Arcesio sat wringing his hands while alternating between strained smiles and somber looks as I interviewed him. He and his cheerful wife were very kind to meet me at Fundación ArcÁngeles. Bogotá’s traffic and shear size can make trips across the city take an hour or more during rush hour.
It could have been many things that made Arcesio so nervous to be interviewed. He is connected with Fundación ArcÁngeles through a job development program to help people with disabilities find jobs or make jobs more accessible. Maybe he thought I was screening him for a job (although I made very clear my connection to Fundación ArcÁngeles and the purpose of the interview). Maybe being at Fundación ArcÁngeles made him feel awkward. He could have just been camera shy or, most likely, he was probably uncomfortable talking about his life experiences with a complete stranger (who that day was delirious with a second round of a head cold that made her Spanish quite interesting). I didn’t immediately assume it would be the latter that made him seem so uncomfortable just because it happened so long ago. “It” being the day Arcesio’s life changed.
Eighteen years ago, Arcesio was a nineteen year old fulfilling the two year obligatory military service required of young Colombian men. “It was a normal day,” he told me. “We had just eaten breakfast, our stomachs were full. We were out on patrol in the mountains of northeastern Colombia for about 2 hours. It was 11 am.” At 11 am that day Arcesio stepped on a landmine that he reckons was probably there for around two years. Arcesio says he looked down after the blast to see his right leg completely blown off. All he could think about was killing himself. “I’m not worth anything now. What good am I?” he had thought. Arcesio’s left leg had to later be amputated when gangrene infested. He says the amputation saved his life.
Arcesio has since come a long way from his nineteen year old mentality after the landmine explosion. He no longer uses a wheel chair. He has a wife and an 11 year old daughter. He’s now looking for a stable job. He does not want to kill himself. The biggest challenge he faces now is not his own mentality, but the mentality of Colombian society. Arcesio describes the mentality of Colombian society regarding people with disabilities as condescending and discriminating. He says it is very difficult to find a job if you have a disability and people do not usually treat him like other co-workers. “I just want to be treated like a ‘normal’ person.”
Arcesio looks forward to finding a stable job, “hopefully watching security cameras or the like.” Arcesio has come to the right place towards reaching his two goals. Fundación ArcÁngeles is working around the clock to change Colombians’ prejudices against people with disabilities and aiming to create more jobs for this population. As for Arcesio’s tension during the interview, I can’t say. I was an hour blip in Arcesio’s life which is not long enough to make assumptions (although, is there really any time frame in which assumptions are acceptable?). I wish Arcesio the best! He is in good hands!
Posted By Lindsey Crifasi
Posted Sep 4th, 2009