“A friend of mine, when he was a child, he walked out the front door one morning and found a dead body lying in a pool of blood in the street,” Tatiana said as we sat around the living room in her apartment in Comuna 13, San Javier.
GROWING UP IN COMUNA 13
She grew up in the neighborhood known as Comuna 13 in Medellin and then spent a few years as an exchange student in the United States.
“It was also not uncommon for children to go play in the park only to find a corpse hanging in a tree,” she said.
Only 10 years ago on the hill next to where we were staying, the streets were in the grip of violence.
The drug wars were violent and unmerciful. Invisible lines were drawn in the neighborhoods, gangs would shoot other gang members who knowingly or unknowingly crossed the ever-changing lines. Even the police feared for their lives on the hill and avoided going there whenever possible.
“PEOPLE HAVE CHANGED”
“But the people have changed,” she said. “Everywhere the government has invested with better parks, schools, and better transportation such as the escalators on this hill.”
This is the one place in the world where I see social programs are actually working.
Even as Trin and I explored the escalators in Comuna 13 and marveled at the impressive graffiti covering the walls the entire way up we could feel something. It was as if a shot of hope was plunged into the heart of the darkest and poorest areas of the city, and the people here grabbed a hold of it.
“THIS IS MY NEIGHBORHOOD”
Along the way, we stopped at a tiny, makeshift coffee shop. A young man, I’m guessing he wasn’t even 20 yet, greeted us in English (not very common in Colombia). He was excited to have us there.
“This is my neighborhood,” he said. The pride in his voice and confidence in his stance was such a beautiful sight.
Maybe the people have changed, or maybe the silent majority has just broken their silence. It probably is both, but indeed the city has transformed itself. Evil exists and as science has taught us, things tend toward disorder, not order. Objects in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by another force. The force here in Medellin are the people who rose up with their voice and action to change their city.
CHANGE FROM BOTH SIDES
They were tired of the violence. As the Memory House Museum explained it took both sides working together to create the transformation, both sides to bring out the good from the other. The government invested in poor areas, the people rose up to embrace the hand of mercy offered to them and stop the cycle of revenge and retribution.
One tourist wrote of their experience in the metro. He saw a huge commotion down the line and asked what was happening. One of the locals said that a guy stole something and the crowd chased him down and beat him. The majority are tired of the violence and have decided to no longer put up with it.
We heard that in El Centro (downtown Medellin) where there is a higher crime rate the police have actually had to step in to protect thieves from the mob. Swift, strict judgment, maybe a bit of vigilante justice, but the word is out. These people are proud of their city, they are tired of the violence and they are standing up to make this a better place and indeed they have.
The transformation fascinates me. It is a beautiful city with so much to see and do, and we felt safer in Medellin than most of Central America.
Is Medellin a place to retire? So far it is at the top of our list.
Is Medellin a place to visit and spend your vacation? – Absolutely! We highly recommend it!
Retired from Corporate America at the age of 43 along with her husband Trinity. In 2016 they sold their home to begin a nomadic life of slow travel. Bonnie writes of their experience on the road in each country. Subscribe to follow her stories here.
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