Welcome to the War

Lily Shaffer - Ecuador


February 14, 2011

A few weeks ago, a young woman, Pati, came into Pastoral. She has beautiful dark eyes, a scar on her forehead, and shoulder length hair. She smiles a warm, crooked-tooth smile, and looks up and to the left when she’s thinking. She can’t be more than 26 or 27 and her energy is positive and enthralling.

I was sitting on a bench with one of my students and she sat next to me. During the next hour and a half, we laughed and cried and I became an expert on her life story. She grew up on a coca farm, but nobody in her family actually did drugs. She’s from Nariño, the part of Colombia where the drug war is at its worst. She watched her father’s murder; her sister disappeared when she was 14; her cousins were sold to the FARC to be narco traffickers.  She invited me to a Christian conference in Colombia next month where the priest can apparently touch you and heal you.  She said finding God and meeting this priest gave her the courage to continue fighting.

She immigrated here with her husband about three years ago, escaping the guerilla. Her husband was involved with dealers and had a plantation, but they decided to escape that lifestyle. Like most Colombian immigrants, life here has been safer, but not necessarily easier. She and her husband struggle to keep food on the table by selling fruit on the street. She finds jobs cleaning clothes and houses, but most Ecuatorianos don’t trust a Colombiana in their houses. But they have a small rented home with running water and electricity, jobs that don’t involve drugs, hopes for a family, and a new sense of security. Her husband hasn’t heard from any traffickers in a year, and she has separated herself from her family’s life on the coca plantation.

Last week she came in sobbing for my help. Her husband hadn’t come home from work and she didn’t know where he was. She was scared for his life, as well as hers, and wanted to get back to Colombia. I told her there was nothing I could do for her and she’d have to come back to speak with the social worker.

Two days ago she came into the office with a friend and headed straight for my desk.

“I got a phone call at 3:30 this morning. He’s dead. They killed my husband.”

No one warned me about this; my only instinct was to give her a hug.  For a good ten minutes, we just cried and hugged.

This whole drug war thing? It’s real. It’s really, really, real.

Lily Shaffer