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In a previous episode of The Colombia Cast, the ‘Colombianised’ British-born historian Malcolm Deas said, in response to a question about his love for Colombia: ‘One doesn’t love countries, one loves people and dogs and cats and that sort of thing.’
I get where he’s coming from to some extent. It’s not the country in terms of its institutions and general modus operandi that people come to love.
Fair enough, those of a certain disposition may indeed become enamoured with the state, especially if they find favourable tax laws, see it as being well organised, affordable and safe with a fantastic health system, things along those lines.
Failed state, fine land
Nonetheless, such pull factors don’t tend to set the heart racing, leaving us weak at the knees. They’re also not perpetual.
Now if we take the above in relation to Colombia, it doesn’t score well at all. Indeed as a foreigner, if these were make-or-break issues, you’d have to question why you’re here when you don’t have to be.
‘I do like Colombia, in terms of its landscape that is to say.’
For example, personally speaking in any case, I don’t love the inequality and the many ways it manifests itself, the public transport (from a Bogotá perspective anyway), the often irrational bureaucracy and the not-being-paid-for-services-rendered (hint, hint Semana, and to a lesser extent this publication, although I am perhaps the bigger fool, especially in relation to the former; I’m currently looking to rectify that).
Moreover, and more tellingly as this brings it into the realm of reasons why one should «love» where they are, I’m not a fan of the interesadas (gold-diggers), the ubiquitous lying, the regular inept service in so many spheres and the excessive national pride — ‘Colombia is the best country in the world, with the friendliest people’ — that overlooks all the other shortcomings mentioned.
Te amo Colombia
It’s here where I depart somewhat from Deas’ assertion that ‘one doesn’t love countries’. You see, I do like — I rarely use the word «love» for anything — the country itself. I like its geographical area and all the many wonders contained within it — I just don’t explore them as much as I should really.
I like power-walking on a daily basis at 2,600 metres-above-sea-level because, perhaps misguidedly, I think it’s good for my overall health, the frequent air-quality issues notwithstanding.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than just the topography. As I’ve oft-written about, I do enjoy the barrios populares and some of the characters that frequent them, even if they may be doing me more harm than good.
‘With time, the infuriating practices of some Colombians might change.’
I like being what I’ll call a light-touch local in Bogotá. The city has been home now for well over eight years, so in many aspects I feel as much a part of it as anyone. Yet at the same time, I am an outsider, a northern European outsider, and that is an advantage for the most part.
So, as I yet again contemplate my Colombian future, perhaps «loving» the country, the territory it occupies, the natural landscape, is the most important thing.
The infuriating, irrational practices of a not-insignificant number of its inhabitants, emanating from the top and flowing down to the bottom rungs, maybe these will change for the better in the not-too-distant future.
You see, despite what my «B negative» blood type might insinuate, I am an optimist at heart.
Listen to The Colombia Cast podcast here.