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This is simply a translation of Ingrid Betancourt’s letter to her mother. It was published today in El Tiempo newspaper of Bogotá. Why translate it? Because I know many do not speak Spanish and therefore the audience of her intimate and powerful letter can be increased by seeking more English-speaking readers. Others who know other languages may translate it for others, as well as place their translation within their blogs. Perhaps this will bring more attention to our plight as Colombians, and perhaps the prayers of more and more will give her —and all the other secuestrados— the necessary strength to live through her/their ordeal. Betancourt was kidnapped by the infamous FARC in 2002 and only recently was a video released which showed she was still alive. For her biography see: here . The letter itself in Spanish is here.

(Note: I translate it as I am an official translator both in Canada and in Colombia; But MUCH more importantly because I feel deeply for those who remain kidnapped in our dear Colombia. For my constant interest see some very basic tributes here and here. )

“We live dead here.”

“This is a difficult moment for me. They ask for proofs of survival and here I am writing this letter in which I spill my soul unto paper. I am physically in bad shape. I have not kept on eating, my appetite has left me, my hair falls off in great quantities.

I have lost the desire for everything. I think that that is the only thing that is right, I desire nothing because here in the jungle the answer to everything is no”. It is best, then, not to want anything so that one can at least free oneself from one’s desires. I have been asking for an encyclopedic dictionary to read something, to learn something, to keep intellectual curiosity going. I keep on waiting that perhaps out of compassion they will provide me with one, but it is best not to think about that.

From there on anything else is a miracle, even listening to you in the mornings because the radio I have is too old and broken down.

I want to ask you, dear mother, to tell the children that I want them to send three messages per week (…) nothing transcendental, but anything they can and which they can imagine … I need nothing more, but I need to be in contact with them, the rest does not matter anymore. (…)

As I said to you before, life here is not life, it is just a terrible waste of time. I live or merely survive in an hammock hanging from two posts, covered by a mosquito net and with a tent on top which serves as a roof. With this I can say I have a house.

I have a cabinet where I place my equipment, that is to say, my backpack with my clothes and the Bible which is my sole luxury. Everything ready if one has to start to run. Here nothing is one’s own, here nothing lasts. The only constant thing is uncertainty and precariousness. Any moment they can give the order to pack and to sleep in any hole, lying anywhere with any animal (…) my hands sweat and my mind becomes clouded and I end up doing things two times more slowly. Hikes are a torture because my equipment is too heavy and I can’t carry it (…) but everything is stressful, my things are lost or taken away, like the blue-jean that Mela had given me for Christmas, the one with which they caught me. The only thing I have been able to save is my jacket; that has been a blessing, because the nights are freezing cold and I have had nothing else to cover myself with.

Before I used to enjoy each bath in the river. As I am the only woman of the group, I had to bathe practically with all my clothes on; shorts, bra, t-shirt, boots. Before I used to like to swim in the river, today I do not even have the strength for that. I am weak and cold, I look like a cat approaching water. I, who have loved water so much, cannot even recognize myself. (…) But ever since they separated the groups, I have not had the energy for anything. I stretch a bit because stress blocks my neck and it hurts a lot.

With the stretching exercises, the split and others, I manage to alleviate the tension in my neck (…) I try to keep quiet, I speak very little so as to try to avoid problems. The presence of a woman amongst so many prisoners who have been held in captivity for 8 to 10 years is a problem (…) When one is searched they take away the things one loves the most. A letter that arrived from you they took away after the last proof of survival in 2003. The drawings by Natasha and Stanis, the photos of Mela and Loli, the prayer necklace of my father, a governing programme with 190 points; everything they took away. Everyday there is less of me left. Some details Pinchao has told you. Everything is tough.

It is important that you dedicate these lines to those people who are my oxygen and my life. Those who keep my head above the water, which help me not to drown in forgetfulness, in nothingness and in despair. They are you, my children, Astrica and my little ones, Fab, aunt Nancy and Juangui.

Everyday I am in contact with God, Jesus and the Virgin (…) here everything has two faces, happiness comes around and then pain. Happiness here is sad. Love alleviates but opens new injuries … it is to live and die again. For years I could not think about the children and the pain of my father’s death was almost the last straw. I cried thinking about them, I felt I was asphyxiating, that I could not breathe. I said to myself: “Fab is there, he is taking care of everything, you must not think about it nor think.” I almost went crazy with the death of my father. I never knew how it happened, who was there, if he left a message, a letter, a blessing. But that which has calmed this torment is to know that he left us trusting in God and that I will hug him there. Of that I am sure. Feeling your strength has been my strength. I never saw messages until I was united with Lucho, Luis Eladio Pérez, on the 22 of August 2003. We were true friends and were separated in August. But throughout all that time he was my shoulder, my shield and my brother. (…).

