Please consider supporting Colombia Reports’ Christmas Fundraiser for Landmine Victims.
Today, an excerpt from my book:
I WAS EXHAUSTED from coming here every day. I craved going home and getting in the bathtub to read—for pleasure—under the bubbles, my mind in a novel, my attention swept away by a beautiful story that ends with the sun setting over a mountain. A couple holding hands, the breeze blowing…
Along came a boy I had noticed before. His body was slim. Skimpy. He had fluff on his upper lip, not the sturdy hairs of a grown man. He walked turtle-slow, on crutches, and he had a huge scab on his left leg, from the bottom of his knee to his ankle. I smiled at him, then looked down to check something in my notes. My contact lenses were drying up, and I squinted. Why had I not brought eyedrops? I was scanning my notepad but noticed the boy’s long fingernails. How strange, I thought, that his nails are long and still clean.
My mind wandered again. Where could I get sushi take-out in Bogotá?
Homero yelled, “Don’t.” His voice was rigid. “Stop.” It was an order.
I looked up. The boy with the long fingernails had his crutch raised in midair and was about to hit me over the head with it. Or so it seemed.
“Stop. Okay?” Homero was stern.
The boy looked at Homero, put his crutch down, and scampered away. Homero and I cemented our bond then and there. He was willing to protect me. I smiled at him yet tried not to make a big deal of what had just happened. I wasn’t ready to digest that I could have been hurt.
THE BOY WHO ATTEMPTED to hit me over the head had thin metal wires protruding from the toes of his left foot. A victim of land mines, Don Enrique told me. The wires held his toes together, and he could walk with the help of crutches, but he would never be able to play again. One Sunday, as we sat outside in the sun at the bougainvillea park, the land mine boy sat in a wheelchair. He watched his friends playing basketball. His eyes followed the moves on the court, and he screamed with glee when his friends scored. He clapped and warned—“¡Cuidado! Behind you. Good move.” The scab on his shin was shrinking. He is lucky: 85 percent of child victims of land mines die from lack of immediate medical care.
In 2001 the Colombian government’s army stopped using land mines to protect its bases and hydroelectric power stations. The state ratified the Ottawa Treaty, which aims to ban land mine use worldwide by 2009. Forty nations have yet to sign this treaty, including the United States, Russia, and China.
The FARC and other Colombian illegal armed groups, including the paramilitaries, continue to use land mines because they are cheap, costing about one dollar to buy and plant. The government estimates that there are one hundred thousand undetected land mines in rural zones. The mines have a lifespan of fifty years.