The voice notes play as I see an egg turning white in the pan. “Things are turning dark and everything seems to indicate that, and I tell you this so you really think about it, they are setting up a state of exception, or a state of siege,” says the voice of a good friend who lives in Bogotá. He is not the kind of person who gets scared easily, so I understand his words as a veiled warning, a pessimistic attempt to discourage me from returning to the city. Doubts grow, and with them a deep feeling of unrest.
The deep voice of a radio host is the usual soundtrack of my showers. The main theme of conversation has been the same for a whole month now: The national strike, initially sparked by a draft of a new tax law, which has now become an unstoppable force fuelled by the indignation of many Colombians. On the other side, the government, used to assimilate opposition as terrorism, keeps suppressing their pacific protests through brutal, military-styled actions. In this radio station, they prefer to focus on the violence than on the legitimate requests of protestors. I swear each time they do that, while my skin boils under hot water.
I sit in one of the faculty’s rooms. When I turn on my laptop, I see that my mother has sent me a link to the transcript of a speech by Gabriel García Márquez. It begins with a quote from Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”:
“all these tempests that fall upon us are signs that fair weather is coming shortly, and that things will go well with us, for it is impossible for good or evil to last forever; and hence it follows that the evil having lasted long, the good must be now nigh at hand.”
This apparently flawed logic is what allows me, and many of my compatriots, to remain deeply optimistic. Back home, every disgrace adds to the promise of a heyday that we still have to see.
It is lunch time and I am in the kitchen, watching an interview of Pepe Mujica, former president of Uruguay. There’s a moment when the interviewer asks him how he sees Europe. “Europe has the suffering of having been, and not being anymore. Having been the epicentre of civilisation and having the tragedy of perceiving that this is slipping away. […] For now, I see it quite bogged down.” I nod as tasteless chicken enters my stomach.
I am back in the faculty. A classmate from Kenya sits in front of me. I ask him if he wants to stay or go back, and he tells me that he plans to return. The conversation flows as a tropical conspiracy:
“I feel that here you must be a part of a tradition that will tell you what to do and how to do it.”
“Yeah. You have to pay a price if you stay here. You have to be a cog in a wheel.”
“Also, I think Europe has stopped producing new ideas.”
“Oh yes, a long time ago. They haven’t done it since the Industrial revolution.”
“And there is something else about staying. You can be very comfortable here. And the fear of losing your comfort is crippling… then you will be too afraid to go back.”
Gabriele, an Italian-Dutch colleague, is usually amongst the last students to leave the Urbanism studio. While walking away from the faculty, we discuss our plans after graduation. We agree on how the Netherlands might be the right place to provide economic prosperity, but not a sense of purpose. “A Latin person can only live in the Netherlands for a limited time,” he says. Different mundane reasons create this sense of alienation: the food, the landscape you see from the train’s window, a particular notion of elegance…
I am sitting in the dining room. The article I’m reading is telling the story of a group of Misak people, indigenous from the south of Colombia, who have been throwing down statues of Spanish conquerors in different cities of the country. The last one was in Bogotá’s centre. Although the debate could focus on the legitimacy of their action, what intrigues me, what makes me feel hopeful, is the prospect of the discussion about the new monument that will replace it. In Latin America, questions are perpetually unanswered, and searches matter more than solutions. For definitive solutions, there is Europe.
I lie in my bed, again. I reflect on the whole stay-or-go-back conundrum. I know my desire to return is fuelled by an optimistic idealisation of my hometown and an inversely proportional pessimistic view of the foreign land. Yes, there might be a middle way, but I am a radical. Renouncing to Colombia is renouncing myself. Disliking the Netherlands was always an exercise of dignity and, in truth, there is nothing for me here.
Come on, don’t be so bitter. There must be something nice you can say about these years.