Time To Know What Peace Feels Like

By bogotapost August 20, 2014

8338632159_43283a6af5_oA frank and open reflection on the meaning of peace and the impact of death from our columnist Adriaan Alsema


I’ve never been much of a pacifist really, I mean, I had my phases of pacifism when I was 16 or so, but I soon convinced myself that sometimes people have to die or be killed as a sacrifice in service of the lives of others.

Moreover, growing up in the Netherlands, I associated terms like “peace” mostly with hippies who I never had much sympathy for, except for the girls. “Peace” was a phrase that conjured images of necklaces, tacky t-shirts, and blonde hippie chicks.

I never really appreciated life either- I mean, I was surrounded by life in abundance. In the 32 years I spent in the Netherlands I only went to a handful of funerals. Everybody I ever knew, minus my grandparents and one aunt, is alive today.

However, one death I witnessed – that of a 12-year-old boy – was particularly impactful.

This one kid’s death made me seriously doubt the purpose of everything. Was there a reason for the kid’s death? Why was he born in the first place? Why was I born? Why do I invest in my future if life may cease to exist tomorrow?

Call me a sentimental pussy, but do you see how much impact just one death can have on a normal person’s life if it’s either unnatural or premature?

More importantly, I haven’t buried one single old person, just young guys. Not one of the deaths was natural. They were all homicides

Never mind that the kid wasn’t even family, he was just the brother of a girl I was going out with at the time.

Colombia’s been very different for me. In the six years I’ve been here I’ve attended almost as many funerals and memorial services as in the 32 years in my home country. More importantly, I haven’t buried one single old person, just young guys. Not one of the deaths was natural. They were all homicides.

Each of these premature, unnatural deaths has affected me in exactly the same way as the death of that 12-year-old boy. With each death, my sense of purpose diminished and I have felt less and less motivated to invest in my own life. I have grown increasingly conscious of my own impending death and have had trouble fighting cynicism as a direct consequence of these killings.

As in the case of the kid in my homeland, none of these deaths were family or close friends, they were just guys I worked with, acquaintances, or family members of friends I made here.

Due to my work as a journalist I have had the misfortune of witnessing even more death.

Once I broke down in tears when I was interviewing a mother whose 15-year-old daughter had been disappeared and was assumed murdered. I cried again last night when I heard a colleague was assassinated, leaving a wife and an eight-year-old child.

Just like I can’t imagine having been born in war, no Colombian can imagine living in peace unless they emigrated

I’m thirty-fucking-eight now. I’m too old to be crying and I’m too young to be a cynic. I’ve also only been in Colombia for six years. Then again, how am I supposed to react, for example, to a meter-long coffin made for a two-year-old girl killed by a rebel mortar?

I can’t imagine what it is like having been born here. Born in 1975, I would’ve been born into war. In fact, I would’ve lived my entire life in war and would have had to go on holiday abroad to find out what peace feels like.

I would’ve buried a lot more people. I would be crying more than I am now and would even more profoundly doubt the purpose of life. I would possibly be even more cynical than many of my Colombian friends.

Just like I can’t imagine having been born in war, no Colombian can imagine living in peace unless they emigrated.

For those who haven’t, it’s actually quite simple; it’s when people suddenly stop dying all the time. It’s when families stop being destroyed and plunged into misery because the provider gets killed. It’s when six million Colombians can go home.

Basically, it’s when the fucking government and the fucking FARC finally agree to remove this sword of Damocles dangling above our heads and we can live without anxiety and grief and cynicism and fear.

I regret not always having been a pacifist. I was wrong. It took a lot of deaths before I  realized this.


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 03.26.02Adriaan Alsema is the founder and editor-in-chief of Colombia Reports, South America’s largest news website in English. Born and raised a Dutchman, Alsema has been living in Colombia since 2008.

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