When I saw the email invite to Mamupjan’s 14th commemoration of displacement in my inbox, my first reaction was panic. After I engaged in some deep breathing to dissolve the ball of stress that had instantly formed in my stomach, I was able to continue reading with a mixture of happiness and regret. Regret because I could not be there and happiness because the community keeps right on going, no matter what the circumstances.
At every point on the schedule, I could imagine exactly what could go wrong, or at least anticipate the unexpected, because I have lived through many large events in Mampuján. The first year was truly awful, from the lack of food to the styrofoam plate riot a few days later (don’t ask). The second year, the whole event was staged for a documentary.
I was a little bit crazy a lot of the time in Mampuján and these are only some of the examples. It was chaotic all the time, mainly due to the transitional justice process. I was not the only crazy stress-case because of the process, but culture shock combined with everything else accelerated things. Yet what I love most about this community is their insane ability to turn crazy into celebration and remembrance.
I stopped romanticizing poverty about two and a half years ago. Poor people are not better people than anybody else and I work to lessen the hold of poverty on communities and seek structural justice. Yet when there is less, hope is sometimes more obvious.
Mampuján is of course different from the majority of Colombian communities. No one died in their displacement. Families remained together. They received accompaniment from different organizations. They are the first community in Colombia to receive a court order of reparations under the Justice and Peace Law.
But Mampuján is also the community I lived in and know best. In spite of the crazy and the chaos, they are always willing to try again and to turn their trauma or victimization into something beautiful. And that is what I want to remember, more than riding in a van with snapping turtles, or shaking dirt out of my hair, or constant changes every minute, or long frustrating meetings in Cartagena, or people knocking on my door at six in the morning, or the lack of running water.
Went I first travelled the seven kilometres to Mampuján Viejo (with the Peace Process Observation team from the Organization of the American States in an armored car- a sign of all the transitions to come) I felt only sadness to see the abandoned homes with trees growing through them and to hear the story of displacement and fear.
Yet the longer I lived there and got to know the people, the more Mampuján Viejo stopped being a ghost town haunted by only sadness and instead came to represent hope for the future. Every large event, the same group of men and women would return and clear out the trees growing in the ruined houses, with the goal of presenting a cared-for-community to the world. The same group would make bigger and bigger plans for every event, inviting more and more people because of pride in the community, their history and the need to share their memories with the world. The site of displacement became filled with living memories of people cooking and playing and living.
And that is what I want to ponder, on this 14th anniversary of displacement and every day. I do not want to diminish the horror of that day, but I do want to remember it the way the Mampujaneros do, with forgiveness, with the desire to pursue justice, with laughter, with prayers, with traditional games, and with hope, no matter what the unexpected.