Culture and Vistas of Bogota

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What do you think of when you hear the word culture? What is Canadian culture? What best represents Canadian culture? What is Colombian culture? How is culture even defined in the first place? In case you can’t guess, last week was all about exploring culture, both our own and here in Colombia.

To start the week, we shared a potluck of all of our favourite cultural foods. I brought Nanaimo Bars, improvising the custard powder with vanilla pudding powder, thus creating Nanaimo bars that can be made almost anywhere in the world. Globalization in action!

During the week, we had the privilege of meeting with a number of different groups to learn about Colombia and it’s culture. Did you know that Colombia is a multi-cultural country, as affirmed and protected by their Constitution of 1991? There are a number of different groups that make up Colombian society, including Afro-Colombians, a variety of Indigenous societies, and Romas, among others. Their rights, along with the rights of women, youth and children, and sexual minorities, are all protected by law. However, these rights are very pretty on paper, but look very different when applied in real life. It was fascinating to listen to various representatives and academics from the different areas of Colombian society talking about the struggles and accomplishments of each group to live a life of dignity within Colombian society.

We were encouraged by one of the first speakers of the week, a professor from the National University, who got her Phd from Lavelle University in Quebec, not to simply view Colombia as the only country in the world with problems. Rather, she advised us to use our knowledge of the Colombian context as a lens for looking at our own countries and contexts. For example, women, especially within minority groups, may struggles for equality and dignity in Colombia in a very obvious way. However, we can step back, examine their struggles, and then use their struggles as a way to focus in on issues and challenges within our contexts. Women in Canada may not struggle with the same obvious issues as sexual violence used as a tactic of war. However, we can use these struggle to ask questions and look beneath the surface. Are women the victims of sexual violence in Canada? Are there specific groups that are targeted more than others? Are there struggles for the domination of one group over another going on in some of these instances? These questions make me think of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada and provide a point of connection, rather than distance, with women around the world.

We went to ONIC, an Indigenous governance group which, as far as I can understand, parallels the roles of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada. It was so interesting to hear much of the same discourse I have heard in Canada: the struggle for self-governance, collective rights, land claims, resource exploitation, the United National Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, and cultural and language rights. However, many large trucks went by during the talk, including at one point a fire truck and a helicopter; my Spanish interpretation skills only go so far when large motor vehicles are involved, not to mention coca chewing, so I may be totally misrepresenting everything that was said. Interesting fact: Indigenous men in Colombia chew coca leaves during meetings as they believe the coca will give them the wisdom, or sixth sense, that women automatically possess.

I was especially intrigued by the possibility of intersection of the various groups. On Saturday, Norma, a feminist organizer shared about the role and struggles of women here in Colombia. Women were some of the first to join popular movements and protest government policies of exclusion. Until the middle of the 1970s, Bogota had an extremely high infant mortality rate. Single mothers were forced to work to provide for their children, and would leave them locked in the house where many died from accidents or were eaten by rats. However, many single mothers from the popular sector joined together to form solidarity networks, where the women would take turns caring for each other’s children, and thus lowering the infant mortality rate. The actions of the women was so successful that the state adopted a national childcare program based on their program, but has forgotten to acknowledge the women of Bogota for their original idea.

How do women’s movements in Bogota compare to women’s movements on the Coast? What are the intersections between Afro-Colombian women and other solidarity or women’s networks? Have the same struggles within feminism in North America taken place here, between women of color and white women? How has the struggle for identity as Afro-Colombians, which we also head about this week, impacted the formulation of cross-cultural movements? How does the role of religion impact these intersections? I will be directly working with Afro-Colombian women on the coast, so these are topics that are both fascinating and relevant for me.

However, this does not mean that all of our time was spent in meetings, although a lot of it really was! On Wednesday night, we played tejo, a traditional Colombian sport, which is kind of like a Colombia version of bowling, expect you throw a disc and there is gunpowder involved. Therefore, a lot more fun than bowling, especially when I exploded a gunpowder tile!

This week, we are learning about the history of Colombia. So far, it has been overwhelmingly fascinating, although I am struggling with a bit of a cold. On Thursday, however, we will have some rest time, when all of the MCC workers in the country meet together for a four day retreat just outside of Bogota. I’m excited to see more the country and to get out of the city for a bit. I do like Bogota, but there is a lot of smog from all of the traffic. I’m looking forward to not having black snot for a few days.

2 comments on “Culture and Vistas of Bogota”

  1. Ok– wow. i am trying to process a lot right now: 1) That i have a sixth sense and no longer need to chew coca leaves, although i still might for the high; 2) that some infants were eaten by rats; 3) that you get to play with gun powered (no fair!) 4) how amazing you and your adventures are 5) how much i miss you and wish i was there!

    great post and update!

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