I carry with time the memory of the age of each of my children. Each birthday I sing their Happy Birthday. I always ask them to allow me to bake a cake. But for the last three years the reply has always been no. Nonetheless, if they bring a cookie or any rice or bean soup, which is usually what happens, I imagine it to be a cake and I celebrate their birthday in my heart.

To my Melelinga (Melanie); my spring sunshine, my princess from the constellation of the swan, to her whom I adore so much, I want to tell you that I am the proudest mother on earth (…) and if I had to die to day I would leave my life thanking God for my children. I am very happy with her Masters in NY. That is exactly what I would have advised (…) But take note, it is very important that she do her DOCTORATE. In the world today, even to breathe one must have credentials (…) I will not tire of insisting to Loli (Lorenzo) and Mela that they not stop until they have obtained their PhD . I wish Mela would promise me with that. (…).

I have always told you that you are the best, much better than I am, something like the best version of what I would like to be. That is why, with the experience that I have accumulated through life, I ask you my life to prepare yourself in order to reach the top.

To my Lorenzo, my Loli Pop, my angel of light, my king of blue waters, my head musician who sings and enchants me, the owner of my heart, I want to tell him that from the day of his birth up to today he has been a fountain of joy. Everything that comes from him soothes my soul. Everything comforts me, everything gives me peace. (…) I could finally hear his voice a few times this year. I trembled with emotion. It is the voice of my Loli, the voice of my boy, but there is another man now over the voice of my little boy. A deep voice of a real man, like that of my father (…)

Your life awaits you all, try to reach as high as possible, to learn is to grow, not only because of what one learns intellectually, but also because of the human experience, the people surrounding you which provides emotional sustenance to have greater control over oneself each day, and spiritually, to mold a greater character of service towards others, where ego is reduced to its most minimal expression and one grows in humility and moral fortitude. One goes with the other. That is to live, to grow up to serve. (…)

To my dearest Sebastian, my little prince of stellar and ancestral voyages. So much that I want to say to him! First, that I do not want to leave this world before he has the knowledge, the certainty and the confirmation that there are not 2, but 3 children of my soul (…) But for him I will have to un-knot years of silence which weigh upon me much since captivity. I have decided that my favourite colour is the blue of his eyes (…) Just in case I do not leave this place, I write it down so that you can keep it in your soul, m cherished Babon, and so that you might understand, that I understood when your brothers were born, and it is that I have always loved you as the son that you are and that God gave me. The rest are only formalities. .

I know that Fab has suffered because of me (…) Tell Fab that in him I rest, over his shoulders I cry, in him I lean so that can continue smiling out of sadness, his love makes me strong. Because he is there for the necessities of my children, I can cease breathing without life hurting so much (…)

To my Astrica, so many things that I do not know where to begin. Perhaps to tell her that her “little resume” saved me during the first year I was kidnapped, during the year in which I grieved for my father. (…) I need to talk to her about all these moments and to hug her and cry until I run clear out of tears in my body. In everything that I do she is there as a reference. I always think, “We did that with Astrid when we were small” or “Astrid did this better than I did” (…) I have heard her several times on radio. I feel great admiration for her impeccable manner of expression, for the quality of her reflections, for the control over her emotions, for the elegance of her sentiments. I hear her and think: “I want to be like that.” (…) I imagine how they enjoy things with Anastasia and Stanis (Ingrid’s niece and nephew) . How it hurt me that they took away their drawings. The poem by Anastasia read: “through a lucky touch, through a magical touch or a touch by God, in three years or three days you will be again with us.” And the drawing by Stanis was a rescue through helicopters, I sleeping in a confined space (caleta) just like the ones here, and he was my Saviour.

Mom, there are so many people to thank for remembering us, for not abandoning us. For a long time we have been like the leppars who make every dance an ugly event, us captives are not a “politically correct” topic, it is much better to say that one has to be strong with the guerrillas without sacrificing some human lives. Before these ideas, silence. Only time can open consciousness and elevate the spirit. I think about the grandeur of the United States, for example. That greatness is not due to the richness of lands or raw materials, etc., but the result of the spiritual greatness of the leaders who molded their Nation. When Lincoln defended the right to life and liberty of the enslaved blacks of America, he also confronted many Floridas and Praderas…. But Lincoln won and there remained impressed in the collective of that country the priority of human life over any other interest.

In Colombia we still have to think where we come from, who we are and where we want to head. I wish one day we will feel that thirst fro grandeur which allows peoples to surge from nothing to the very sun. When we will be much less conditional towards the defense of the life and the liberty of those who are ours, that is to say, when we are less individualistic and more solidarious, less indifferent and more committed, less intolerant and more compassionate. Then, that day, we will be that great country we all wish we were. That greatness is lying asleep in our hearts. But our hearts have hardened and they weigh so much they do not allow for higher sentiments. But there are a lot of people I wish to thank because they are contributing to awaken the spirit and grandeur of Colombia…

For many years I have thought than as long as I am alive, as long as I keep on breathing, I must always keep hope. I no longer have the same strength, it is much more difficult for me to believe, but I wanted you to feel that what you all have done has made the difference. We have felt human (…) Dear mother, I still would have many other things to tell you. Explain to you that for a long time I have not had news from Clara and her baby (…) Alright, mommy. God help us, guide us, give us patience and embrace us. Forever and ever.”


