Two years before Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s death and 20 since Nixon started the so-called “War on Drugs,” I was born in August of 1991 in Medellín, Colombia — known then as one of the most violent cities in the world. It has taken 27 years for me to realize my very first memories are tinted by the life and death of one of the world’s most notorious criminals in the illegal drug trade. And even now, decades since Escobar was shot dead, hope for peace remains a utopian dream for the inhabitants of the paisa capital.
The cocaine market didn’t die when Escobar was killed nor did the drug itself cease to exist. The protagonist changed, demand rose, delivery routes multiplied, victims increased, and the business model adapted to the guerrillas’ open war. Colombian history since the late 1970s follows a series of cartels that fluctuate between control of drug production, circulation, and the next “patron” to dictate the law of the jungle. Continue reading “Fighting a narcocracy”
The letters looked like clothes hung out to dry on a line and they looked more like musical notation than writing.”
-Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude
I was 14. A freshman. In the backseat. The car full of older boys. Three juniors, one sophomore. It was a four-seater Ford Explorer. My spot in the middle had no belt. We were drinking and smoking. They had these mini Coors and a massive blunt was being passed around. Immortal Technique was blasting. Point of No Return. Of course he had a sub in the back. I always wanted to complain about the volume and drifting tires, but I never did. Every cell was screaming: this is not good. I wanted to speak, but the words just never came out. I didn’t want to be that girl. I felt silenced. We were going 75 down a curvy 15. I forget the name of the road. Scotts? Smith? Something with an S. They used to bomb it all the time. On a skateboard, in a car. It connected Kennedy and Shannon in Los Gatos. Fuck, I forget. But I remember the rest. They were all screaming, “scare the shit out of her!” I guess they all wanted to scare me? I don’t know, but next thing we were drifting towards a fence. And a tree. Time stopped between the bumps in the music and I couldn’t hear a thing. I flew over Matt and my head broke through the side window. My vision dripped red like Game Over in GoldenEye 007. I put my hand to my head and it was wet. Blood kept flowing. My ex and I left the scene and went to the Burger King public restroom to wipe up my bloody face before getting me home. We pulled up outside my house. I didn’t want to tell my parents what happened but wanted someone to check my head. So I lifted my hoodie up, walked up the driveway, put on an I’m-not-blitzed face as I opened the front door, and went straight to the bathroom I shared with my brothers. Turned on the shower, soaked my hair, knocked over a bottle of shampoo, faked a loud gasp. After that pathetic little charade, I went to my mom to show her the gash. The words spilled out. Shaking and inaudible. I fell in the shower and hurt myself, it bled a lot. Do I need stitches? She said it looked like a clean cut. Phew. I disappeared back into my room. Parted my hair and took a picture with my flip phone. Uploaded the photo of my skull to Myspace with the caption “Fuck.” Willy, the driver, years later, said that post made his heart stop. That accident made my heart stop. Still does to this day anytime I’m in the backseat of a car with an aggressive (always been male) driver. It’s not speed that scares me, but speed accompanied with stupidity. Cutting people off. Whipping the passengers around like rag dolls. Riding too close. Constantly slamming on the breaks. Jerking the wheel back and forth. Trying to pass without visibility. Happens more than I’d like it to, riding in cars with strangers who quickly reveal themselves. The occasional cabbie, some random friend of a friend. It happened just yesterday. On the way back from Jardín to Medellín. Sam’s cousin was driving. His wife always takes a pill before the ride apparently, to sleep through it. They both prayed before we left. That gesture. The father, the son, and the holy ghost. And as soon as the car was in drive, I was his subject again. To his sheer violence. Personified anger. He must have cut off 40 cars ahead of us. Going three times the speed limit. Weaving in and out of cars on a winding two-lane road through the mountains. Speeding into oncoming traffic. Right before a blind turn. Brake fast, lash forward. Apparently this is normal here and no one really questions it, not even after an ambulance comes to take them away. The ones in the back who couldn’t say no. Again, I didn’t have a seatbelt, because he had them tucked behind into