Being born in Colombia —a violent and lovely land of duality, of rancid poetry, marvellous heartbreak, impossible beauty, and sequestered abundance— is a curse.
On the one hand, it’s a magical, fertile, lush kingdom filled with wonders and beauty. From the Amazon Rainforest to the Caribbean Sea, from the Andes mountains to the Pacific Ocean, from snow-capped volcanoes to ocean-side deserts, from metropolitan cities to small colonial towns and even the remnants of ancient civilisations, Colombia has it all, including the largest number of bird species and orchids in the world, making most other countries pale in comparison.
But on the other hand, it’s a land of violence and scarce opportunity, of death and putrid nightmares, of shattered lives and lost innocence, of wasted resources and stolen dreams; a place where innovation is used for evil, where humanity is sacrificed for profit, where survival is the only accomplishment worthy of praise because most days, it seems nearly impossible to achieve it unscathed. We Colombians constantly wonder what could be of our country if all the resilience and ingenuity and resources we posses were used for good, if people were allowed to thrive.
Colombia can make you suddenly believe in God just as easily as it can destroy your faith. It’s the kind of place where hope would be stolen if it could be commodified and then sold off in the black market. “Hope for Sale!” Imagine that. In a country where millions of people can’t afford to eat three meals a day, where it would take at least eleven generations for someone to escape poverty, where children die of thirst and the elderly of neglect, hope could become a prized product. But like most things of value, it would be hoarded by the rich while the poor inexplicably continued to manufacture it, like factories of faith that refuse to shut down.
Don’t get me wrong— this is, if anything, a love letter to Colombia. I struggled for years to make my place there, determined to be a part of something so promising, keeping one foot firmly grounded on Colombian soil and the other roaming the planet. I know it might not sound like it sometimes, but I love Colombia to death. And so before it killed me, I had to leave it. Again. It’s not easy to love something so toxic, to live somewhere so burdensome, to carry with you the memories of rivers stained with blood, of vultures pecking at dead bodies, of bombs and sieges, of kidnappings and gunfights on sunny Saturday afternoons. But it’s almost equally impossible to forget the sunsets on the Sierra Nevada, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, the emerald green mountains of the Andes, the deeply spiritual experience that is the Amazon —a kaleidoscope that must be explored through one’s third eye— or the paradise that is the jungle-covered Pacific coast, where whales and poisonous frogs rule the land and water.
It’s hard to reconcile the natural and cultural beauty of this country, its diversity and depth, with its history, its customs, the things that pass for normal. Like the more than 900 environmental and social leaders —those who advocate for human rights, especially for women, Afro and Indigenous communities, farmers, and other marginalised minorities— who have been murdered since 2016. In a country with one of the highest indexes of wealth disparity and economic inequality in the world, it’s not just challenging to work towards a better future: it can be deadly.
Of course, it’s not all bleak. There are people who thrive there, who find opportunities in the gaps left by the darkness, in those spaces where light shines through the cracks; those who can move beyond the horrors tattooed on the earth, past the headlines and the stories of pain and grief and hopelessness, and make something beautiful amidst the dangerous chaos, building a life out of the pieces of broken hearts. But I’m not one of them: I can’t block out the terror, even when blinded by the beauty. So I carry it in my heart (and my photographs) as I travel the world in search of a place from where I can miss my homeland and wish it well.
I’ve been cursing my curse of being Colombian for years, all the while praising its infinite diversity and abundance, because it’s the kind of place that’s much easier to adore from a distance. I hope, one day, to see my nationality as a blessing, like those foreigners who praise Colombia for giving them a passport, for adopting them, for allowing them to explore her secrets and discover her charms. I know how amazing it is when seen from the outside, when she doesn’t run through your veins, so maybe that’s why I left again, because these days, I feel more cursed than ever by the land of magic realism, where the absurd is so unexplainable, there are only ever two choices: to embrace it or abandon it.