Today in Medellín I went on a tour of Communa 13, formerly one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Medellín that has transformed itself through outdoor escalators and art.
This is easily one of my highlights in the city so far. Our tour guide, Laura, was this twenty one year old Colombian girl that grew up in the slums of Communa 13 before the transformation. Her powerful storytelling and conviction captured the attention of our small tour group and moved me to tears a few times.
Laura talked about the history of Colombia: the colonization by Spain and the generational trauma that ensued, the US influence in Colombia, the mindset of the people, the politics of the country. She showed maturity and poise that I haven’t seen in many people at that age, let alone one that grew up in the slums of Colombia. Through self education she freed herself from the mental prison imposed on the Colombian people. Something not many people do, even in prosperous countries do.
I asked Laura, when did she wake up? And what caused that spark?
She told me that when she was a kid, her grandfather disappeared, her aunt was assassinated, and her cousin, which she was particularly close with, disappeared. These tragic events sparked her journey for the truth.
She told me that these tours were very hard for her. Every tour she has to face the reality of Colombia and its troubled pass like ripping off a bandaid before the wound healed. She said it’s difficult to stay optimistic when she’s reminded of all the shit that Colombia has been through. But through it all she feels like a moral obligation to do this tours because she’s university educated, she speaks English, and she grew up in Communa 13. She did these tours as a form of activism, to tell foreginers the story of Communa 13, of Medellin, and of Colombia through the transformation of her neighborhood.
On a deeper level, I realized that I got emotional during this tour not only because of her powerful storytelling, but because I saw myself in her. I can see myself in her shoes. Born in Colombia instead of Canada. Born in the former murder capital of the world instead of Toronto. Giving tours as a form of activism instead of my cushy tech job back home. This tour made me feel connected with someone that lived in much different circumstances. And it gave me hope for the future of Colombia.