When I first came to Colombia on holiday in 2006

I was terrified of being kidnapped.

I had read too many horror stories.


Now, of course, I know that I am in more danger

of being knocked down as I cross the road,

than of being kidnapped by an armed group.


But I got a little fright in Sincelejo.

I stopped a mototaxi and asked the driver

to take me to a particular supermarket.


On our way there, he stopped at the side of the road,

for no good reason at all that I could see.


Why have you stopped? I asked, anxiously.

Because it’s shady here, he replied.

If we stop at the traffic lights, you’d be in the sun.



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Was Hillary Clinton right about Medellín?


Another person making the headlines last week

was US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.


During a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,

she praised Medellín as a model of transformation

from which the new Arab democracies could learn.


News broadcasters here were happy to report this praise,

but as is so often the case, the truth in Colombia defies the nifty sound bite,

as Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America

points out here.

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Baby crazy


Last week the news programmes here

managed to fill great swathes of airtime

with news of the arrival of Shakira’s baby.

despite the absence of much real data –

(he’s a boy and he’s called Milan).


The broadcasters had to resort

to asking people in Baranquilla,

Shakira’s home city, what they thought of the name

(there was universal approval),

and showing pictures of the paparazzi chasing

the couple’s car into the clinic in Barcelona where Milan was born.


Britons! Be warned!

This is what is awaiting you this summer

when the royal baby is born.

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Leaving Town


The second camp for our Children’s Club leaders is over;

leaders have left in jeeps and on motorbikes;

we’ve had a rest and there’s a bus to Medellín

leaving at 6pm from the next big town 20 minutes away;

in short, it’s time to leave town.


Where’s the best place to get transport from? we ask the folk at the church.

We’re told to go out to the main street.

Off we set.

On the main street we meet some people who had been at the camp,

sitting out in the patio of a house, enjoying the cool of the day.

One of them says she can organise transport for us

so we walk with her to a café from where the motorbikes usually leave.


She sets off down the street to round up some motorbikes.

Two arrive, but we are three.

Can’t two of you go on one motorbike? she suggests.

But we’re laden with luggage so it’s not so easy.

Then a relative arrives on a motorbike.

I’ll just nip home and then I’ll pick you up, he says.


We set off.

The sun is setting, the soldiers are the checkpoints are busy texting,

the camps have gone well, the breeze is in my face,

I’m going home to my own bed;

I couldn’t be happier.

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When the conflict breaks in


We are eating at a restaurant run by one of the Club leaders

when someone says There’s been blood at Manso. Six killed.

There is a brief silence while we assimilate the news

before we turn back to our meal.


Ironically Manso means tame or gentle.

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Coastal Snapshots


A little boy has made a simple kite

from a stick and a plastic bag.

He runs along with the stick above his head.

The bag blows away but he runs on unaware.


You’ve lost your kite, I shout as I tootle by

on the back of a motorbike.


A little girl has made a kind of pet

from an empty shampoo bottle

and a piece of string.

She drags it behind her into the shop.

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Where Child Protection is a matter of life and death


We want our Children’s Clubs to be safe places for children

and we want our Club leaders to know what to do

if a child makes an allegation of abuse.


I became aware how complex this is going to be

after listening to conversations during our first camp.


Without saying it in so many words,

the leaders gave the impression they might hesitate

to denounce someone for abusing a child

who might be able to have them killed.

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The bus company covers its bases


On the back of the seat in front

No smoking is written in

English, Italian, French, Arabic and Chinese.


Spanish speakers have to make do

with the no smoking symbol

inside the outline of an apple

and the injunction to eat fruit.

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