The words banged around inside my head trying to find meaning. I don’t know exactly what it takes to become a political refugee in the U.S., but you have to be able to prove a very real threat to your life, back in your home country. In the 90’s it must have been easier than today. But maybe she knew someone…maybe someone vouched for her and got her out of Columbia.
This is where my hopeful resolve to ask prying questions began to crumble. I couldn’t dig anymore. It didn’t feel right for some reason. She was openly telling me about the turning point in her life, and I just met her thirty minutes ago. So I shut up, and listened.
Her: “I am ‘ere on political asylum. When I was young I was fleeing the Guerrillas. So when I came here, I moved a lot.”
San Fransisco, L.A., New Orleans, Baton Rouge. Roughly every two years she’d been moving to another city. But I couldn’t tell if it was because she wanted to move, or had to. When I asked how long she’d been in this city she said two years. Old habits die hard.
Me: “Have you even been back?”
Her first time back in fifteen years was this year. Her daughter had come to visit her every year for the past few years. That however, means that it was over a decade where she hadn’t seen her children. We all make sacrifices. But how many of ours are on par with that? She was nervous. Still scared to go back to the place where she grew up. Medellin is a beautiful and changed place now. The city is turning itself into a tourism and nightlife destination. But it will always have the reputation it earned in the 80’s and 90’s. And maybe for her, the people she was avoiding before, are still there. Some of us hold grudges longer than others.
When we pulled up to my stop, she showed me some pictures of her visit home. She wanted to share about “El Peñón de Guatapé” (The Rock of Guatapé), which is a huge monolith, now with thousands of steps built into it so that people can climb up to a viewing spot.
Columbia has no real seasons, but every city has a different climate. For example, Cali is almost always hot. Whereas Medellin is cooler and breezy, like it’s in a perpetual spring. After having just told me all the horrible things about what it was like there in her youth, how she had to flee the country, she was now doing a fantastic job of selling me on the place. That is was nothing like it used to be, and now is a must-see. I was convinced, and solely because of her recommendation I would go take the city in.
Unsure of why she shared all this with me. Dumb luck that I asked the right questions. However it started, I’m grateful that it did. Whatever put me in that spot, at that time. I’m glad that for her, it was easy to confide in a stranger.