We have a president! In Latin, it would be said Habemus president, like when the Pope is elected, and we all say Habemus, but with Pope instead of president.
It´s the first time in 13 years that I dare to write about politics, so I lack skill in the subject and that´s why I don´t think I´m going to do well. But I do, I mean write this article that no one has asked me to, because I have to give myself a break from my work. From the old files of 1,500 pages; from mites; of sheets in parchment paper that melt like…butter.
I had never written about politics because in Colombia it can cost you your job. Also because, frankly, I find it unspeakably boring; I want to say that I do not suffer from any infatuation with one party or another, one faction or another, a false news to a true one.
Speaking of passions, a few years ago I was criticizing my college friend, Momo, for his obsession with soccer.
—It´s a passion! —Momo argued.
—Shooting his wife and her lover because he found them in bed together is a passion too —I replied.
If you look at it from that point of view, politics and football bear a great resemblance. They arouse so much passion in people that, despite not being themselves material agents of what they go crazy about, I mean they´re not going to pieces on the field playing a game and they´re definitely not in a public square giving a speech, they lose the ability to reason and destroy the world, their world and someone else´s, to accentuate a point of view. My point of view. And if it is mine, it belongs to me and, therefore, it is not yours. If it´s not yours, you have nothing. Ergo, I have it all.
My friend Pope is a soccer fan, but he doesn´t know how to play soccer. He doesn´t know how to run. He bumps into a leaf. He can´t jump very high either. But he likes soccer so much that he pays up to 20 dollars to watch matches, the outcome of which nobody cares. Finland against Tunisia. Switzerland against Turkey. He also likes to gamble.
—I bet 100 dollars against Portugal in favor of Ireland! “He told me some time ago.
He likes to call me to tell me the details of this and that play. I listen to him with full attention despite the fact that I am thinking of something totally different while he is talking to me.
—Then Griffin shot the ball into the goal. That´s when the best goalkeeper in Turkey, I´m talking about Yilmaz, stretched out his arms as if he were a shooting star and...
At that moment I hang up because I have to do something. I must go to work. I need to go to the toilet. Or I should make myself a red wine. I must do something totally different from listening to football, because there is nothing in the world that could matter less to me than football.
A few years ago, I said the same thing about the elections. One President and another meant the same thing to me. Liberals or conservatives had as much impact on my life as Yilmaz being the best goalkeeper in Turkey. It was that way for many years. It was like that until it stopped being.
8 years ago I saw my country as a great inconvenience to achieve my ambitions. I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be a guitarist. I wanted to be a cartoonist. And worst of all: I wanted to be a writer.
I wanted to do many different things to file lawsuits and to have them filed against me, because the terms to claim an appeal were missed. I wanted to go to a cafe on Monday morning to drink coffee all day and read. Or look at the wall. Or write litanies about someone who needs to be left alone.
At work they asked me for a report, and I felt the impulse to set fire to the office. I fantasized about throwing hot coffee in my supervisor´s face. I wanted to tell the owner of the company where I was the head of collections, all the horrible things that I hoped would happen to him for suing a poor devil to make him pay a hundred thousand pesos.
In those days I discovered Herman Hesse with his book Steppenwolf. The protagonist, Harry Heller, is torn between the human part of him that must deal with society, and the animal part of him, the Steppenwolf within him, that wants to set the world on fire to get what he wants.
The wolf is the selfish, aggressive part, the animal part that takes from the world what it wants without giving anything in return. On the other hand, the human, that is, Harry Heller, knows that, in order to have a comfortable and moderately successful life, he must follow the rules of all the Harry Hellers in the world. That´s where Herman Hesse´s Harry, the character, comes into conflict and withdraws from the world and thinks about cutting his throat every morning when he shaves in front of the bathroom mirror.
The duality of human nature. God and the Devil. Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There are plenty of examples to show that we are not one thing. I am not all my dirty ambitions, just as Yilmaz is not only the best goalkeeper in Turkey. Or a bad manager of other people´s resources is not just a thief. Or a corrupt. Or a creature all steppenwolf and no Harry Heller.
Back in those days, I´m talking about when I was head of collections for a certain company, I wanted to be just the wolf side of Harry Heller. Colombia could sink into the sea while the ship was consumed by the flames of its own corruption, and I would laugh as I swam to shore. That´s what I used to do: jump out of the burning ship and laugh.
