“Living in another country is always going to be a good thing.”
It’s a wet, steamy evening in Soho, Hong Kong. Typhoon Utor is on its way and by 2 am, the city will be on a Typhoon Warning 8. For the time being, there’s still a birthday dinner and drinks to squeeze out of the evening.
“But up to a point,” continues our friend from the other side of our table at the Peruvian restaurant we had chosen for dinner. ”At some point, your going to start getting diminishing returns on that risk.”
Suddenly, soaring across Bogota’s sabana two weeks before aboard Avianca 20 seems more than worlds away. Moving country happened quickly, effortlessly: it was too easy for the size of the task.
There were smiles, clean lines of lipstick and hair pulled tightly into firm buns as we finally made it onto the plane, the modernity of which clearly marked by the fading mood lighting. Warm glowing orange, and then a cool blue-green as the plane made it into the early stages of its cruise.
It was Colombia on its international, best behaviour. For some, those first few moments aboard an international Avianca flight might be the first crucial impressions visitors would have of Colombia, or the last contact others would have for extended periods of time.
Interactive entertainment system, fresh hot towels and a late night snack – it was hard to not see this level of service with the same level of appreciation as one might on board some of the more revered international carriers: Emirates, Singapore, Cathay. It was, beyond doubt, indicative of the comfort and luxury relatively few Colombians will ever know, all the while Colombia’s international conscience echoing Take note: We can do this. We are here, we will be heard. You will see.
My time in Colombia has been marked by experiences at extremes of a continuum, from those that you would never wish upon another person, to those that both define the potential the country has, and the hope and visions its people have for the not-too-distant future. It seems only a matter of time before those dreams and visions become ever so subtly more frequent in their reality. But there were also reminders of the other Colombia. The one that gives “diminishing returns”.
“Can I have my bottle filled up with water? No…no…filled…filled, please…with water?”
“Oh my colleague will come and help in in a second.”
“Can I have my bottle filled with water, please?”
“Yes just give me a second.”
It may seem small, and it was. A small reminder that my time in Colombia was done.
There are so many things I did not have the opportunity to do and experience, and so many things I wish and hope for Bogota and Colombia, just as 44 million others in the world do too.
As Tom Feiling eloquently puts it, in his attempt to answer how contemporary Colombia has come to this point and this state of affairs, in his book Short Walks from Bogota, “As the most unequal country in the most unequal continent in the world, what is to be expected from a republic were every man calls “master” any individual whiter or better dressed than himself? (p18/26): not much more than a pure, old-fashioned class-based war and a country governed by the elite few of one city, whose generations have created a self fulfilling prophecy of distrust, dysfunction and gross indifference to strangers (p. 23).
I think, on some level, I associate my threshold of diminishing returns with an inability to fully understand and appreciate the struggle that has brought Colombia to where it is today – at least from a street level or day-to-day perspective. And I by no means wish to imply that I regret being there and meeting the wonderful people that we did. Colombia is a very interesting place to be right now, and there is no shortage of people who do and enjoy the unpredictability that living long-term in a developing country brings. I suppose I am just not one of them.