I used to love motorcycles. When I first got to Sincelejo, every trip to the store felt like an adventure. I would stand on the street, wave down the first moto that came around the corner, and hop on board. As we raced down the street, I relished the feel of wind in my hair, the heady rush of weaving through traffic to arrive, with a screech of brakes, first, the feeling of freedom combined with tropical sun.
Then, I fell off. And kept right on falling off.
Too many stitches later, I decided that motorcycles weren’t really my thing after all. In Sincelejo, after visiting the hospital, I could barely walk. Forced to take motorcycles, I carefully chose drivers with long sleeves, helmets, and handlebar mirrors. I would gingerly climb on, but not before pointing out my knee wound to the unsuspecting driver, complete with safety lecture, stitch count and speed warning.
I was on the coast and riding motorcycles again last month. Rationally, it sort of makes sense: motorcycles are cheap, fast and more reliable than the almost non-existent public transportation system.
Emotionally, it makes no sense whatsoever.
I pretend to trust my driver, but always arrive at my destination with tension knots in my back from trying to mentally drive the entire journey, on the lookout for any sort of bumps or obstacles in the road. I grip the back of the seat, white knuckled and ready to leap off at a moment’s notice. I try desperately to control what I absolutely cannot, calculating the distance to nearest clinic in my head. It is impossible to relax and enjoy the journey. This might be called trauma.
In between moments of panic, I started to think about what how difficult life becomes when fear takes over activities that used to be ordinary. Of course, a couple of motorcycles accidents are nothing like living an entire life in uncertainty. But perhaps reflecting on my own panic can help provide a small glimpse into the reality of life lived in a country in the midst of armed conflict. At least, it helps me understand, and empathize, a little more about the personal side of trust, peace deals, post-conflict and uncertainty.
Take my office, for example. For years, our phones were tapped (maybe they still are). Unidentified intruders broke in and stole computers full of cases of human rights violations. Jorge is in jail. It is, therefore, still challenging, and potentially dangerous, to not see masked men in every shadow.
It becomes hard to relax and go with the flow of normal life, when you have experienced how quickly normal life can turn against you. Feelings of fear carry within them grains of truth: there are serious risks to riding motorcycles and to engaging in reality in a different way, personally or nationally.
I avoid motorcycles as much as I possibly can. A thousand respects to all of those Colombians that keep on facing their fears, living life, trusting and working for a different future.