__________________________________________

The original letter in Spanish reads; (more…)

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Horses 1

Some time has passed since my father’s untimely death. Since then an epitaph has been chosen to be placed near his resting place deep inside a uniquely beautiful natural area within the Andean mountains of our dear Colombia. Surrounded by the nature he loved, he will surely rest in peace. The epitaph chosen, translated into English reads something like this: ”We will always have you in our hearts.” My mother, who spent most of her life beside him even when separated, approved those words. This alone speaks of their great importance.

Although this is quite a nice and simple epitaph, and in fact shows the importance of remembering the love one carries within for those who depart, I think it has some limitations. Perhaps by looking at its limitations we can become more aware of what an epitaph is for and what are the hidden possibilities within for diverse epitaphs. Maybe then we will be better prepared to engage in the reflective process which is behind the selection of those epitaphs with which we will honor the passing through life of those close to us. Perhaps it will even allow us to set out what epitaph will appear above our very own gravestones someday.

The three limitations to this epitaph are as follows: 1. it speaks more of “us” than the person who has died, namely, our father (it says “we” and “our hearts”, instead of “him” and “his heart”); 2. it is the kind of epitaph that could be placed in many tombs, so that the particularity and uniqueness of my father (and he was quite unique, I tell you!) is quite lost, and finally, 3. it tries to convince us that the aim of an epitaph is to touch our emotions primarily and only secondarily our capacity for reflection and creative imagination which are among the highest faculties we possess as human beings. In contrast, I think an epitaph should: 1. speak primarily about the person him/herself who has died, 2. reveal him or her in a special light using the expressive power of language, and finally, 3. should not primarily focus on the emotions, specially if these have not been articulated in the life of the members of these families, but should point towards reflection and the need we have of such reflection in order to guarantee a certain true and honest legacy of the person who has died. How could one come up with such an epitaph?

First off, by looking at the many famous ones which many others have used to remind us of those who were found to be memorable. One can in turn try to relate some of them to the close loved person who has died. In the case of my father two such realms come to mind. On the one hand, the serious type of epitaphs which are usually used for those who have dedicated their lives to the political or public life. The single most famous example of this type of epitaph can be seen in the words found at Thermopylae, words recently beautifully and powerfully recovered in the movie the 300:

“Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.”

At the very least these soldiers asked of their kin not to forget the sacrifice they endured in order to try to secure the lawful freedom of those intimately close they left behind. Another such powerful example of an epitaph that in its simplicity touches us like few can, is the one found at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. It reads: “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Its power lies precisely in that usually we bury those who are known to us, here the words remind us that many die in anonymity. This epitaph stands against the injustice of such anonymous deaths.

A second realm which could apply to my father would be a more ironic and fun-spirited one. Usually it is artists who have the strength to come up with such kinds of epitaphs. Given my father’s unique sense of humor, one could eventually think of an epitaph such as one which Hemingway once proposed and which reads:

“Pardon me for not getting up”

My father would have laughed.

In this respect, by letting ourselves be touched by what others have decided to lay down as their final resting words ——those few limited marks which will attempt to break us free from our mortal demise and now obvious finitude—— we would be more able to decide which words to choose for those we love and even for ourselves upon, better yet, before (!) our departure. (more…)

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In memoriam; bajo una luz del ethos republicano

January 15, 2007; Psalm 104. Porque al sermón debe acompañarle la oración fúnebre.

Muy querido padre:

Reunidos aquí te recordamos con amor y agradecimiento. Te has ido padre y has dejado en nosotros un vacío muy profundo que hasta ahora empezamos a comprender. Te has ido querido padre, y tu personalidad llena de energía y carácter, será siempre irremplazable. Y con tu partida quiero que lleves contigo estas palabras de agradecimiento y de amor que estoy seguro compartimos todos por ti.

