Nov 10, 2013

London's dark side

Very often people ask me if Colombia is dangerous. Very often I hear people saying “I would love to go to Colombia, but isn't it dangerous?” And it is sad because let me tell you something, criminality in London town is pretty nasty. The things that I have heard and the things that I have experienced myself are hard to believe possible in the safe and peaceful continent of Europe...

A previous flatmate told me this story: he was on a taxi home after a night out, the taxi driver noticed he was drunk and charged him an outrageous amount that my flatmate refused to pay. Another taxi arrived and the two drivers threatened him with a knife to the neck! What?

Last Friday my workmate was in court witnessing the judgment and conviction of an 18 year-old boy that robbed him in the street. The boy tried to snatch my workmate's backpack, however he fought back. The boy escaped but the police managed to retrieve DNA samples from under my workmate's finger nails. Later on, this boy robbed some students and since they didn't have any cash, he forced them to go to an ATM and empty their bank accounts. Fortunately he was caught recently and was convicted to 4 years in jail.

The other day I saw a gang of about ten dudes beating up one guy, almost to death. I had to call the police... the police arrived and arrested some of them, the beaten up guy was taken to the hospital.

I don't know anyone in here that hasn't had their smart phones or bikes stolen at some point, but that's not unique to London, is it?

A year ago, a couple of days before New Year's Eve, I'm going to get some cash from an ATM machine a Saturday night... the ATM was saying “retrieve your card to get your cash”, I heard the card trying to exit but the card didn't pop out. After a few seconds the ATM displayed an “out of service” message and then rebooted, but the card didn't come out after all. I had a feeling that I was being a victim of crime. When I arrived home 30 minutes later, I went to my online banking to block the card, however I noticed that already some transactions had been made. I called the bank security phone-line and as I was reporting the theft I could see transactions being made with my card! I'm not sure how they did it but fortunately the bank blocked the card and gave me the money back the following Monday.

Big Beng
London is an amazing city and my time in here has been extremely positive, yet I can not help wondering whether at this point you really are safer in London than in Bogotá or any other descent place to live, as a matter of fact... it reveals how you are surrounded by people with corrupted hearts no matter where you go. You should always be cautious, it doesn't matter where you live. Nonetheless, never forget that the good people are the overwhelming majority of us Homo sapiens, regardless of all the violence we see in the news, the terrorist attacks, the murderers, the rapists, the corrupted governments...

When you hear in the news, Syria had chemical weapons... it wasn't Syria that had chemical weapons, it wasn't the loving mother who had the chemical weapons, it wasn't the man at the grocery shop that had the chemical weapons, it wasn't the kids at school that had them. It was a few mad men with power that had them. Those few men are not Syria.

When you hear in the news that Colombia is or was the biggest exporter of cocaine... it wasn't Colombia the exporter of cocaine, most of us 45 million Colombians had absolutely nothing to do with that. That was the thing of few evil or foolish men, corrupted and undeserving of being called Colombian. Those men and women are not Colombia.

Do not judge an entire population on the evil deeds of the few.

After all, the small acts of kindness that we do or experience everyday will not get any time on TV.

Nov 2, 2013

Journey to myself – 23andme, before DNA sequencing results (Part 1)

I feel that my life is about to change. I can not shake this feeling of excitement to finally and truly have genetic evidence of my roots. As a Colombian I am privileged to be racially mixed, within me rest the history of three branches of the human tree separated by many thousands of years of evolution and thousands of kilometers. I am the Native American, I am the men and woman that journeyed through Eurasia and ventured across the Bering Strait still through the ice age, fighting mammoth, frozen oceans and walls of ice 15000 years ago. I am the Spaniard conquistador, mounting horses and firing muskets, I am Cervantes and Don Quixote. I am the black slaves shipped from Africa, robbed of my humanity and retaken, I am cimarron and cumbia. I am a mix of Native American, Spanish, and African, both genetically and culturally, and I hope to confirm this with the genetic analysis.

My DNA ready to be shipped across the world

Previous genetic studies in Colombian mestizos have shown that we are about 60% Spanish, 30% Native American, and about 10% African... I have no reasons to believe I am different to that, but I am prepared for surprises. I want to find out if I can narrow my ancestry to a particular genetic group in Spain... is there a bit of North African in me due to the invasion of the Moors? What tribes of Colombia's Native Americans my Indian ancestry is from, is it Zenú, Embera, or Muisca? I may not get such detailed information, but I believe I have access to the raw DNA sequence data, so I may be able to do a few searches of my own.

Some Colombian families take pride in believing that they are 100% Spanish. Some other Colombian families reject their Spanish ancestry and express much hate because of the aftermath of the conquest. My families are a true example of this, on my mom's side they believe there is no Native American blood flowing through their veins and are outraged by the idea of a native ancestor. Many times I heard them take pride in the fact that in my grandfather's family there was a lot of inbreeding, they would say things like, “my dad last name was Londoño Londoño, we are pure Spanish, because they used to get married between cousins since they arrived to Colombia...” as if that was something good. On the other hand many times I heard my father express his despise for Spain, taking pride by saying that they have more facial features that resemble the Native American, and yet both mom and dad are unmistakably mestizos.

I am sure that if every child was aware of his or her true genetic ancestry, such kind of stupid believes that give rise to discrimination and oppression would not persist for centuries, as they have evidently persisted after hundreds of years since colonial times. This is particularly problematic when that kind of people achieve positions of power.

The other good thing about 23andme's service is that they will screen for my risk of developing some genetically inherited conditions or diseases, this range from lactose intolerance and boldness, to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson's, to some forms of cancer.

Very recently and very tragically my uncle (on my mom's side) passed away overcome by a rare form of cancer in his small intestine, he was only 52 years old. However, this is not the first time this has happened in my family, I already lost another uncle to prostate cancer and another one to liver cancer, both of them did not reach 60 years old. My grandfather (their dad) also died of cancer in the throat and it seemed that he lived as well with some form of skin cancer... he died around 75 years old or so. On my dad's side also an uncle died very young of lung cancer. So it makes me wonder whether I am at a higher risk for cancer than the average population, and whether I carry some bad mutations in my genome.

Thus, I can not wait until I have my results. Even if I am surprised with a higher risk of developing a severe disease later on in life, it is better to be mentally prepared even if there is nothing I can do. In any case, there is something I can always do, to enjoy every single second of this fragile life: fragile and ephemeral like evening dew and morning frost.