I chatted Friday morning with a coworker who emigrated from Colombia about 20 years ago as a young adult. We were having just your regular old chit chat, nothing special, coworker-type conversation that many of you also had, I’m sure. Then, for some reason, I asked if she’d seen the Netflix series Narcos and if it was an accurate portrayal of what life was like in Bogota during the reign of Pablo Escobar and the warring drug cartels.
I saw her face change as if she saw the end of the world rolling toward her. Then, she shook her head saying, “no no no no,” as she appeared to be fighting off memories that had been stored away in a dusty hat box on the top shelf of her mind’s storage closet.
After a few moments to recompose, she told me stories about bomb scares near her job, hearing distant explosions, friends and coworkers who were injured from simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and how she could feel her unborn son shudder as the concussion waves from the explosions passed.
I could see the strife in her face as she recounted her experiences, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t relate. I have the utmost sympathy for her and those experiences 2 decades ago, but I have never feared for my life, not like that.
That was several decades ago, and Colombia is no longer a dangerous place where a very small group of people affected the lives of so many others who were just like most of us. It was and is a country of people who want to go to work, raise their children, and enjoy life without worry.
Whenever I was an undergraduate student studying political science (Mama, don’t let your babies go to school to be political scientists. Make then be engineers, or computer programmers or welders, or plumbers where they have a tangible marketable skill useful in a rapidly changing world.) I had the good fortune to take several classes in the sub-field of third wold politics from a groovy little dude from Ghana who spent a few semesters teaching at State. He also lived in my bomb proof apartment complex on the railroad tracks.
His classes focused on Africa because that’s where he was from, what he knew, and also a place rich with tales of military coups, corruption, and political upheaval. Since I didn’t know much about the area, and also because he gave such captivating lectures, I probably paid about 500% more attention to him than I did in Political Theory, or US Foreign Policy classes.
Then, one day in one of his classes- I’ve long forgotten which one- he told the story of how he ended up in a po-dunk Mississippi town at the best university on the planet. He was a professor in Ghana, and his mentor was very politically outspoken. One night there was a military coup, and his mentor was taken from his bed and killed. So, my professor had to run away to escape the soldiers who were searching for him. His flight eventually brought him to State, and I’m very appreciative to have gotten to know him and about his story.
A few years ago, I googled him and he was back in Ghana serving as a member of some sort of government advisory board whose mission was to establish a sustainable, fair government for the people of his home country. He’s doing noble work.
I get up every morning and go about my daily business without fear of having a car bomb go off in the car next to me at a red light. I’m not worried about the military from some foreign country dropping a bomb on the warehouse next to my church while I’m there worshipping. When I’m at the grocery store (when I very rarely go), I’m not worried about a gunfight breaking out.
My problems aren’t anything. No matter how bad I ever think my situation is, or how amazingly, unbelievably, colossally, supremely, ultimately, stupid, dangerous, mentally unstable, corrupt, in cahoots with the Russians, or detrimental to the continued existence of the US as a global leader as well as just the existence of the US that Donald J Trump is, I still get up and go about my business as I please without a concern more consequential than which shirt to wear.
We all hear about so and so in whatever country that drinks muddy water and runs from lions all day and the volcano swallowed up their milk cow, and so on and so forth, but that stuff is real, no matter how well we’ve trained ourselves to ignore it. I let the reality sink in, and it is heavy.