Ex-hostage Betancourt in "Bubble of Happiness"

(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere) :: Former Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt answers reporters during an interview with the Associated Press at her hotel in Paris, Wednesday July 9, 2008. Six days after being rescued along with three Americans and 11 Colombians IngridBetancourt is meeting with French officials and medias. The 46-year-old who was a cause celebre in France as a captive is a hero today portrayed as an icon of courage and an inspiration.

Updated: 7/9/2008


It's the little things that are the hardest.

For former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, everyday experiences that many people take for granted — from smelling a French perfume to taking a hot shower — are potent symbols of her new freedom after more than six years in captivity in the jungles of Colombia at the hands of leftist rebels.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Betancourt said she had been ''crying a lot'' since her rescue last week in a daring operation by the Colombian military, but insisted she was mentally stable.

''When I think of things that I don't like to recall, it's very hard, and I have sometimes problems not to cry,'' she said, adding the tears often ''jump'' into her eyes.

Still, Betancourt described her first week of freedom as an ''incredible bubble of happiness'' and said she was trying not think too much about her captivity by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Seated in a plush armchair at a chic Paris hotel, worlds away from the rebel camps carved out of the Colombian jungle, Betancourt said she wasn't yet ready to go into details about her captivity, but described the pitfalls of readjusting to normal life.

''I hadn't been in contact with hot water for nearly seven years, so the first shower I had, it was a strange feeling because it hurts,'' said the 46-year-old dual French-Colombian citizen.

She described that hot shower as a ''spiritual bath'' to ''get rid of all the bad memories I wanted to flush away.''

''I thought, 'well I'm burning all the things I took with me from the jungle, burning all the bugs and things that stayed with me,''' said Betancourt, who was dressed in a sharp navy pantsuit.

The scent of perfume — a common fragrance in France, where Betancourt arrived to a hero's welcome two days after her July 2 release — also threw her for a loop.

''I am just amazed at the intensity of how I can smell because in the jungle, you don't have smells,'' she said.

Betancourt said doctors have warned her to keep an eye out for signs of trouble adjusting to civilian life, like excessive bouts of crying or eating disorders.

But for the moment, she said, ''I feel quite stable.''

''It's easy to come back to civilization, hard to go back to prehistory,'' she said with a serene smile.

She declined to give details about hardships during her detention, saying, ''I'm in the process of forgiving.''

''If I speak too soon, I may convey attitudes of anger I don't want to convey,'' said Betancourt, a former Colombian senator who was kidnapped while campaigning for the presidency in 2002. Her children, Melanie, 22, and Lorenzo, 19 — who reached adulthood in Paris during her captivity — campaigned tirelessly on her behalf, helping turn Betancourt into a cause celebre in France.

Betancourt credited her religious faith with helping her survive captivity and said trips to Roman Catholic churches in France are on her agenda, as is a possible trip to the Vatican to ''say hello to the pope.''

Betancourt, who has previously said she spent much of her captivity chained to a tree, said it was the mental anguish — not the physical pain — that was hardest to endure.

''When you have psychological pain, you have the fear it will turn you into a different person,'' she said.

She credited a host of mental games she played with helping her survive. Little routines helped take away the monotony and allowed her to claim a bit of autonomy over her own destiny, she said.

Such routines, which included meditating and writing, ''are a little space where you can get a bit of oxygen in the face of such an aggressive, punishing world,'' she said.

Betancourt said she allowed her chestnut hair to grow long as a way of marking the passage of time.

''When they kidnapped me, I thought it was going to be for three weeks,'' she said. ''And year after year, it was prolonged and I saw the passage of time in how long my hair was growing.''

''I said 'it's going to be my marker. It's going to allow me to be conscious of what I lived through, because when I'm out, I'm going to forget,''' she said. ''But with my hair like this, I'm going to remember that every centimeter of this hair is pain.''

Since her release, she has resisted her family's urging to cut her dark braid, in an act of solidarity with those still in captivity. She has pledged to devote herself to winning the freedom of the group's hundreds of remaining captives.

''When the last one is released, that will be the day'' she cuts her hair, Betancourt said, adding ''it's a way of telling those there that I haven't forgotten them.''

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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