A few years ago I visited Medellín in Colombia.
One of the most dangerous cities in the world through the 80s and 90s, a large part due to the reign of Pablo Escobar (a man whose name the locals refuse to mention) and the drug trade.
Waves of the heights of these troubles still affecting the streets today, having listened to stories of many locals it seems every single person in that city had murder darken it’s doorstep in some way.
The city landscape is unique but it was the people who won me over.
They have chosen to use what has happened to open up and create a positive from all the negative that once dominated their lives.
It’s one of my favourite place to have visited on my travels and here is a story of another important experience which travel has given me.
La Mujer - The Woman (Medellín 2017)
Walking down this street a few days ago when it was full of people.
The outdoor market in full flow.
People behind their stalls making their living and friends.
People paying for their wants, materially and socially.
Today as I walk down the same street, there is no one in sight.
No people, no stalls, just space.
The market closed, nothing to spend but time.
Then I see her, sitting alone on the bench.
I don't realise how alone until I get closer.
A young woman crying, staring into space.
Space occupied by pain.
Her tears trying to dissolve her from this world.
I realise why the street is empty of people.
It is already full of her sorrow.
The needle marks along the exposed parts of her body are only a symptom.
Of the pain buried deep, pain I don’t know.
Each entry point marking a wish for the pain to disappear.
The needle could not go as deep as that pain.
She seems sober, sitting alongside her pain, showing courage.
It stops me in my tracks, not knowing what to do and feeling powerless.
I feel a certain responsibility, but don't know where it lies.
Should I walk over to her and comfort her.
Give her a hug and say I am sorry for whatever caused that pain.
To show that she isn’t alone and to transcend some of the pain with love.
Only I feel afraid.
Of whether it is the right thing to do and of how she will react.
But the real fear is that an embrace would take me into her world to feel that pain.
That I would be shown something I wasn't ready for.
I keep walking.
What would have happened if I was braver?
If two strangers from different backgrounds shared the same shadow?
What would the shadow look like, feel like and what would it say?
Would it make her feel better and how about me?
What could have happened to make her feel so alone in a world full of people?
I have more questions than answers about that experience.
The question I wonder about the most;
Not why the addiction but why the pain. ― Gabor Maté
I felt guilty for the freedom I had in my life, a tourist wanting to be in the place she wanted to escape from.
Growing up in one of the most dangerous cities of the 80s and 90s had to play it’s part.
How many deaths darkened her doorstep, who were they to her?
Maybe if our eyes met she could realise that another person saw beauty in her in that moment.
Completely vulnerable and open.
That a look could convey a combination of words, images and feelings that translated into a connection.
One which could create enough freedom for a moment to feel something but that pain.
To tell her how brave she was that day to sit and feel everything.
My choice was to send her what I could and to hope.
That enough people doing this with enough intensity would make her feel better.
That some of the pain would run away with the tears.