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Benjamin, the ex-guerrilla

Together with us, Benis and this Arhuaco family was also Benjamin, a motorcycle courier who had requested to have a minute of our time after the tour of the farm, to ask a couple of questions. He was young, and looked healthy, happy and full of energy. “Of course!” we said, “any and all questions welcome!”. “I wanted to ask, since you come from Europe which is a part of the world where there is opportunity, if it is not too much of an annoyance, I wanted to ask if you know how someone like me could travel there to look for work and education, since there is none in this country.” Our hearts sank, and we were left speechless for a moment. He went on: “You see, I am a victim of the conflict and I have lost everything. Both my parents died when I was 8 years old, and most of my siblings as well. I am not from here, I am from the Santander department. When I was 8 years old, armed groups recruited me, and I was a soldier for many years. I had no freedom, no education, I only had to obey whatever I was told. Those who disobeyed were killed. I have survived two bullets. And then, when I was dismissed, I picked coca leaves. There are no opportunities in this country for someone who was a member of the guerrilla, so now I just do moto-taxi. If this country really wanted peace, really wanted development, then they would invest in education, they would invest in work opportunities, but they don’t, and people like me are left to do nothing. I don’t see myself being a nobody. I have ambition, but I want to go away. Over there I could learn and become a great coffee importer and make money.” His face now was serious, but composed. One could not have imagined that the smiling, jovial boy of a half hour earlier had such a terrible story behind him. Whatever came out of our mouths was utterly inadequate, which we let him know before we said anything, but tried to convey the importance to continue fighting for the land, for dignity and for justice, and that after all, most people who lived in the global north ended up being unhappy anyways, even when surrounded by money and comforts, being so estranged from nature. It was incredibly hard, however, to respond sincerely knowing full well that for a 22 year old ex guerrilla without any documentation it would be next to impossible to travel to Europe. He showed us his scars. One was on his head, a bullet which miraculously shaved his scalp instead of centering his forehead. The other was a perfect circular wound on the side of his spine, on the lower back, a bullet that somehow avoided every nerve he needed to keep walking on his own two legs. Before we left with our embarrassed responses and a heartfelt hug, we took Bejamin’s number. He did not have an email address, nor any social media account. He gifted us with a small book, titled “For a Better Future” and with a poporo, a ritual object sacred to the Tayrona peoples. We encouraged him to go back to school and to accumulate good references and work experiences, so that if the time ever came for him to travel, we could welcome him for a trial shift with The Colombian Coffee Company. Hopefully he can figure out how to find us, because we have not been able to contact him again.

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