They could see nothing ahead of themselves; they could only feel the damp floor beneath them, and the most terrible thirst burning in their throats. But all Johanna Alvarez, 17, could think about, was the overbearing smell of excrement and the imminent feeling there was somebody else in the room. At last her eyes settled to the darkness.
There was refuse very near, rats and other animals were gnawing at something she just did not want to imagine. Next to her, there was a young man whom she had seen before, Camilo Pazos, 19. He had sat next to her that day in the church called La María, a Catholic church near the warm valley-town of Cali in Valle del Cauca, Colombia. Camilo was nondescript, a young face, with a lonely expression in his eyes. “They were most exceptional,” Johanna says. “I am sure, even in that impenetrable darkness, his eyes irradiated a feeling of the unfathomable. But perhaps it was just the exceptional circumstances. Being that scared can mess with your head. But this is what I remember.”
That day in church – now far away from Johanna who now lives in America and left Colombia 6 years ago – feels like a part of another universe. It started during the final homily, when a group of terrorists sneaked discreetly through the back door no one noticing until it was too late. They gathered the audience in groups near the altar, threatening them with weapons most had never seen before, “but I was sure they could not be afforded on a country-laborer’s salary,” Johanna says.
Then they announced what was very clear by that time –this was a kidnapping. “Many of us had surrendered our worries over to resignation; we felt it was merely a matter of time.” Like the blade of a guillotine tentatively waiting to fall upon its victim, they knew what was coming, and for the past weeks, “we were cagey about what we did, where we went, what we bought, what we said – everything.”
Things had changed after the last massacre before this major kidnapping. Even when Johanna and her family tried placing extra security, asked the local government for reinforcements, and organized a group of concerned citizens to fight back in a worst-case scenario, the rebels seemed unalarmed. Somehow, their ammunition and man power kept growing, while the town’s simultaneously decreased and the contempt for the terrorists amounted.
While in captivity, Johanna remembers mostly being numb because of the cold, wet floor. She wore nothing but an old rag and did not bathe in weeks. “Humiliation burns more terribly than open wounds.”
Johanna and Camilo were together in the same cell. She remembers how the first day, he took off his shirt and gave it to her. “It was as if he were bestowing something more along with the shirt; and in that moment we were linked by the complicity of the moment. This helped me throughout this horrible ordeal.” Johanna says.
But days became weeks, and then months, and nothing changed, and thinking about home and grabbing unto hope was just no longer enough. They knew what they had to do. After 8 months and 23 days, they decided to escape, during the morning roll-call. “The next days were of anguish, of running, of constant vigilance… but at that time nothing mattered anymore.” All that was left was their desire to be free, still untouched, and the untamable jungle, accomplice of their plan.