The woman who walked across the Quick Center stage and took her place, sitting with the poise of a model and clad in an elegant black dress, didn’t exactly paint the portrait of a survivor of years of captivity in the jungles of Columbia that one might have expected. Nonetheless, on Thursday Sept. 22, Ingrid Betancourt took to the Quick Center stage with grace and self-composure, commanding the attention of her nearly 400-person audience before she even spoke a word.
Fairfield University hosted Betancourt, a former Columbian politician and author, to open the fall season of the Inspired Writers series, sponsored by Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Her talk, entitled “Even Silence Has an End,” focused on her book of the same title as well as her newest endeavors as an author and recovering victim of capture. The event was made possible through co-sponsorship with the Departments of English, Modern Languages and Literatures, and Politics, and the programs in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Peace and Justice Studies, and Women’s Studies, within the College of Arts and Sciences.
Betancourt was a Colombian presidential candidate from the Oxygen Green Party when she was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002. Her book, entitled appropriately “Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle,” chronicles her 6-year long struggle for survival as she was held captive in the jungles of Columbia. She was released in 2008 thanks to military action.
Betancourt took her time, mulling over each question posed by the talk moderator Gisela Gil-Egui, professor of communication, as well as the questions from the audience. As per the request of audience members, she answered in both English and Spanish.
Betancourt said she wrote the book as a way of sharing her experiences in captivity with family and friends, because her ordeal was too difficult to articulate otherwise. Her testimony, she stated, was liberating, and Betancourt emphasized the fact that she felt obligated to record this historically significant aspect of her life, as well as share her perspective of the story. As the talk progressed, she explained that people who have not experienced captivity cannot possibly understand what it’s like, so she was also compelled to share what she had survived as well as advocate for others held captive around the globe.
However, when Betancourt was asked whether she thought her book could help change the situation in Columbia, she admitted that the problems in the country run deeper than she could possibly convey or hope to remedy with her book alone. She talked about the culture of turning a blind eye to suffering which has become so normal for many Columbians, who themselves have seen hardship and have adopted an indifferent attitude towards the suffering of others. This is an unfortunate product of their mistreatment, Betancourt pointed out.
An audience member asked how Betancourt kept track of time and stayed strong throughout her 6-year ordeal. “I kept track by birthdays of my children and major holidays,” said Betancourt. It was a matter of willpower and keeping her family at the forefront of her mind.
“It’s hard to believe that [she] was not only able to survive 6 years of captivity, but also could go back and revisit each painful memory in order to record her experience,” said Bridget Butterworth ’13, who attended the event. “Her story is inspirational. I don’t think I would have been able to hold onto hope for so long; after a few years I think I would have completely lost the will to even escape.”
The big question of the night was this: Will Betancourt continue her career as a writer, or will she return to Columbia and to politics in the near future? After a pause to contemplate, a look of concentration gracing her face, she explained that the situation was complicated. First and foremost, she is a mother. The rest can wait.
Betancourt told the audience that while she was still interested in and engaged in politics, she initially had no desire to ever return to it again. Maybe, if she is ever ready, she will return, but at this point she can’t tell. She has a lot of healing to do before that day. As far as the writing goes, she is content to see how her work pans out, and is open to continue in the future.
In closing, Betancourt left her audience with a message that she has adopted into her own life mission: we need to remember that the “enemy,” which seems so elusive and out there, is actually inside of us, “…putting darkness on stage and making life difficult for us.”
Shanee Griffith ’13 stated that her interpretation of that last thought was, “It may take awhile, but old wounds do heal, and they make each of us stronger for the problems that were caused.”
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