© 2018 by Conquered by Colombia.

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Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Of the kind that you wake from in a cold sweat.

Henry Price's 'View of Rionegro' from 1852.

Entering the village, I am trying to park my car, but all the roadworks are preventing me from finding my old carpark. Time is running out, but now it is unclear wherever I have become the car or simply abandoned it in the road somewhere. It's still dark. I thought I knew the way.

I keep running - at the speed of my car - so that my body is able to fly at huge speed through morning traffic and past the gentrifying village / town / city. Is it a town? No, it's may be even a city, but it still feels like a village. There are various blocks in the road, those red ones that prevent your every way in Colombia and change on a daily basis. There is a bakery but I'm not hungry anymore. Anyway, every second counts. 

Now there is a kind of blockade made of female Colombian traffic police. They look at me and what I am wearing, unable to make sense of my choice of outfit. One lady, who is morphing into a traffic cone shouts at me in paisa Spanish, seeming to despise me: "Señora! You can't park your fancy Medellín car here!" But I thought I had left my car already and streets away. Am I still driving it and not aware of being inside? Am I now half human, half car?

Another lady / traffic cone contradicts her, trying to take pity on me and be helpful. What I initially hear her say gently is something about how I should park near the Bolívar. This enrages me. "Park near the Bolívar! Never! I would rather die than park in a space named after such a tyrant!" I yell at her, yet somehow I know that she is a kind of guardian angel trying to show me 'the answer' to my problem. Did she mean instead 'go to the park where there is the Bolívar'? It wasn't clear to me if she was speaking English or Spanish anymore.

I am still running, and the landscape is now becoming a kind of rural football pitch. It's misty and semi-dark everywhere, indicative of early morning but also busy and appearing to me from a vantage point both above and below. The light is peculiar and more like English light than Colombian light. It is gradual, and not at all like the way dawn happens in a country on the equator. 

I begin inspecting the men who are playing football. They are all Colombian men of different skin colours and hair textures, and I ask them to pull up their shirts so that I can examine them for distinguishing marks on their bodies. They do this as though my request is perfectly normal, but I don't find the person I am looking for amongst them, and I am bothered that none of them arouse me despite their physical beauty. "¡Ay, no!" I say in an anglo-paisa accent, as each one returns to playing football, adding, "Colombian men don't smell like English men," which makes them laugh but not blush. English men would have blushed, I think to myself. 

And now there is a song stuck in my head. It was there before but it's suddenly got so loud I cannot stand it. It's by Ana y Jaime and the music is nice, but when hear the word 'fusil' (rifle), I get concerned that if other people can hear what I can hear in my own head they might think I am part of a guerilla group. Then I could be in danger. It's a conservative part of the country I am in, at least in terms of administration, not in terms of history, and I feel this intuitively in the atmosphere of this place. Liberal on the inside, conservative on the outside: nothing is as it looks in this village / town city.

The main plaza of the village / town / city is now visible as the mist begins to clear, and it's very Spanish looking. There is now only a skeleton of it left, mainly around the church, and it is pristine white but for the church, which has sections of its roof scarlet red. It's not that it's been restored, it's just that it is in it's original state from the town of it's founding. Perhaps I have gone back in time - but no - it is rather that I see it as though it is still late 1600s. A few Spanish houses sitting incomplete in naked around a dusty square. My eyes don't see buildings as they are now, but as they were when they were built, despite living in 2019. It is as though I have some magical kind of spectacles which enable me to see how things were.

Somehow, I do not go to the plaza. I think I am avoiding it for some reason I do not understand. Wouldn't it be the most obvious place? But I'm not going there. It's off bounds. And I find myself in a side street where now the architecture has gone somewhat English but again from another era. It's in perfect condition and black and white, like a photograph. There are signs everywhere which contradict one another, and this is more like something Colombian. 'I must take photographs of this!' I think to myself, stunned that no one seems to have ever found this part of town before. 'It's beautiful. And it's weird. Why has no one else ever found this here? Why can't they see what I see?'

But there is no time. I have to keep running. I never seem to tire of running, and it's just normal for me to be at this speed, even though I know it is not normal for other people. This song is getting louder and louder in my head and I don't know what to do about it, if anything.