I laughed on the shore, because I was only my ambitions, and I didn´t want to know what was happening with anyone other than Me.
Today I can say that I am still more of a wolf than Harry. However, I don´t feel the urge to throw a hot coffee in my boss´s face and I don´t resent Colombia for not having achieved what Herman Hesse achieved at my age. I don´t thank him either, because doing what I do now, that is, writing about things that only Diana and my mother want to read, is not something that supports my country very much.
Before, I resented Colombia for that. Not anymore. It is a fact that in Colombia reading levels are as low as the ability of the best goalkeeper in Turkey to solve differential equations. I must clarify that I do not know how to divide and much less I can solve differential equations. I know how to read and write, and I don´t know how to play soccer. Yilmaz can catch a ball before it hits the net. He maybe he knows math. Maybe he can sing. Turkey´s best golkeeper may have as many inner selves as Harry Heller and his Steppenwolf. But I will never know. And the reason I´ll never know is because I´m still more of a wolf than Harry Heller, and if I care about my country´s presidential election, it´s only because my job depends on it.
The work of all of you too.
I speak as if the electoral contest remains unresolved. It is already resolved: we have a new president.
I am not going to say who the new president is, I mean to write his name, because in my country talking about it can cost you your job. I am not saying that the new president is a tyrant. I swear I don´t mean that. The system is the tyrant. The contracting modality in public entities is. The subjectivity of eligibility for service provision contracts is.
This part of my writing is boring. I know because I got bored just writing it. It´s boring but necessary to show how much the elections interest me now. Also, not everything can be action and jokes and ridicule myself to get a smile. No. Opinion articles must have quantifiable and qualifying facts. Otherwise, any influencer, YouTuber, or tiktoker could do what I do. In fact, they do. And they are doing much better than those of us who knew a world without social networks.
One thing has nothing to do with the other. The Colombian writer Mario Mendoza is only 11 years older than me, and he is doing quite well. Buddha Blues is very entertaining, as is The importance of knowing how to die well. Satan is a great book. It´s such a great book that I wanted to write it myself. But I did not. I wrote this that I am about to finish and three novels and a book of short stories. I also write administrative resolutions and those are the ones that pay the rent and services. They are quite cumbersome and come with great difficulty, but in the end, I get through them, like everything I do in my profession as a lawyer.
Fact: did you know that there are 20 lawyers for every 30 professionals in Colombia?
Fact: did you know that, at this very moment, in Colombia, there are 3,000 law students?
Fact: did you know that 90% of politicians in Colombia are lawyers?
The new president of Colombia is an economist and the previous one was a lawyer. The one before the one before was too, and I´m almost sure that Álvaro Uribe is. I say almost certainly, because I am not aware of any of these facts that I quantify and qualify here. I could verify them, of course, but this pastoral is flowing for me, and I would like to keep it that way, spontaneous and fun, so that Diana and my mother do not get bored reading it and say with all sincerity that they reached the end without skipping parts, which I do, even with the authors I like.
Fact: did you know that for the year 2021, Colombia, according to Transparency International -Infographic: AFP - Adaptación ETCE, ranked number 39 out of 88, in the ranking of the most corrupt countries in the world?
Fact: did you know that Colombia, according to Portafolio magazine, March 18, 2022 edition, has the sixth highest annual inflation in Latin America?
Fact: did you know that a person is capable of lighting the world on fire to feed his or her hungry children?
Fact: did you know that a person satisfied with his or her world is the exception to the rule and hundreds of thousands fearful for his or her future become legion?
“A leader should not have a face”. It is a fact because William Ospina said it in his book In Search of the Lost Colombia. He also said that leaders should be deified less and human beings more. That is a fact too. We need sober people with no ambitions except to do effective work. There should be no acknowledgment in it. Serving the public is a duty of those who assume such responsibility. It is not a way to win personal victories. It is not a way to magnify the ego. A good president is a good administrator. As uninteresting as the person to whom you give a power of attorney at the notary´s office to authenticate it.
I know that sounds like a great joke. This fact and the previous one. A joke with initiation, knot, but without outcome. In English it is called “punch line”, at the conclusion of the joke. The problem in Colombia is that there is no “punch line”, because there is no one who wants to laugh.
