There has been recently a TV series, Narco, about Colombia. I have had no desire to watch it.