It was a normal morning in February of 2002. When I woke up for school, I turned on the TV and saw they were transmitting the morning news report. The main report was narrating how, minutes ago, the first woman nominated for Colombian presidency was kidnaped with her entire political team. Her name was Ingrid Betancourt, and this happened when she went to a very dangerous rural zone dominated by the “Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia,” or FARC, a group that since it birth at 1954 has been responsible for terrorism, violence, and unfairness in Colombia. At that moment I didn’t realize what that meant because, unfortunately for me, as for many other Colombians, unfairness and inhuman practices are just a part of everyday life.
I really didn’t care about what had just happened, so I went to school and kept living my life. Years passed, and one morning I heard of Ingrid again; after 6 years she was going to be liberated, thanks to a huge humanitarian exchange that set free almost a hundred Colombians. Again, I didn’t pay too much attention and kept doing my own things. It wasn’t until July of 2013 when I would finally realize the importance of these events, and my life would completely change.
By the beginning of 2013, I took a course of democracy and human rights in Los Andes University in Bogota. For this course, I had to do an assignment that would make me remember those morning news reports I saw, and my reaction towards them. It made me understand that even if something doesn’t happen to me, I should be aware of it, because suddenly it will affect me. Thanks to this assignment, I was able to understand that approaching reality by numbers, statistics, and calculus is useless if we don’t also contemplate people feelings and their personal welfare.
In my work, I was supposed to analyze some social issue that affected my country according to what the Colombian constitution determined as the rights of citizens. I recognized that I was not really interested in it, and I just wanted to end it fast. The first thing that came to my mind was the one I chose, the issue of kidnapping. As I started my research in the topic, the first thing I found was statistics and dramatic histories of families destroyed by unfairness. I wasn’t really concerned, because why should I care about that? I was good, my family was good, and I was studying in the best university of Colombia. My future was almost assured.
Now, looking back I can’t believe how selfish and insentient I was, and how this little thing would change my whole vision of the world. While I was looking for more information, I found an amazing history about a man who had spent almost 11 years of his life in captivity. He was liberated with Ingrid and was known as the Mayor Malagon. I was really shocked and wanted to meet him personally. I looked for him, called, asked everywhere, and, after almost a month of looking for him, I found him, and he agreed to talk personally with me. He told me that we would meet at the army force building in Bogota, because he was still working for the government and the army. My first reaction was to think that this man was really crazy, because how was it possible that someone who had lost 11 years of his life was working for the government again?
Finally, the day came and I was going to meet him. As I saw him, the first thing I did was explain him why I was there. I told him that I would like him to share his whole experience and all the thoughts he had while he was deprived of his freedom. At the beginning, he appeared to be annoyed with the idea of remembering all this experience, but then he laughed and said that I should relax and enjoy that moment because it was really valuable. He said that at least I had food in my stomach and was sitting on a comfortable chair. I just thought that his comment was really out of place and inappropriate. Regardless of that, I just focused on what he was going to say for writing it on my report. As he started to talk, it took me less than a minute to forget about the class report or the reason I was there, because I was really interested and moved by what he was saying and the way in which he was talking.
First, he talked about the year in which he started to work for the army. He said that he was there because, although his country had given him so much pain while he grew up in a poor family, it was the place that saw him grow up. He said he couldn’t find a better way of returning this opportunity than working for the welfare of all the people in
Colombia. While he talked, I could just look at the way in which his entire body was showing the passion and love he felt for his job and the nation.
Then, he started to talk of the day he was kidnapped with many other work peers as they were defending a battalion. I remember that when he mentioned this moment his eyes were lost, and his face just reflected a feeling of helplessness and despair, just as the one he had in that moment when he had no more option than to surrender against a giant group of guerrillas. He mentioned that, in that moment, the first thing he thought about was his family, and how long it will take to see them again, because he was aware of the hard political situation that the country was precisely passing by in that moment. Later, when he started to describe all the thoughts he had during that 11 years, his eyes where full of tears. He said that he always imagined what he would be doing with his family in that moment if he wasn’t at the battalion the day of the communal kidnapping. I was really moved by how he expressed the value of family, life, and how he didn’t recognize it until he was deprived of his liberty. This comment made me start to think about how maybe we don’t realize the value of people who surround us. How silly it is that not until we go into some extreme situation as the one the mayor Malgón did do, we realize it.
