When I’ve been digging and I’m tired and don’t want to do any more, I th
how it could be me in the grave I’m working on. I wouldn’t want someone
stop digging for me. . . .—Manuel, member of a forensic team in Guatemala
Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost
When Violence Ceases to Be Academic
I finished the research for the project that eventually evolved into t
book between  and . During two long stretches I lived in my p
ents’ apartment in downtown Medellín, just two blocks from the Parq
deBolívarandtheMetropolitanCathedralintheheartof Medellín’sco
mercial and financial district. From my window I heard the daily bus
of street vendors hawking aquacates and miracle liver-spot creams su
as concha nacar and the constant backfire of noisy buses on the Bello c
cuit. The past and present seemed intimately intertwined as peddlers
the heirs to a regional tradition of snake-oil salesmen—vied comfo
ably with late-model automobiles and computer-controlled commerc
operations. At the glass-enclosed paean to architectural modernism
the Edificio Argos—on the corner of Bolivia and the Avenida Orien
working people waited patiently to board buses back to distant subur
At night I watched from my balcony as the crowds gathered at the st
of the cathedral to witness and applaud the boisterous show put on
local transvestites. On the surface there seemed nothing to suggest t
fifteen minutes away young men in the city’s poorer neighborhoods w
being gunned down on street corners, that prostitutes, the homeless, a
street children were nightly victims of ‘‘social cleansing,’’ or that less th
a few miles outside the city’s limits rural folk were caught in the cross
of guerrillas, right-wing death squads, and the armed forces. Busines
bustled, the streets were clean, the phones worked, glaring examples
misery were absent. I was struck by the possibility of multiple, dis
characterized the average Antioqueño’s experience during laViolenci
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