Home Thoughts from Abroad


Since the UK Referendum result last week, I’ve felt this deep need to talk and read endlessly about all its possible implications and ramifications. My flatmate and my work colleague have listened to me very sympathetically and have themselves followed some of the debate.

I was somehow grateful to every Colombian, with every right to be caught up in events in their own country, who brought up the subject and let me say my piece.

Until I met someone who said the following:

It’s that the Queen has all the power in Britain. She says what has to happen and everybody has to do it. That won’t change until the older generation dies out. Then the British monarchy will become more like the Danish and the Dutch ones.

I was so flummoxed I just shut up.

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Swords into ploughshares

Yesterday afternoon, after the ceasefire deal was signed, I had a little browse in social media to see what Colombians were saying and found a mood of genuine optism. Young people especially expressed both hope and the determination to make the post-conflict work.

Today, the free papers I was handed on the way to work had the same tone. The End of the War and  The Future is Peace, were their headlines:


And check out the cool pen President Santos gave the leader of the FARC:


It’s called a balígrafo – a play on the Spanish words for bullet and pen. It’s actually made from a bullet and it has the words “Bullets wrote our past, education will write our future,” engraved on it.

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A big day and not just for the UK

tableroAs I type, a ceremony is taking place in Havana, Cuba in which representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC will sign an agreement to end the armed conflict.

This morning, we in Vive had our monthly morning of prayer and before we prayed for the Colombian peace process, I had the task of explaining the UK EU referendum to my Colombian colleagues (the photo is of my notes for the prayer time). Then they prayed for the UK and my British colleague and I prayed for peace in Colombia.

If you think people will be out in the streets celebrating what is happening in Havana, think again. Things are actually kind of depressed around here because Colombia lost to Chile last night. And people have been so affected by decades of war that they have very little hope that a real, just and lasting peace can be achieved.

As someone said over lunch, “People want peace just not this peace.”

Unfortunately, for now, that is all that is on offer.

Keep praying.

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Football fever

It’s that time again when the country comes together to watch the Colombian national football team excelling in an international competition, this time the Copa America, being held in the United States.

I thought I would be torn when Colombia played Peru in the quarter final but I thought Peru played dirtily and I was cheering with the rest of the country when Colombia won on penalties.

Next up, tonight, is Chile, who put seven past hapless Mexico in their quarter final.

Waiting in the final are Argentina who won 4-0 against surprise semi-finalists, the USA. One of the goals was as magical a free kick as you could ever wish to see, taken by Lionel Messi. Football fans might like to see it here.

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More on work

Yesterday in church we had to pray for the person beside us and my partner was a 15-year-old lad.

“What can I pray for you?” I asked.

“That I’ll be a good boy and that I’ll never leave the paths of God.”

So I prayed that for him and then I asked him to pray that God would help me in my work.

This is what he prayed:

Dear Lord, thank you for Fiona. Please help her in her work. Help to get on with her boss (in Spanish el patrón) so that he doesn’t say anything against her. Help her not to get sacked and help her to be someone in her life.

Revealing, don’t you think?

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I can’t believe I saw this

On my way to work, I walk down a steep hill. It’s one of the main roads into Medellín from the south, called Las Palmas.

Today, I saw a man on a motorbike tootling down the hill, singing at the top of his voice.


Not for a milli-second either, for at least several seconds, until he swung round the corner out of my sight.

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Everyone’s a dramatist

Last week I took a taxi and I only had a 50,000 peso note (worth about £12) with me. The correct etiquette is to tell the driver  that when you get in so if he doesn’t have change, he can solve the problem before the end of the ride.

So in this case, the driver drove into a petrol station and asked one of the men working there if he could change the note.

First, the man made the dramatic Colombian cut-throat gesture which means “I’m broke,”. But he wasn’t, he just wanted to make a wee drama out of the transaction. He took my note and held it up to the light. “No, this is fake,” he said. But it wasn’t, he just wanted to milk the situation for a second or two longer.

Then with a smile, he gave the driver the change and we went our separate ways.

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When I came to Colombia to live in 2008 I applied for my ID card immediately, as I was meant to, and I got it 18 months later, only months before I was due to leave. The process of going to the immigration office was very stressful; there didn’t seem to be any system except to catch the eye of someone inside; it all seemed very random and unpredictable.

I’ve now been through the process 4 times more and it has got slicker each time.

The offices have been reorganized; there is now a system with tickets; everybody seems to know what they are doing.

This time I was told to check a website after 8 working days to see if my ID card was ready and today, 11 days later, I collected it with no waiting time at all.

But of course, being Colombia, it wasn’t without incident. As I arrived, I noticed a prison bus outside and just as I was about to go in, two handcuffed prisoners came out under heavily-armed guard.

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Bananas, cotton and sugar

I was due to travel to the north of Colombia this weekend but my colleague got sick and the trip was cancelled.

So instead of having to read about my excitement at being back in an area of the country that I love, here is a much more sober piece of journalism about the very area we were going to visit.

Entitled “Can Colombia’s Displaced Go Home Again?”, it does a good job of untangling the deadly effects of the conflict on the beautiful, banana-growing area of Urabá and shows how the fight for land has been at the centre of the conflict.

Next time you eat a Colombian banana, spare a thought for the people who died so that you could have it.

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