Beyond tired. Cried three times in 24 hours, twice over silly things. The other time, I was in the middle of interpreting a presentation (Spanish to English) for a group of Canadian pastors whom we are hosting for what our organization calls a “learning tour.” Part of what they are learning about here is the complicity of Canadian mining companies in widespread land grabs throughout Colombia, contributing to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The mining companies take advantage of the armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the actual Colombian military (which are ALL hand in glove with the narcotrafficants) to move into depopulated areas, and it is just incredibly complicated and messy. Anyway. We were visiting one of our partner organizations that works mostly in advocacy with communities that are under threat and trying to hold on to or reclaim their agricultural land, and they began describing the phenomenon of ” false positives” – something that began happening a few years ago when the previous administration began offering cash incentives to soldiers for killing guerrillas. These are mostly 18-year-olds, people… someone shaved their heads and shoved automatic weapons into their hands and told them they are heroes if they rack up a body count. So they did. Thousands of civilians were killed, dressed in combat fatigues, and dumped into common graves.
I was chugging along with the interpretation, but suddenly the mental image – mass graves of young men’s bodies, none of whom were actually guerrillas (and even if they had been, were still their mother’s sons) – slammed into me and I couldn’t go on. I choked. Someone else in the group was able to take over for a few minutes while I composed myself (and I was profoundly embarrassed), and then I was able to go on.
I’m not sure why it affected me so much, this is something I knew about, I knew this all had happened – there’s something different about having to say it out loud. It made me think about a book I’d read by a journalist who covered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, in which she recounts the secondary trauma experienced by interpreters at the TRC – interpreting the stories of the victims in the first person deeply traumatized the people who were hearing and repeating the stories.
This was such a small sliver of what that must have been like. And obviously nothing compared to living it – displacement, massacres, threats. But I think it’s important to somehow stay connected. I need to remember why I’m here. That our work here is about supporting processes of healing and reconciliation in the middle of all this violence.