"Niña!" (girl) shouts a street vendor who is definitely paisa. He has a thin white ruana over one shoulder, a checkered blouse in need of repair, and the kind of ill-fitting trousers that betray poverty.

"Yes?" I reply. I'm a rush. Can't he see? In fact now I know in my head that I only have until 8.00am. When school will start. But I'm an adult! Why would I have to go to school? Am I a teacher?

"Listen. If you want to get rid of that song in your head, just take this modern pill / cake."

"Yeh? Does it really work? "

"With one hundred percent guarantee. You'll be free of it. I promise. And it works instantly. You'll see."

I know that he is lying because 'there is no cure for what I have', and paisa people will say anything to sell you something, however the fact that he knew I was hearing the song without me telling him confirms to me that other people know I am hearing this song, and this might put me in danger. I decide that the pill / cake is worth a try, and that the man is poor. I think of it as a kind of charity.

Ancient remedies for illnesses and sufferings at the 'Casa de los Abuelos' (Museum of Our Grandfather's houses), Sonsón, Antioquia, Colombia.

Of course the pill / cake does not work. I feel no anger, though, only rage that the man was so poor despite being such a hard worker and was so old it was clear he would never afford a retirement. I also believe an older remedy could have worked, but no one remembers the wisdom of their ancestors here anymore. I conclude 'sometimes the cure is to surrender', and this kind of cure is always herbal and placebo in nature if it has any physical reality. All cures are placebo driven.

So I run on, accepting 'this song is going to be in my head for life, and possibly even beyond and throughout death'. I find myself at a set of ancient gates to the old part of the city but they are more like Medieval English gates and not Colombian at all. Where am I? This anglo-colombian historic town is like nowhere else on earth but I seem to know my way around.

'I have to get through the gate', I know. But every way is blocked. Crowds of women are trying to get to work through one dark wooden door. Another is locked. Others are being restored but the funds have run out. They'll never be ready in time for 8.00am! I realise that the only way through is via the door underneath the gate where the secret political meetings are held. Is it the mayor's office?

Medieval gate in Abingdon, England. The town of my childhood and adolescence.

I immerse myself in the crowd of government clerics who enter the chamber of political decision making. There is a half square formation of tables with little glasses of water ready for a meeting, but despite the crowds outside, no one but me is inside yet. I try to walk through without being seen, but various voices belonging to no one greet me from odd ankles "good morning Emma!". They know who I am. I can't see any of them. but they've seen me before. 'What if they hear the song in my head?' I keep asking myself. It's worrying if the local government can read my mind. But they seem to like me. At least from the tone of their voices. It's confusing. Is it that they are interpreting the song differently? But maybe it is all just part of their plan.

I'm outside the city gates now. I made it! Now all I have to do is get to a rougher part of the town. A modern part. Can I remember the way? If I can look it up on google maps then maybe. But I have no internet access! Damn! And I only have five minutes until 8.00am! 'We used to go to school together', I realize. 'And I don't want to bump into this person at school, but I still don't know what school really is.'

I start to wonder if it's not really a traditional school we went / go to, but instead the destiny implantation center: where as a teenager you receive a special training which enables you to identify your correct path(s) and persons in life later on. I begin to wonder if I have been expelled for not putting what I learnt into practice, or whether being expelled meant I never received the correct training at all. It's important that I know, because perhaps I can go back to school and learn the lesson I missed and solve the problem I am in a rush to remedy... but then... 

I wake up; the song still fixed in my mind like a compass.

My bedroom window with a view over the Eastern Antioquian countryside.

Two thoughts upon waking

As time goes by, my dreaming landscape has changed substantially. Living in England, my dreaming landscape was mainly English, although I had infrequent dreams of nineteen thirties Indo-China, which always disturbed and puzzled me. Since living in Colombia, I dream mainly of a landscape which resembles Colombia. 

What strikes me about this dream of last night, is the curious fusion of the Colombian village with English aspects. I interpret this as a more authentic embrace of my two cultures, since I increasingly accept that my Englishness is present in my Colombian experience, and cannot be shut out or discarded. That said, the two have now kind of blended, so that a new culture has been created inside of me that only I can experience. This strange anglo-paisa world, where I wear black velvet riding jackets and a carriel together, because it feels 'right', and the only aesthetic I can experience as truly 'mine', is still strange to the traffic women, who look unlike me, and are dissociative in their response to my plight. 

