A Military Monday in Cartagena – Cartagena, Colombia, South America

Main Annex of Government Building
Main Annex of Government Building

A Day to Remember
Though September 22nd isn't significant for many Americans, in Colombia it might become a day of heated memory and angry fists against a blue-grey sky. I will always remember the day as a bizarre echo of a revolution; one I spent in Cartagena while watching the silent streets quietly toss the lazy rain around.

Free Commerce Treaty
The Free Commerce Treaty, signed despite an overwhelming outpouring against it, is no more than an insatiable American hunger to control the citizens of the world with a powerful grip. On this day, my government was one step closer to achieving its goal of world domination. The treaty appears warm and friendly, but it is damaging. It allows both countries to import and export without any tax. We have to wonder – at what cost.

Colombia's Fascination with Avoidance
Colombia has a fascination with avoidance – riots, manifestations, dangerous men, homeless children, unforgiving crime, coups-de-force against corrupted authority. My university is lined in black metal bars, a man in hat and polished shoes paces between the gates and demands we open our book bags so that he can check them. My apartment is covered with wrought-iron fencing, guarded all the time by a man on either side. This is why, on Friday, Cartagenans clicked shut their locks and patiently waited, with bitten fingernails, while the U.S. President signed a treaty that nobody wanted and everybody was scared to see.

Hollywood Vision of Colombia
People are afraid of Colombia because they are afraid of the perception of corruption, they are afraid of a danger, I suppose, that doesn't exist but could exist without these frightening precautions. It's that unknown threat, that air of adventure gone sour, that spirit gone cold that we fear, knowing that perhaps we have walked into a trap of indescribable pain, torture, heartless, angry men with high connections. As I am a living testimony and unfortunately, stained a gringa to the bones, this is not Colombia – it is Hollywood.

Pause and Freeze
In an exaggerated attempt to subterfuge paranoia and pandemonium, Cartagena decided to become a human blockade for the afternoon. Like a paused button on a remote control, jammed by somebody's finger, every bus, car, taxi and person stopped and froze. I was on a busy bus, that, when confronted with the roadblock, swerved into a residential area and hit a taxi doing the same thing. When the bus driver noticed he had crashed into a taxi, he swung the bus in reverse, pulled around the taxi, leaving the taxi passengers in a cloudy daze. We (three friends and I) found the right moment to jump from the bus and get a taxi. When we arrived at the center of town, we saw a barricade of huge metal gates in shapes of triangles with an armed man in every visible crack. I had only gone there at the demand of my boss to open a bank account.

My Own Hollywood Dream
It wasn't that horrifying. I had woven my own Hollywood dream. The young policemen who were trying so hard to do their jobs looked quite intrigued by our international group. They were bored, waiting for some excitement to happen. The next thing I knew, Bua and I were surrounded by a sea of camouflaged faces, asking about our nationalities, our jobs, our names. One of the men was aiming his camera phone our way, snapping a memory. A gringa, a real gringa – I can picture him saying. We noticed that these soldiers, patrolling the streets in vests lined in silver bullets and tear gas bombs, were just kids, like us. We were trying to open bank accounts; they were trying to do their job.

After six hours, we arrived at the bank to find it closed.

Read more of Kristin's journey at her blog.

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