I am a fantastically bad dancer. The combination of growing up Mennonite (why don’t Mennonites have sex standing up? It could lead to dancing!), being shy when I was younger, and a natural lack of rhythm have all played a role in ensuring that I am excellent at flailing and toe stepping. Not to say, however, that I do not dance. I go out dancing more and more frequently because it is what my friends enjoy. Also, everyone is convinced that they can teach me to move with grace (they can’t), but why wreck their fun?
After living here for almost three years, I increasingly feel like I belong. I do not have to think about things that used to be challenges- language, transportation, food- and therefore feel much more at home. I know all the swear words and can sing along at the Chocquibtown concert. The lack of rhythm in my blood reminds me that I do not belong quite as much as I think. After all, the only Colombian I have ever met who called himself a bad dancer was half Canadian.
Working in Justapaz in the months leading up to the presidential elections reminds me of living in Ottawa during the last federal elections in Canada. It is all that we talk about. Everyday, we discuss the latest news and plan how we will strategically mark our ballets. There are cheers when it is revealed that the video of the far right candidate, Zuluaga, participating in conversations with peace process hackers, turns out to by real. Policies and legal options are mulled over. Special speakers come in to give us the rundown on each candidate’s position on the peace talks.
Then I leave the office and enter an entirely different world. The streets of Bogota, and especially the Colombians regions, are full of disinformation and scandals. There are people who are informed, but vote buying, lack of public debate, media outlets that are owned by presidential hopefuls, and general cynicism about the possibilities of real change, make conversation and public dialogue very difficult. It reminds me of leaving Ottawa and realizing that not everyone else in the country had the luxury of time and information to be as focussed as we were on the details instead of just the soundbites.
I woke up this morning with an option on my facebook page to let the world know that I was voting in the Colombian presidential elections today. The importance of these elections at this pivotal moment in the country’s history cannot be understated and I sometimes forget that I just as I cannot dance, I also cannot vote. I live here, I care passionately, but in the end, I am not Colombian and the future of this place does not rest in my hands.
I sometimes do a disservice to Colombians when I make everything about me and my country’s politics. Yes, we live in a globalized world. Yes, as was reinforced last week when I went to the launching of a report about the impact of Canadian mining in Latin America, we contribute to the destabilization of human rights across the continent. Yes, we do not even try to acknowledge those facts in our assessment of the impacts of Colombian/Canadian free trade. Yes, I have a responsibility to call my government to account.
Yet, it is Colombians who are voting today, and who engage in democratic practices all year long. It is Colombians who protested Petro’s firing, marched to Cartagena, and work long, often boring, hours in offices and communities around the country. These practices do often not focus on trying to change exterior policies, even though they are implicated. Rather, I follow the lead of my colleagues by, for example, trying to improve communications about electoral issues and writing about Colombians who work for change in their local environment.
When I make Colombia all about me, I am unable to acknowledge the power and agency that all Colombians, not only on Election Day, but all the time, hold. That is also a form of colonialism that is much more damaging than simply stepping on a few toes on the dance floor.