His whole story made up an incredible speech in which every single detail was explained. He mentioned little details, as how anxious he felt for receiving a card from his family even five minutes after reading one he received. He also mentioned the importance of the part of the card that his six-years-old girl had written, and how her illegible letters and scrawls gave him the value and desire to live, even in the worst conditions that he could ever imagine. Again, tears came out of his eyes, when he mentioned how he spent weeks or months hungry with his legs tied with chains to a tree. By that moment, I didn’t know what to say, because I understood why he made that awkward comment a few minutes ago. I was impressed by how memories had changed his smile into a window to his deepest feelings. He also told me how, during those 11 years, he lost his dignity, but faith maintained his sanity even when he received mocking insults and mistreatment.
After hearing all this terrible history, I was speechless and tears were in my eyes, too. Still, I couldn’t understand how he was in the same job, and could refer to it as “the glorious Colombian army” for which he said he would even give his life. With his eyes full of tears and his hands shaking, almost six years after these terrible situation, he kept telling me every single detail of how sometimes he was lost in the deep blueness of the sky and the bright green of the huge trees that where he was housed. He told me how with the stomach empty, he spent most of his time looking at the sky waiting for a rescue helicopter. He would go to sleep inside of a little jail looking at his daughter card, waiting for some help that would take more than 10 years to come.
Maybe this was not my own experience, and maybe I wasn’t kidnapped for 11 years, but I do remember I was a young girl listening to the story of one of the 300,000 kidnapped people of my country. People that have lived terrible moments, thanks to the violence caused by the difference of thoughts and ideals of people in my country. Maybe I didn’t feel the bleakness of kidnapping, but I heard the words and saw the tears of a brave man that faced this terrible situation. Thanks to him, after 18 years of life, I finally understood the news reports lost in the middle of my “rushed” life were really important, because they tell the personal history of pain, despair, and, in some cases, immeasurable glory of someone else – someone that has lived in my environment, in my country, and who shared my dreams. He showed me that we don’t live alone, and that although all of us have a different history and a different background, that makes us valuable, and furthermore make us possessors of a unique life full of incredible lessons for everyone around us.
Somehow that day he showed me that the only lesson that I can get is not a math or science one. Sometimes experiences are the path to life and society understanding. With this single event my entire life stopped, and I realized that sometimes we get lost in our own routine and forget that we are part of a society. Whereupon, everything that happens to one of us will suddenly affect us. I also understood that people are the most valuable treasure we have; it’s not money, a computer, or a car. What is really valuable and can really give us strength and determination
to do things is the love and respect we have for others. In fact, I would say that the power of people in our lives is bigger than we think; the presence of someone important makes us brave, and makes us able to overcome difficulties as we feel the desire of moving forward for us and all our people. If this is not true, then why is the Mayor Malgón still working for the Army after losing 11 years of his life in the middle of the beautiful but dangerous Colombian jungle?
Also, he showed me the importance of details, and how sometimes we have everything and don’t realize that every single detail, regardless of its size, is incredibly valuable. As he said, details make up our happiness and so make up the entire society’s happiness. Maybe the card that the Mayor Malgon was holding as he went to sleep was just a piece of paper, but for him it was a priceless treasure. Not because of it economic value, but for the emotional meaning and the memories that it brought to him, memories that would be the base of his inspiration and strength to keeping moving forward.

Finally, beyond his personal experience, I think he opened my eyes and let me see the reality I live in and how unfair things are around me. Listening to him made me understand that I had to do something to make a difference in my society, starting by changing myself. As he said the first step is realize something, but the second is don’t ignore it. Do something to fix what is wrong. He showed me that, as part of a city, country, or of the world, we all must understand that everyone has to enjoy a fair and decent life, regardless of who he is. So, this man taught me that when I wake up and hear the TV news report narrating terrible happenings, I can’t ignore the voices behind every single happening. I have a responsibility to both, the people around me, and myself.

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Samantha Henry

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