“Dignity is an internal state of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things.” –Donna Hicks
I’m back in Colombia. Bogota to be precise. I had a wonderful summer vacation. I caught up with old friends, ate cheese, picked blueberries, read, laughed with family and dug in the dirt. I even got to blow out the candles on our birthday cake with my dad, something that hadn’t happened in far too long.
Two years ago, when I arrived in Colombia for the first time, I was nervous. I had no idea what I would happen. I certainly did not expect that I would be coming back. But, here I am. It felt so different arriving on Sunday night. I knew where I was going and have a (albeit vague) idea about what my life will be like. And to live in a city! Rat-free and with running water! I am ready to go to cultural activities and be part of an urban environment. All I need are friends, but I am somewhat confident that will happen.
I don’t know if I love Colombia, but there is just something about this place that I cannot escape. As soon as I sat down at the airport gate in Houston, I felt nostalgic. How people dressed, their gentle rhythmic Spanish, the way the lady sitting near me automatically offered to share her snack with those around her. These are some of the small things that draw me to this place and will not let me go.
Armed conflict, poverty, urban violence, unemployment, everyday impacts of structural violence. These facts co-exist with people who choose to act with dignity and live their lives to the fullest, no matter what. Solidarity is a lived experience and a daily norm. I experienced this in the country and am eager to see it played out in all its manifestations in the city. The week before I arrived, the small farmer sector of the country went on strike to protest the negative impacts of international trade agreements and an underdeveloped agricultural policy that only benefits the largest of farms. Despite increased militarization and police violence, these actions speak of people who have experienced some of the worst life has to offer, but are still demanding their right to be treated with the dignity we all deserve.
Of course, culture shock will hit. I already miss pedestrian right of way. Starting a new job is hard. But, I am making the choice to return to this country, and to live in this city, and this is not something that I take lightly. I want to learn about dignity from my interactions with those around me and join with Colombians, such as those at my new office, that are working to make respect for that dignity an inherent part of their country. And for now, that is enough.