Maria Alejandra Rey
This summer I found myself in France on the Chaps-Elysees, a block away from my grandmother. While my cousin and I were enjoying an ice-cream, the Gent D’armes were arresting a guy who rammed his car full of ammunition and guns into a police truck in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret on August 9.
It could have been a potentially traumatizing experience and may have ruined the month that I had left in Europe, but fortunately I was born in Colombia in the 90’s and lived there for a big chunk of my life.
What people have to understand is that the 90’s were a time when the Colombia was one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Civil war had started in the 60’s and had more participants than ever. The guerrilla groups, the paramilitary, the drug cartels and the Colombian government were all in a constant armed conflict, resulting in thousands of casualties every day. The deaths of Colombian citizens who did not have anything to do with any of the conflict. Corruption and violent crime have been part of my country’s history for the past fifty years, everyone in the country has contributed to or been affected by the conflict.
My dad who used to work with the Red Cross, was one of the first responders when a drug cartel put a car-bomb in front of my city’s most important newspaper, La Vanguardia, after the paper exposed their operation and their leaders. “There was a family house right in front of La Vanguardia, and the elderly couple who lived there were saved by a miracle, a piece of a printer fell on their roof right next to their bedroom where they were sleeping,” my dad said.
As for my mom, who by the time I was 10, was working with a petroleum company in the southern less populated and more dangerous part of the country, had two of her best friends kidnapped, after a guerrilla group stopped the car where they were mobilizing their camp, the two engineers were held in the jungle for over a year, while my mom was transferred into the city where my father and I were.
Growing up I could not understand why all of the people being harmed were the people looking for justice, police officers and those looking for to expose the violent truth. I also remember seeing the whole country mourn the death of their heroes, the satirists and the journalists that gave the country hope and laughter and who were silenced by the violence and corruption of the time.
I found myself being desensitized to what was happening around me. Tragic events did not carry the same weight, tragic news was part of my everyday life. When an attack occurred, I remember thinking, there were only 17 people killed and 2 injured, that’s not that bad. It was not until moving to the United States and traveling that I discovered how other countries live through tragedies, and the value that is put on a human life in countries where war is not an everyday event.
With the most recent terrorist attacks in France, England, Spain, and the United States, I do not find myself being indifferent again but instead applying the most important thing that growing up on a country in war could have ever taught me, and that is to not let fear control you. Bad things can happen anywhere and anytime, it is up to you whether you let fear prevent you from enjoying life.