Two British look carefully the façade with artificial stone cladding of a three-floor house, after a grating. Behind the door there is a patio with decorated chairs and tables, and plants sown in clay pots and others that climb entangled to the wall. On the balcony of the second floor stands out a signboard that reads “Spanish School”. With their hands over their foreheads, the foreigners try to avoid the sun hitting merciless their white faces, that will soon turn red.
They look at the house located at Carrera 79B No. 45D – 94, Los Olivos neighborhood, west of Medellín. Above the roof of that place, on December 2nd, 1993, lay Pablo Escobar Gaviria’s body, shot by officers from the Search Squad of the National Police. Until then, the most feared man in the country for his actions and known as the bigger drug trafficker in the world.
Escobar came to that house 15 days prior to his death. He occupied it, in the company of a small group of accomplices that looked out for him. Apparently, one of his front men bought the property. In the first floor of the house was killed his lieutenant Álvaro de León Agudelo, alias Limón.
The Office of the Attorney General sealed it after the capo’s death. Curious, homeless, drug addicts and even treasure hunters dismantled it slowly.
After many transformations, today it’s a place where people from around the world arrive to receive Spanish lessons. Outside the school, located next to a quiet street, flanked by a small forest and a canalization, tourist renew every three minutes. They go from British to Mexicans, then Dutch arrive and so on. But they don´t go to study. They go attracted by the capo's history.
“What do they see there?", wanders a neighbor of the sector who lives there more than 40 years ago, just one block away from “the house where Escobar died”, as the taxi drivers call it in a cliché way, while leading more tourists to whom, without descending from the vehicle, they evoke the history. When Erica Borgardijn, a tall Dutch with a firm look, decided to create a Language School in Medellín she never thought she was going to be so close to the history of Pablo Escobar, Or, at least, the end of it.
Five years ago, she came to Colombia looking for new experiences and, through them, to master her Spanish. She was 34 years old and wanted to know the joyful, partying and rich in culture South America, to which she always felt attracted to. First, she went to Argentina, but did not find what she was hoping. “I pictured myself learning, making friends, dancing tango, eating meat, but I got there and found myself in a boring classroom”, explains with displeasure.
But when she arrived in Medellín and got familiar with its dynamics she knew that it was the city she wanted to live in and installed, two years ago, the school in this place, to which she gave a total change.
“I realized the history of the house because the man who showed it to, when I wanted to rent it, told me about it”, says Borgardijn, without giving much relevance to what happened 25 years ago. However, she adds that she knew it was perfect for what she wanted to do from the moment she saw it. The house was abandoned for 15 years.
The Office of the Attorney General sealed it after the capo’s death. Curious, homeless, drug addicts and even treasure hunters dismantled it slowly. From the day Escobar fell, it also was marked and became a visit spot in the famous narco-tours. In 2008, a merchant bought it, occupied it and did some remodeling, like building a third floor.
Even though Borgardijn could use Escobar’s image and the past of the place to attract foreigners, the truth is that for she and her language school, Colombia Immersion, drug trafficking is not a teaching topic, and she does not even reference it since she is not very familiar with the story, though she knows it was painful. Every time a student asks about the subject, she refers him to the Memory Museum (Casa Museo de la Memoria), in order to solve his doubts in context.
“Since the moment I had the idea of creating a Spanish school I thought of focusing it in the future, rather than the past. We are giving a new meaning to this place by helping others to learn”, says Borgardijn. Today, in the rooms of the house, where the drug trafficker spent his last moments, groups of foreign students pass on ideas in different languages.
The rooms have been baptized with the names of different sectors of the city: La Sierra, Manrique, Trece de Noviembre, Moravia and Ayacucho, is read in every door. “Culture and language go together. There is no way of learning a language without knowing its culture.
That’s why, at school, not only Spanish is taught, but also the city, through guided tours to the neighborhoods that give name to the classrooms”, explains Borgardijn. Some foreigners come here aiming to know about the culture of the city and, through it, learning Spanish; others, instead, do it to look from the opposite sidewalk and, through the guides’ narration, recreate that afternoon of Thursday December 2nd, 1993, when the most powerful narco in the world died.
BRYAN ANDRÉS GONZÁLEZ*
For EL TIEMPO
*Translated by Laura Vita