To many foreigners, Colombia is a nightmare of drugs and violence. Yet normal life goes on there, and, in Bogota, it’s even possible to forget that war still ravages the countryside. This paradox of perceptions–outsiders’ fears versus insiders’ realities–drew June Carolyn Erlick back to Bogota for a year’s stay in 2005. She wanted to understand how the city she first came to love in 1975 has made such strides toward building a peaceful civil society in the midst of ongoing violence. The complex reality she found comes to life in this compelling memoir.
Erlick creates her portrait of Bogota through a series of vivid vignettes that cover many aspects of city life. As an experienced journalist, she lets the things she observes lead her to larger conclusions. The courtesy of people on buses, the absence of packs of stray dogs and street trash, and the willingness of strangers to help her cross an overpass when vertigo overwhelms her all become signs of convivencia–the desire of Bogotanos to live together in harmony despite decades of war. But as Erlick settles further into city life, she finds that “war in the city is invisible, but constantly present in subtle ways, almost like the constant mist that used to drip down from the Bogota skies so many years ago.”
Shattering stereotypes with its lively reporting, A Gringa in Bogota is must-reading for going beyond the headlines about the drug war and bloody conflict.