the trunk. One arm stretched straight to the seat ahead of me and the other gripping hard on the grab handle. My heart was racing. I’ve never felt more uncomfortable, unsafe. I’ve never been in a car with such an asshole, of all the assholes. His ego, his issues, held above the well-being of others. I wanted to ask him why. “Why do you drive like this?” “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?” How could he do this? But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t question his disrespect, his disregard, his way. Silenced again. Powerless and paralyzed. My own safety beyond my control, my consent. In the hands of a madman. It felt like abuse. All I could do was cry. So I started sobbing uncontrollably while looking out the window. Why was I in that car? Why didn’t we get the bus back or drive separate? Sam asked him to slow down, and said I was feeling unwell. He couldn’t question him either. Afraid of the snap. The car was silent other than his 80s playlist. Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, Toto, Alan Parsons Project. But my discomfort brought even more awkwardness to the car. I felt guilty, like I was the problem. What was worse: my reaction or the reality? I couldn’t bear to face him. I wanted to vanish. What was I going to say when I said goodbye? Thanks for the ride? Sorry for being so scared, it’s just I… I felt like I should be the one to say sorry. To apologize for my fear. For bringing it up. Luckily we hit traffic. He was forced to stay in his lane, so I was finally able to calm down a bit. To enjoy the scenery. Lush, green, but with the window down, still smelled like gasoline. I kept wondering. Why? Why’d he put us through that? Does he always do this? And to who else? Why didn’t he feel remorse? Why didn’t his wife care? Why didn’t he say sorry? All for what? Because he liked it? Because his brain’s already scattered into a million pieces? Just because? No. Not again. I wiped my cheeks, relieved to be that girl. I wasn’t sorry. I was right. Maybe I’d just tell him to take care. Because he needs to. To fulfill the upheld expectation of appreciation for the ride, I ended up just saying thanks, bye in a blur. He’ll never know the way he made me feel.
Where the sidewalks stop. Sending a letter in the mail can cost you 120,000 COP/41 USD, but a joint 2,000 COP/.70 USD. Every new apartment comes with servants’ quarters attached to the laundry room. Buses and trucks push black clouds into your pores. Would you like meat with your meat or more meat? Men, this. Women, that. Everyone is looking. ¿BIEN O QUE? Run before you get hit. Breast and butt enhancement. Worship God and a virgin. “Oh my, how this place has changed.” Hasta abajo. High interest rates at banks. GOOOOOOOOL. Thunder. Fruit you’ve never tried. Grocery lines that are never express. Rat tails. Arepas con quesito. Please take a number. Maximum capacity. “No, no, really, hire a driver.” Mr. Tea at the country club. Pico y placa. Unfinished buildings, unfinished business. Días violentos en la comuna 13. Mazda, Mazda, Mazda, Renault. Venezuelan migrants trying to get their families out. Saturday sin, Sunday mass. “Yo no creo en las brujas pero que las hay las hay.” Numerology readings and pink quartz somehow under your pillow. European backpackers flocking to resort hostels to sit on the beach and drink beer. Selfies so they know. Chicharrón everything. “Restaurants don’t let me park my taxi outside when I’m a customer, so I don’t really eat out.” Don’t question, have faith. Buenas. Nonconsensual reggaeton. Got cut in line for the cable line. +DMT, -TV written all over the city. People say hi. Hooks under the table. Don’t give papaya. White lace on a five-year-old girl. Her brother almost went priest. Juice with added sugar or milk? Postobón brings the family together. Weekend lunches into TV marathons. Magic realism can’t extinguish the trash fires, but the butterflies are real. Long tees asking if you wanna buy some coke. More likely perico (not the bird). Trauma. Un tinto, porfa. Bricks. Near misses on motorcycles. Feedback loops break with a punch in the face. Two condors poisoned in Tayrona. “It’s God’s Will.” Cream paint job with tinted windows. Still a patrón. Don’t say his name. Salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, vallenato, champeta. Brave bicyclists wearing facemasks. Nada cambia. Single/American/male tourists who often refer to themselves as digital nomads and openly cackle over the conversion rate. Parents hustling candy at traffic lights. Sniffing gasoline will suppress the hunger. Medellín es una chimba. A child begs for money while an older man watches from a distance. The leaves will breathe it all in and spit it all out until the valley suffocates.