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The Silver Lining - Tragedy Sparks Development

During lunch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I heard two very tragic stories that come from the happiest, hardworking, and generous people I know. The first story came from my cleaning lady. She works 6 days a week at the high school where I taught and then comes to my house on Sundays. One day, as we were eating lunch, she began to talk about her hometown of 500 people in the mountains of Santa Marta. As a child she worked in the fields, but had to leave due to FARC and paramilitary forces. They overran her town killing her brother in the process. He didn’t want to give up his land and animals so they shot him. As she was telling her story, a friend who was visiting nodded her head with compassion as tears welled up in her eyes. She told the story of a fellow colleague of a private bilingual school in Valledupar. They taught kindergarten together until one day her friend was kidnapped by the FARC. For three years, her young students asked when their favorite teacher was coming back. She eventually did come back, but not with the same smile as only a kindergarten teacher could have.

I have lived in Cartagena for a year and a half, and have heard at least 20 similar stories from students, teachers, friends, taxi drivers… everyone. Kidnappings, public assassinations, being covered with DDT dropped from planes to kill coca fields and everything else, stolen land, fear, panic, trauma, are part of the Colombian history and culture. However, you would never know it. People are still open, generous, loving, fun, and hardworking. Families are united no matter what has happened to them.

I wish more Americans could hear these tragic stories, but feel the warmth of the people. They are plagued by the drug war, corruption, and ruling class that is not too worried about the poor. Yet, they never dwell on the problems or blame the US for its nasty drug habit. They live for their families and think of any possible way to succeed and support them. Their hunger and drive reminds me of the US 100 years ago; a developing nation that never thought of failure, drugs, consumerism, white collar crime, blame, or defeat. America can learn from countries like Colombia and take on the attitude of a re-developing nation, where necessity, ambition, and enterprise will make our nation strong again. 


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