Youth Between Red and Green Lights

THERE ARE ENOUGH MOUNTAIN PEAKS AND HARDWARE STORES that given his lifetime, a man might trapeze and tightrope walk Colombia. The drivers at traffic lights would throw coins and snacks into his 300m pouch dangling above them, and his tortoise bag plodding along the highway would be a reassuring presence. ´There he goes´, one person spraying graffiti onto a wall would say. ´There he´s stopped´ a worried pedestrian would alert, and naturally groups of children would be scolded by their parents for swinging on the rope. His roadshow would go on for years, and the world´s circuses would draw plans to out-stage his feat with intercontinental extravaganzas. Our man in the clouds, the media would say, is due in at any moment today and with interviews and cameras ready, he would appear over a crest and walk as steadily to the fastening as when he started. A man without company for years, what sort of response would he give? Reaching the precipice and stepping onto solid ground, he would take a moment to compose himself. The question of why he did it would be asked. ´I thought to JFK quoting the first man on Everest – “because it was there” is why.’ 

Now the money for ropes and food wasn’t there, he admitted as a poor man, but his skills, right moon and right mountains were. And the grandiosity of this fictitious man´s mission has me thinking of how in the entirety of England´s highway system, since the Roman´s installed roads there, no one has ever back flipped at junctions to earn a living wage that is able to sustain themselves and their family. I think of this because in any major city here in Colombia, there are young men and women doing just this at their non-metaphorical crossroads. The mimes have France´s rues, sign flippers America´s streets and arose from out of crisis, Venezuelan dancers Colombia´s calles.

I saw my first performance in Santa Marta by a particularly adroit young man who thereafter I met at the city´s main dance competition by chance. His name was Jesús, a 21 year old who knew his ´there´ was not in Venezuela. ´We were burning.´ He said, mentioning too that his father is thankfully from Colombia.

´After the difficult times in Venezuela we had to leave.

´We dance in the street, at the traffic lights, at the parks and after the shows we ask for some donations. This is our way of living, we totally rely on this and if we don´t dance, we can´t eat.

´In one day, we practice, we go to work, then we rest, we practice again, we work again and the next day we do the same, even on Saturdays. On Sunday´s we rest.’ He wasted no fat, and the furrows caused by scrambling under crisis were not evident, as though wrinkles could find no surface on his leaned skin; youth in motion, a rolling stone over moss filled ground.

´All the dedication we put into this, it is due to the pressure we have with our responsibilities, but when we dance, those responsibilities are forgotten.’ He looked beatific.

Dancers as talented as Jesús can earn on average 30,000 COP per day, 120,000 COP for two hours in the right spot on the right evening. He returned to the dance mat to limber up, about to stand on his shoulder and spin gyroscopically. The night drew over the competition which had reached its finals, now illuminated by a street lamp. I had by this point observed the sport a few hours and guessed who would win incorrectly, and went to speak to the organizer. ´I currently do not think I will go back to Venezuela.´ Said Yiovani, aged 26 and leader of the dance group ´Dilemma´.

´I am working on this project in Colombia, which we started in Cartagena and took to Baranquilla and are now here with in Santa Marta and will hopefully take to Valledupar, Bogota and Medellin.´

´I want to complete this project and make it grow so I can go to Venezuela and I can work on the culture there and teach them everything I learnt from Colombia.´ Outcast and Inalienable Article 4 Youth Between Red and Green Lights Investigatory Journalism on The Outcast and Inalienable in Colombia. Journalism

I dwelt on the zero hour, bicycle food delivery and pot washing jobs in the gig economy that miseried my three years before arriving here. Different colleagues every time ridded even the fain of camaraderie, and those directly employed by venues wore smugness with their authority, despite equal pay and equality in menial tasks. Then of the six months before arriving here when I got a minimum wage hotel job that ended that wallow of benefits and travelling the country for ten hour waiter jobs that got me nowhere. I still had no friends, no chances with women and I left when the flight assistant would only need to hear ´going on business´ to let you board because of Covid. So the decision to stay here beyond my visa, not undocumented but liable for fines, is an easy one. I look onto that same crossroads that all men must stare into, though the barricade I see behind me looks abnormally high and the clamour of young people I had expected is not there. A young man in Venezuela can say to himself he´s done with it and begin the arduous walk where the sweating, callouses and back pain can be worth the struggle for. 

The same cannot be said for the UK at the moment, where its borders have become like paint on the skin for the youth. The old order of boys knows movement makes it happen, and since they no longer have that compulsion, the lights are kept at red in all directions. A month later I was driving in Valledupar and saw Yiovani performing at traffic lights, latching Dilemmas tightrope to the harness of undocumented Venezuelans who are also making it in Colombia commendably by pursuing dedication, discipline and movement over prostitution, drugs and theft.

Written by Jacob Hamilton in May 2021.

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