final day in medellin
This city has raised more questions than it has answered. Its history is one of strife, of Robin Hood criminals with more power than the state, and extreme, bold moves in directions of self-survival and destruction. The socio-economic disparity is extreme, but there is strong work being done to remedy these situations. Ethical stances are taken and stuck to, people debate and argue, there is an energy and vibrancy to discourse. People listen to one another without the typically New York urge to move quickly to the next topic. Here people will simply keep hashing it out until no one feels like talking anymore. There’s a patience to discourse that is refreshing.
As someone who doesn’t speak Spanish (I’m working to remedy that) this has been a particularly big wake up call. There’s something a bit absurd about living in the United States at this time and not speaking Spanish. And unlike Japan, where you are constantly complimented on speaking Japanese even if you’re not particularly good at it, here people really expect you to speak their language. And it is their country, after all, of course they should.
But a characteristic this country does seem to share to some degree with Japan is the extreme politeness of its residents. Wherever one is, there are nearly formal inquiries as to your day, your time so far in Medellin, and so on. One rarely spends money on anything without a heartfelt thanks.
And another shared characteristic with Japan is that there is a nearly neurotic self-awareness of this country’s image to the rest of the world. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked about what I thought of Medellin before arriving. People are positively obsessed with their reputation abroad. It’s understandable: how many movies have been made about Colombian drug lords at this point? And knowing that things are rapidly changing now, they are highly motivated to correct this reputation, the first step being to inquire where they currently stand.
I’m leaving Medellin tomorrow for further travel throughout Colombia. I’m going to miss this city, it has been nothing but a pleasure to have my own assumptions challenged. To be honest, I did have some anxiety before coming here. And I know there are still very serious problems, particularly in the neighborhoods between the city and the jungles. FARC is still alive and have not renounced their policy of kidnappings. But at the same time, I have found an amazing group of creative people, artists, administrators, hackers, philosophers, and designers, that are determined to take hold of this opportunity and meld it into the best outcome they can. Many of them have been educated abroad and have consciously decided to put their energy back into their city recognizing this rare opportunity to tangibly make a difference. How often does one get a chance like that? I wonder what I would do?