Magic and Mistaken Identity in Medellín

by Brooks

Two middle-aged men offered to buy me an ice cream in Parque Berrio in Medellín. The well-coiffed, thin one in a suit was a lawyer. The fat one was an economist. The lawyer told me they have an apartment nearby. Would I like to visit? I was confused by this rushed invitation. I didn’t know what to say. He changed the subject and the conversation died down pretty quickly.

An older man in baggy dress pants and a too-big, half unbuttoned collared shirt was ranting in a deep, booming voice about his mother, who was a witch. He had constructed a sort of shrine on the ground. There was a square, green piece of cloth, bordered on two sides by a line of vials filled with green liquid. Magic potions, he explained. At the top of the square cloth was a doll’s head, with a cigarette in the doll’s mouth. He ranted more about magic and his life as a child, and lit the cigarette in the doll’s mouth.


At first he ranted to an imaginary crowd, which gradually materialized into a real crowd, gathered in a wide circle around him. He insisted that we move a bit closer. He learned special powers from his mother, he told us. He flashed a razor blade and sliced through pieces of newspaper to show us how sharp the blade was. He took the blade to his palm and sliced. No blood appeared. He took the blade to his carotid artery in his neck and sliced. No blood appeared. I saw that only one side of the razor was sharp.

He asked for coins to perform a ritual that would give good fortune in business. I gave him 200 pesos (about 10 cents). He invited those who offered a coin to gather close to him. About 8 of us, all men, stood in a tight circle around him. He poured green potion into a cup filled with water, took a black stone out of his fanny pack and dropped it in the cup. He covered it with a cloth, and then uncovered it. The water was no longer green, but perfectly transparent. He poured more green potion into the water, which promptly lost its colour and turned transparent. He took more black stones out of his bag and put one in each of our hands. He poured green potion into our hands. It smelled like cheap liquid soap. He rubbed the coins we gave against the black stone and told us to rub our hands together. Presto, good fortune.

He offered to sell the potions, making about 25,000 pesos from four or five men. He invited the suckers to follow him if they wanted to receive an education on the ways of magic. Together, they walked out of the park.

Later that evening, my couchsurf host asked me where I was sitting when the men offered me ice-cream and invited me to their apartment. When I told him I was sitting on the stairs to the metro, he laughed. That is where the male prostitutes sit when they are working, he said.