Outside the Ricaurte station in Bogotá, yes, there are people bursting with laughter, but most of them are crazy and drowning in misery. Maybe we should stop freaking out to stop crying instead, like the escapees from the Ricaurte station. Walking with a bag of rubbish on your shoulder, absent from all reality. Or maybe we should give in to the passions that divide us and make us cannon fodder for the benefit of a few. One thing and another is fine if we do it with our eyes wide open, if we are aware that fighting among ourselves will only create chaos and destruction without any purpose. Now, that the very end of destruction is chaos itself, I mean not the rebirth that comes from death, from destruction, from the Big Bang, that´s fine. Everything is fine if done honestly. If the soul is dressed in the face. If the intentions are totally and absolutely transparent. If you are a monster and do not pretend to be someone else. A savior. A messiah.
Today is a great day. I could keep writing until my hand breaks. It´s not every day I can be so versatile. I have to divide myself between office concerns, my contract that is about to expire, and the cell phone of a guy who just got robbed at this very moment. It´s amazing how calm we take something that should be terrifying. It is not. It is as normal as seeing an old man who can barely stand on his feet selling sweets on the street. But you know what they say: “teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime”. Now, if a 60-year-old man has to crawl to get some coins and have a coffee, give it to him! Don´t talk to him about the dignity of work or the satisfaction of a job done. Telling a hungry person that he should get to work instead of giving him coins is a crime. The lessons of life correspond to each one to learn them on his own. Don´t teach them. Colombia has been a very good teacher in that sense, at least in terms of fear, because it is terrifying to get on the Transmilenio and take out your cell phone. Or the wallet. Or a pocket watch.
A pocket watch is something absolutely unnecessary in this day and age. However, I like them. They are expensive and uncomfortable, but I want one. Not for Bogota. Your pocket is the first thing thieves look for to steal from you. So, a pocket watch in this city wouldn´t last a day.
We´ll see, Diana and I, if we manage to jump off the burning ship, even if it´s to use a pocket watch in another country. But whatever the new president is, he won´t be able to jump out of any boat for four years. He is already up to his neck. Does he really know what he got himself into? The presidency is a rather thankless job, because there are many of us who must be satisfied. It has its advantages, of course, like going down in the history books. You can also win the Nobel Peace Prize if you do something right. Or something wrong, depending on the opinion of some. As is the opinion of some to deny a coin to a poor devil at the Ricaurte station, because he “could devote himself to work instead of begging”.
One thing has nothing to do with the other except that we must have a little faith and compassion in our neighbor, be it a beggar or a president, and embrace change. We can do something without expecting anything in return. Without teaching life lessons. We can give a young man a coin without asking him why he turned up outside the Ricaurte station wearing rags and dragging his feet. We can also expect the new president to be more like Harry Heller and blend in with the ship´s mast. With the helmet. With the engine room. With the anchor. That he does not differ from any of us except for his work. Let him be part of the sinking ship so that he feels compelled to keep it afloat. With all of us on board. With himself on board.
A good administrator must annul himself to become a kind of collective Leviathan, compassionate, all too human and whose intentions are reflected for the benefit of this huge ship that is falling apart. Without the violence of passion. Without ambitions of glory. No 19th century protocols. An administrator whose good management is self-sufficient, effective and reaches all corners of the country.
A president like this is the one we all need. Not a warrior. Not a liberator. Not a new messiah. The revolutions of the 20th century took their share of blood and social changes. The only change we need now is to live in peace. Each one with his or her piece of land, living in prosperity and harmony without aspiring for more than he or she has. Without coveting what the other has.
I say all this at the risk of sounding like a preacher without the credentials to rip people off. It is not my intention. I´m just someone who´s tired of being afraid of the future, who wants to go out and do his job. To do his part like an idealistic fool who is happy with what little he has. “Live and let live”, someone said. That someone could be our new administrator. Because we have president. Now that is a fact. For better or worse.
I really want to think that no matter where you come from, where you have been, what you have done or not done, you want to do your job so well, so cleanly and anonymously, that your name appears as a simple footnote in the books of history of the country. Without misdirected passions. With such a huge inner ME, that it reaches for all of us. We, who must go out into the world every day to try to put out the fire of this burning ship that capsizes with us inside, in sight of the shore so close yet so far away that we can smell it despite the smoke and fire.