Los recuerdos que llevo de ti en vida se fueron haciendo más claros a medida que crecía y lograba comprender un poco mejor la relación que se da entre padre e hijo. Ahora que nos despedimos de ti, quisiera recordar y compartir algunas pequeñas cosas que recuerdo de ti, y que gracias a ti nunca olvidaré. Te cuento, por ejemplo, que mi amor por los relojes se lo debo a ti. Siempre recuerdo todos los relojes que me regalaste y cada reloj que tengo me recuerda que tú me enseñaste a querer los relojes. Muchos relojes he perdido, otros me los han robado, pero con cada uno que se iba, sentía rápidamente dentro de mi la necesidad de buscar uno nuevo que me hiciera compañía. Al principio, cuando era muy joven, no entendía muy bien por qué me hacían tanta falta los relojes que ya no tenía. Tan es así que una vez, hace muchos años, dejé un reloj en un parque y al llegar a mi apartamento me di cuenta que ya no lo tenía. El parque estaba lejos de mi apartamento y entonces recorrí todas las cuadras mirando lado a lado para ver si lograba encontrar aquel reloj. Sólo hace unos años entendí que todo esto era gracias a que tu me habías enseñado, desde muy pequeño, a amar los relojes. Y ahora con tu partida, este reloj que está cerca de mi siempre me recordará tu paso por la vida.

Recuerdo además con muchísima alegría los postres que nos traías del Pan Fino sobre la 15. Cada vez que veo postres en una delikatessen recuerdo eso. Llegabas a la casa con tu caja llena de diversos sabores y formas. Recordaré con alegría cómo nos endulzabas la vida con esos postres que incluían hasta brazos de reina! De igual manera, si no me hubieses dado la oportunidad de comprender el valor de una cámara fotográfica para capturar los momentos de la vida, hoy en día no estaría tan enamorado de una actividad que comencé muy tarde en mi vida, pero que me recordará constantemente de ti.

Pero sin lugar a duda, el más importante regalo que nos has dado a muchos aquí, es el amor por la naturaleza. Eso si en verdad no tenemos cómo agradecértelo. Tu dedicación constante, y ese trabajo incansable en tu vida a las fincas —— tanto a Samarkanda y su clima inigualable con todos los sabores que nos permitió vivir, como a Picachos con sus misteriosos picos y riquezas de todo tipo—– esa dedicación, nos permitió ingresar a un mundo único y privilegiado. Lo cierto es que sin tu dedicación y entrega a estas fincas nunca habríamos podido vivir en cercanía a las frutas, a los animales, a los árboles, y tantas otras hermosas realidades andinas que nos permitiste conocer desde jóvenes. En mi caso particular, gracias a ti, gracias a tu esfuerzo decidido y lleno de coraje, viví en carne propia algunas de mis más bellas aventuras entre los árboles que plantaste con tus propias manos, entre los potreros que recorriste con tus fuertes piernas, y entre los caballos y vacas y cerdos y conejos y perros que defendiste con toda tu fortaleza.

Pienso en ti y me sonrió pues doy gracias que haya podido comprender mucho mejor tu personalidad con el correr de los años. En verdad es cierto lo que dice Aristóteles, que “los padres quieren a sus hijos desde que nacen, y los hijos a sus padres, en cambio, después de cierto tiempo, cuando han adquirido inteligencia y percepción.” Yo aprendí a quererte mucho con el paso de los años, y agradezco a Dios que tuve la oportunidad de tratar de hacértelo saber.

Y es por esto que debo recordar además dos cosas más que jamás dejarán de impactarme de ti. En primer lugar, el humor que es el elemento de tu personalidad que siempre llevaré como recuerdo dentro en mi. Esa capacidad para ser irónico y burlón, pero al mismo tiempo hacer sonreír al otro. Es que en verdad, Colombia ha perdido a un gran ser humano con una capacidad para el humor inigualable. Me hacías sonrojar con algunas cosas que se te ocurrían, pero ahora añoro esa capacidad innata que aún me hace sonreír. ¡Y es que en verdad, por ejemplo, tu humor frente a los grupos alzados en armas los desarmaba con una sola frase! Esa habilidad es una gran perdida para todos nosotros. Y tú, habiendo podido decidir vivir en cualquier país del mundo, decidiste en cambio entregar tu vida, como un ciudadano ejemplar, a nuestra Colombia para que nuestro futuro pudiera ser mejor.

El segundo elemento inolvidable de tu carácter que llevaré presente siempre, fue tu habilidad como ser público. Eso sin duda lo heredaste de tu padre y su actividad pública muy importante para nuestro país, actividad de la cual estabas absolutamente orgulloso. He intentado desarrollar esa habilidad en mi, así sea un poco en mi vida, pero sin duda tu gran habilidad como orador, como magneto público y tu energía de comandar atención son dignas de admiración y gratísimo recuerdo. Tú eras un ser de vieja época, de un universo con un ordenamiento muy diferente al nuestro de hoy; todo eso me ha tomado tiempo comprenderlo. Pero al entenderlo y valorarlo en tus propios términos, he logrado apreciarte mucho, y ahora en verdad, extrañarte.

Por todo esto, y muchas otras cosas más, te agradecemos, mi muy querido padre. Sin duda, tantos regalos que nos entregaste generosamente, nos permitirán guardar tu memoria con mucho amor.

 

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