“Even the dogs are fatter here!” exclaimed a member of a delegation over the weekend as we walked down the Parkway, my neighbourhood. We had just returned from visiting a couple of projects in Soacha, a municipality to the south of the city. Skinny, flea-covered dogs run wild everywhere in a community made up mainly of displaced people living in very vulnerable conditions.
Being in Soacha reminded me that I miss living in a community. It has been over a year since I left Mampujan, a year of healing, of comfort, of privacy, of relaxation, of fresh vegetables and good cheese. When I thought about my life on the coast, there was always a feeling of relief that I did not have to live in a tiny mouse infested concrete box anymore or deal with the crazy that permeated the entire reparations process.
I still don’t miss the mice, nor do I want to romanticize the community and my former life. It was time for me to leave, yet I miss being connected to the reality of life in Colombia’s regions. Here, I can go to forums and hear lectures all about conflict and read analysis of peace talks all day long.
What I cannot do is walk up and down the streets of a community, be greeted by everyone and greet in return. I cannot sit down and understand Colombia through the everyday experiences of my neighbours and friends, as they share: about their crops, their families, their dreams, their jokes, their stories, and ultimately their lives with me. And I am finally able to miss it.
What I also miss, besides the sense of community, is a sense of perspective. Life on the Parkway, filled with fat dogs and beautiful coffee shops, represents a very small percentage of the way most Colombians live, as we were reminded in Soacha.
As MCC, we often talk about simple living. Compared to the majority at home, my life here may not be very elaborate, but in many ways, I feel like I could be living back in Canada. Simple is a scale and I am not suffering. To live in Bogota is not a sacrifice, but what I have given up is easy access to perspective and rural reality.
Perspective still exists here but does requires an intentional effort to find; this too is a reality. Living in Bogota is about learning to read Colombia through the lens of comfort. It is easy, especially with poor media coverage, for upper and middle class dwellers to ignore what is happening in the regions or to provide solutions that are completely out of touch. Yet, many of the people who clean our offices or sell food on the street come from these communities.
If I sometimes forget or do not see, how much easier is it for those who have never experienced the other side of Colombia to not understand and to unintentionally perpetuate conflict and inequality? (What about middle class Canadians-how do we understand the realities at home?)
Life in the city is just as real as in the rural, but focus is different. As I continue to live, and enjoy, life on the Parkway, my challenge is to remember not only Mampujan and Soacha, but to try to bring that perspective to my current reality and vice versus.