Depiction of a Colombian couple coming from differing ethnicities; she is mixed indigenous (mestiza caste), and he is European (white caste).

Despite speaking Spanish, for me listening to songs with Spanish lyrics is more of a musical experience than one in which I listen to the lyrics for meaning. Listening to the words requires a great deal of effort on my part, and so even songs I am familiar with musically I might have little knowledge as to what they 'say'.

The Ana y Jaime song in my dream turned out to be 'Dispersos', which in English might be translated as the Separated or Divided ones. (I will insert the lyrics and a translation below). Many psychologists and experts on dreaming take the view that a song in a dream is not a random presence. The song in question is about people who really ought to join together and take on some kind of fight to reclaim Colombian patrimony but instead they are separated by petty quarrels leading only to their suffering. Of course, this song hails from the 1970s, and speaks of an era when support for the guerrilla movements had a different 'smell' about it. Back then, after the 1960s and with the hope for incoming 'peace and love', the guerrilla was less associated with drug trafficking and kidnap for ransom, and by some at least more as a kind of hope for social-justice change in the the near future. Few share this view now, given that no one is untouched by this war in our Colombia.

1970s Colombia. Two indigenous Emberá men in western clothing.

I had thought, until recently, that I was largely untouched by the civil conflict, having never lost a family member or been stopped at a roadblock and left to tremble by the roadside. That was until I had a meltdown at the end of December in a hotel in Sonsón. I realize now that as well as my own response to the injustices I see in Colombia, I am affected by proxy through the Colombians I have relationships with. I was watching the local television station TV Sonsón with someone and all it consisted in was live black and white footage of the main plaza at night after dark as 2018 drew to a close. Nothing was happening at all, there was only the sight of my parked car, the intermittent church bell and the odd peasant drunk and walking past the indigenous woman homeless on the pavement. The television footage was so benign, that I unravelled at the lie. The lie which revealed the truth. A perverse realism. 

I said: "I was so naïve. I thought everything was going to change."

He said: "Yes, you were. But it's okay."

I said: "It's not okay. I thought this time peace and love would happen."

He said: "I know you did. Don't let it get to you."

I said: "But it already has." I began to cry.

He said, quite matter of factly: "You know that I respect you too much to console you. You are upset because you're not used to level of injustice. I am. It's always been like this, Emma. You know the things I've told you about. The awful things. Things women shouldn't know about or see. I don't expect so much from this country as you do. You're coming from England. Where things are different. It's better for me and for you that you don't have memories of these things. That's why I don't tell you everything."

I said: "That guy walking past my car on the TV right now. He has no shoes. Look."

He said: "Ah huh."

I said: "It's not right!"

He said: "No, it's not right."

I said: "Sometimes I can't stand this injustice!"

He said: "Good!"

I said: "The election was so depressing. The first bit was bad, and then the second bit."

He said: "I know. But it will work out better in the long run. Have some more rum. It's so cold here. You'll get ill if you don't drink."

I said: "How?"

He said: "Young people don't want this war anymore. Things are changing, more than you know, but will it take another four or eight years. People won't elect these kinds of people forever, because the fan base will die out."

I said: "A mule is now trying to have sex with my car." TV Sonsón finally had some action.

He said: "Let him try, I say. Let the fool try."

I said: "I hope you're right about the war. I should have parked somewhere else. I'll get a ticket tomorrow."

He said: "Don't worry. Go to sleep. The virgin de arma is protecting us. Don't you believe me?"

I said: "Yes, I do."

He said: "I can't stand you when you don't trust me. There is no protection on earth beyond the virgin de arma. Sleep. The reason you're not asleep already is because you have to trust someone to fall asleep around them."

I lied to myself and said: "It's because the church bells are too loud. How can people sleep through them? It's the priest's revenge - for the fact people drink so much here and the prostitutes in the Street of Sin."

He said: "Of course not. The priest is their probably their best customer. You need to learn to trust." 

I sat there awake for a long time, watching the mule trying to seduce my Suzuki. My companion was already deep asleep, snoring and dreaming and dribbling. Hispanic people have a gene passed down through the generations which enables them to sleep through Catholicism and its bells, I thought, that was until I realised that - yes - I need to learn to trust and not resist a fate that frightens me.