The Caribbean Coast is a beautiful place! It’s lush and green and tropical. Everywhere we look, something edible is growing- from bananas to papayas to grapefruit to unidentifiable tropical fruits. Cows, chickens and pigs roam the countryside. The Caribbean Ocean, former home of slave traders and pirates, is warm and beautiful. The beach is lined with palm trees, and people ready to scale the trees, cut down coconuts and chop them open to drink the coconut milk inside. There are vast varieties of beautiful birds flying everywhere. I’m still on monkey alert, but apparently they are around somewhere…
People are so much friendlier as well here than in Bogota. When we were shopping for household stuff, we often were repeatedly asked if we were Mormons and everyone was interested to know where we were from and what we are doing and how we like the weather. There is always music playing somewhere and people spend much more of their lives outside then in Bogota. Life seems much more relaxed. Having a siesta in a hammock is a great way to spend an hour after a giant lunch of soup, coconut rice, yucca, some sort of fried meat, plantain, and a fresh fruit juice.
Juxtaposed with all of this beauty is another reality of life on the coast. Infrastructure is lacking almost everywhere. Roads are horrible or nonexistent. Even public services, such as buses are in short supply in Sincelejo, the capital of Sucre. This has lead to an extremely large population of motorcycle taxis who, for less than a dollar, will drive you anywhere you want to go. Strictly speaking, they are illegal, but the last time the police tried to crackdown on them, riots broke out.
Even the beach that we visited is on a bay that is the final destination of a major drug trafficking route. The route mirrors the displacements and massacres that took place in this area in the early 2000s. The communities that we will be working with have either been displaced or are communities of resistance to displacement that still have suffered violence. Many of the farms seem along the road belong to large landholders, leaving campasinos with next to nothing. Colombia has the largest gap between the rich and the poor in Latin America, and that gap is very evident everywhere.
However, this does not mean that people are simply living lives of despondency and apathy. It’s been amazing to get to know Semprandopaz and the network of people who are working for change, in their local communities as well as on a broader level. For example, local elections are scheduled to be held in the middle of October, and it is a well-recognised fact that many of the candidates running have mafia and paramilitary ties. Vote buying is a common practice. One woman that we have met is running for election, but with a difference. She doesn’t have the right ties or resources, so she is not really expecting to get elected. However, she uses campaigning as an excuses to go to local communities and hold workshops on democracy and citizenship, empowering people that what they do with their vote does matter and reminding them that the role of government is to be accountable to the needs of the people.
During our time here, we have travelled to each of the communities where Will, Leonel, Larisa and I will be living and working. It’s been so good to see where we will finally be and to experience how to get there, which forms an enormous part of community life. For example, to get to Larisa’s community, you must travel in truck over a road of pure mud, fording the river six times. If it rains, you must wait. It’s extremely difficult to transport produce to market or for kids to get to school under these conditions. Right now, Larisa is stuck in Sincelejo, simply because the road is now utterly impassable due to raining and flooding. To get to Leonel’s community of La Palma, you must drive for two hours, then take a two hour boat ride down the Rio Magdalena to Sucre, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s childhood home, and then take another boat for two hours, or more if the boat gets stuck in water plants, to finally arrive. It is possible to avoid some of the trip by going by motorcycle, but only if the trail is dry. It’s been really fun for us to experience this travel- the river trip is beautiful- but a whole entire other story for those who must make this trip every time they want to leave their community or have access to services.
For myself, I was prepared to move to Mampujan on Thursday with all my stuff packed and ready to go. We loaded everything up into Richardo’s van and headed down the road, potholes and all. Two hours later, we arrived at a little tiny village literally on the side of the highway and drove up to my future home. I say future home because I am writing this sitting in Sincelejo again. My house is still under construction and there is no where else for me to live.
Mampujan was displaced ten years ago and is the first community to receive a sentencing of those who were involved in the act. Because of this, they are the centre of a lot of international and national attention. Countless people are offering resources and services to the community, which is amazing. However, the leadership of the community has been stretched thin. The same six people are attending every meeting and involved in everything that is going on. They are very busy, but nothing is happening, because they have no time or organized plan for the future of the community. The very fact that my house is not finished is a symptom of some of the issues that I will be working on when I finally arrive, which will hopefully be sometime in the next two weeks.
As it is, I will be getting to know Sincelejo a little more! I’ll be working in the Semprandopaz office, and will hopefully become more acquainted with the office and the people that work here in the city. And it was really good to finally see my community and to be able to visualise a little more about what my life will look like very soon, even though it was disappointing to have to leave.