By Sofia Lopez
It’s amazing what quarantines and lockdowns in these times have done. Our mental health is at stake as we live imprisoned behind the walls of our homes. Memories are rife too, good and bad, for good or ill.
A true story I want to share with you…
Stepping into the land of the unknown, we entered with our friends into the cold cells of the Taipei International Prison. They were not blasts of cold wind, nor autumn trees shedding flowers everywhere, they were voices of sad eyes, shivering in anguish, talking with their fragile, paper-like gazes.
In the middle of what seemed, at first sight, to be just another concert, Daniel and David, burst into shouts of emotion: “Colombia, Colombia, Colombia”, to the rhythm of my presentation accompanied by a hat and peasant dress.
I wanted to smile, to shout in unison, but the audience and their glances tore my feelings apart, and the strength, with which I had also dressed, had vanished. I knew beforehand that my relationship with Daniel and David, two young Colombians, would be limited to a 30-minute conversation in which we would share a brief greeting, perhaps a couple of experiences but our future dreams, impossible.
Intense moments! Because I wanted to indulge in the passion with which my compatriots and friends were enjoying their last concert in Taiwan. A group of 50 young people from 50 different countries, singing about love, unity and reconciliation. I sang alone with my soul because my voice left me, I think stuck in the flames of my throat, giving everything and nothing with a calm look, wrapped in pine wood and hope.
After the concert, we were allowed to interact. Our conversation was short but very substantial. We broke the ice by talking about our culture, our food, ajiaco and salsa, which would make David, a native of the Valley, smile, and Daniel too, a pure-bred rolo. I listened to their journeys, the stories that had put chains of death on them for their mistakes and their sincere repentance. We talked about their origins, their families and I reserved my questions for perhaps never because there were no seconds to lose in what would be for them the opportunity to speak to a fellow countryman so far from home and in their own language.
We laughed, yes, we laughed, among others, at my espadrilles that did not match the label of the place and for a moment we felt, not in a foreign land, but in the room of our house, enjoying the aroma of a delicious coffee. When the clock threatened to send us away, we embraced each other, like brothers, in a prayer in which we asked God for tranquility and strength in the midst of the designs, those of man and of Him, and I offered my help in whatever I could do for them in Taipei or Colombia. David responded with a clear and determined request: “I want you to call Mom. She thinks I’m traveling the world with my travel bag but she doesn’t know that one mistake will lead me to the harshest of trials in a few weeks”. I wanted to give him some hope with my eyes and I promised to fulfill his wish in the middle of another hug that literally broke my soul.
The International Prison of Taipei, framed the last concert of Daniel and David, the one they enjoyed, listening to a message of love and reconciliation. As I said goodbye, I wondered through the injustice of their misfortunes, their frustrated youth, their unfinished plans and the inevitable misfortune. I compared their lives with mine, and thought that it could also be me or one of my brothers or friends, I thought of the contrasts and paradoxes: Three young people today, in so different situations: One singing hope, others living it.
For a few moments I hated the prison that ended their days and I debated with my conscience the decisions that we humans make about the lives of our brothers, also humans. I assumed that prison is built for others and that it extinguishes hope, dreams, faith and trust.
I said goodbye to Daniel and David with a feeling that sometimes invades us once we set out to help others, but in the end, leaves us in the realm of the favoured. I understood that our prisons are not those built by others to chase away and banish our mistakes, but those that we ourselves build in the imagination to suppress our desires to dream, to fight, to make mistakes, to allow ourselves to be and to accept ourselves as what we are: human.
Sofia Lopez is the Colombia CEO of The HuD Group. She holds a Masters in International Co-operation and Foreign Relations and has had wide international exposure. She relates the above experience as a World Vision Youth Ambassador (WVYA) nearly 25 years ago. Sofia originally posted this on her Face Book wall. Fellow WVYAs Isobel Bailey (Ireland) and Yaw Perbi (Ghana) edited the English translation for this blog.