Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Ingrid Betancourt is a Haagen-Dazs lover for life!!

I lay in my comfy cozy bed with my 9000 thread count sheets.  I feel uneasy if the slightest bit of light is shining through my bedroom curtains.  My husband must cover the blue of his alarm clock and the room must be completely silent, then, and only then, can sleep come to me.  Oh, and the room must not be too hot and my feet must not be covered.  These are my prerequisites to a good night sleep.

Sleep is important.  Sleep is part of being healthy.  Good sleep, good food, good exercise, good hygiene, we all know the mantra and we try to practice it every day.  But what if there are no comfy cozy beds, no warm food, no exercise and no hygiene? As I go through my everyday life worrying about the most mundane of matters, like where I can find the cheapest Greenies (Dog treats!) for the Dog, I realize not everyone has my life.  Some people have real life dramas happening right now- things that movies are made of.  I realize that in this big world there is a LOT happening so anything that isn’t going right for me is probably miniscule in the scheme of things.  And that’s the way I look at life everyday now that I met Ingrid Betancourt and read her book “"Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle".

Ingrid Betancourt was running for President of Colombia when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) kidnapped her in February 2002.  She was warned not to go into a rebel-controlled area, but in her own words, the President of Colombia was venturing forward into this area, so she thought she was safe.  At a roadblock, she looked down at the boots of the soldiers.  She knew that if the boots were rubber these were the guerillas, but if the boots were leather, these were the feet of Colombian soldier.  By the time Ingrid could recognize the rubber boots and demand that her driver immediately turn around, the rebels had surrounded her car and she was captive.  Thus began her long journey into hell on earth.

The rebels knew Ingrid Betancourt and they were happy to have her.  They knew with Ingrid they would have a bargaining chip with the Colombian government, as she was well known and well supported by both the Colombian and the French Government with her dual citizenship.  Ingrid was a ‘well-known’ prisoner.  This was a good, and a bad, thing.

She spent many of these years side-by-side with her publicist, Clara Rojas, who was also captured with Ingrid. Clara and Ingrid spent the first year as each other’s only company. They shared a 6’x4’ living space where they slept, spent their day, exercised and ate their meals. If they had to use the bathroom, they went together.

The Bathroom?  When I leave my comfy cozy bed, I often think of Ingrid’s ‘bathroom’.  Her bathroom was several holes in the ground.  When they got ‘full’ they were simply covered.  When Ingrid first used the ‘holes’ she asked her escort where the generator was as she heard a loud and consistent buzz of machinery.  Her escort laughed, and then shined her light on the ‘hole’s’ where thousands of bugs swarmed making the incessant noise of Ingrid’s ‘generator’.

She attempts escape.  She runs out in the middle of the jungle in the dark, dark night with Clara.  They run as fast as they cannot see a single thing, as the jungle is black; they know the rebels are close behind.  They stop to catch their breath as their hearts pound out of their chests.  Ingrid can feel heat so close to her she could reach out and touch it.  They stand in the dark knowing that they are so close to being captured.  Movement.  An animal brushes past Ingrid’s leg.  She will never know what it was.  In the jungle, it could have been a panther, a wild boar or something else.  They keep running.  The next day Clara leaves the backpack on the side of the road as the women walk down to a stream for drinking water. As they climb back up to the road, there is a rebel waiting.  He smiles and shoots his gun alerting the others that he has found the prisoners. He won.

They chain Ingrid around the neck and walk her back to the compound chained like a dog.  They tie the chain to a tree near her sleeping compound.  She can move but if she moves too much, the chain cuts into her neck. To use the bathroom, they remove the chains and for this, she is very grateful. 

As the Colombian militia moved closer into the jungle to look for Ingrid and the other kidnapped victims, FARC moved the prisoners.  Each time they are moved, first by main roads to minor roads to pathways, they move further up into the jungle.  They were sometimes lead by mules and sometimes were put in boats, small and large, to float up the river.   After a 40-mile march, they were finally sent to a prisoner’s camp with a group of hostages and lived in a prison like environment. 

As hostages they fought for everything that meant anything- food, space, favors from the guards.  They learned that while they had no influence with each other, they could influence the guards who used their vulnerability against them. When you are captive and fighting for everything in your life, you become aggressive towards those that have something you don’t.  The guards knew this and used intimidation whenever possible.  To scare them from trying to escape into the river, the Guards showed them a giant anaconda. They were constantly using intimidation techniques to harness the prisoners.

What inspires me most about Ingrid is that through it all, she hung on to the one thing the rebels could not take- her identity.  The Rebels had given each prisoner a number and in a roll call style wanted each prisoner to say their number when called.  When they got to Ingrid, she replied “Ingrid Betancourt’.  Her fellow prisoners thought she was making trouble but she held on. It was important for her to make sure her captors knew she was a person, not a number!  The guards carried guns and could shoot her or any of the prisoners at anytime for any reason.  Ingrid felt it was easy to shoot a number.  She wanted the guards to have awareness that the prisoners they guarded were people. 

Ingrid Betancourt was freed on July 2, 2008 when FARC soldiers landed helicopters and told the camp commander that the prisoners were to be taken to a different location.  Once the helicopters were airborne, Ingrid was informed that the FARC soldiers moving them were actually the Colombian military by saying “We are the national army. You are Free’.

Following her freedom, Ingrid spent 18 months in Wyoming writing of her experience with FARC.  When asked how she remembered her ordeal in such vivid detail, she replied ‘I will never forget any of it- every detail, every smell, every sound, every color.  I live the jungle every day of my life’.

And how has her life changed now that she’s free?  She’s a Mom to her daughter and son (who were 16 and 13 when she was kidnapped), she’s her Mother’s best friend again and she’s a friend with her ex-husband.  She talks daily to her fellow-captors (although some have been critical of her) and she has been able to keep the promises she made to herself in prison:  To cook for her loved ones and to always have flowers in the room, wear perfume and eat ice cream and cakes- That’s Ingrid’s world now.

So, when the light has wakened me from my perfect sleep and the dog is begging to go outside, I will roll out of bed, think of Ingrid and all those still in bondage and move forward through the miniscule details of my life knowing the one thing for sure that Ingrid herself wanted me, and all of us, to know- Peace. Go in Peace- be peaceful, share peace.

Want to see more of my meeting with Ingrid?