Learning from survivors: Interviewing Colombia conflict victims
about 5 years ago
Talking to them is painful. While interviewing the mothers and wives of all those who have disappeared during Colombia’s conflict, I often wonder if it’s right to take them back to that moment when their lives shattered.
I’ve been covering disappearances in Mexico for almost two years, and one of the oldest cases I’ve been following is from 11 years ago. Every time I’m with the mother of that 15-year-old girl who simply vanished one Thursday afternoon, I cannot stop thinking about how she’s kept going all these years.
The first few days in Colombia, I talked to mothers and wives who have been waiting for their relatives since the 1990s, and the most astonishing thing is that they keep fighting. Their lives, their daily routines, have been greatly altered since then and they haven't kept silent, even though many have been threatened, harassed, and persecuted.
It’s been a great challenge to report on a subject I’m familiar with but in a different context. During the interviews, I often feel somehow inadequate, afraid that I lack the sensitivity to really hear their stories. However, even though the sociopolitical scenarios are different, and the cultural norms are somewhat distinct, there’s something that unites Mexico and Colombia. As soon as I tell the families about the work I’m doing in my home country with the families of the disappeared, they are all compassion, too aware of what awaits those Mexican families.
There have been many challenges in my reporting so far, but I think the most important is to go deeper into what is an oft-told story and to break out of that linear narrative that we usually rely on to recount Latin America’s long history of disappearances.
Reporting on the suffering of others has never been easy, and although currently there are more resources and guidelines to cover trauma more ethically, once you’re in the field the story is different. The more I talk to them, the more complex it becomes to portray the pain and struggle they have endured without poking at their wounds, or even exploiting them.
I think the first tool the people I’ve interviewed have given me is their life path: they moved from their pain and sorrow to a place of action, demand, and reconstruction. Let’s see if this approach takes me to the hidden story I need to tell.