People Live Here

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Bogota: All 10 million of us
Bogota: All 10 million of us

I always resort to cliques when I am asked the question of what I like most about Colombia. I can’t help it because it is true. Whether a taxi driver, a coworker or someone from Canada asks, the answer is always the same: people.

I do not mean this in any sort of romantic, nostalgic, “oh, aren’t they exotic and interesting” sense. I am usually equal parts frustrated, baffled and amused at life here, just like I was in Canada. In other words: normal.

May 2014 184In fact, we generally spend our time lurching from crisis to crisis: arrests, elections, arrests, displacement. On Sunday, we entered another.

I was still lying in bed on holiday Monday when my phone buzzed. It was my boss, wondering how to create a hashtag. Since I have become the expert on all things social media, I sent her a brief explanation and went back to doing what I do best on holidays: nothing.

But my holiday doing nothing included an extra element: worry.  Right before drifting into sleep the night before, I saw the news that the Farc had captured an army general in Choco, a department on Colombia’s Pacific coast.

When I woke up 8 hours later, the peace talks were suspended and civil society, my boss included, was hard at work making their message very clear: #noselevantendelamesa and #treguaya (Do not stop the dialogues and it’s time for a truce already).

This is the most serious challenge the peace talks have faced, and civil society is justifiably worried.

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I could write about resilience, about people that have nonviolently demanded and worked for the end of conflict for over 50 years. I could tell you about movements for justice and reconciliation, that started before peace talks and will continue long after. I could highlight the daily life of ordinary people throughout the history of Colombia, the rhythms of work and play, of school and old age. I could point to the moments of laughter we have shared in the middle of disaster.

But really, none of these factors make Colombians deserve peace more than anybody else. Rather, peace and lives lived with dignity and free of fear are rights that belong to everybody.

Last week, I read Miriam Toew’s All My Puny Sorrows and declared it to be the best book of 2014. Sad, and deeply hilarious, it is about the relationship between two sisters of Mennonite background, one who want to live and one who wants to die. While not a central focus of the story, Toews also briefly explores generational trauma. How do the impacts of violence and starvation among Mennonites in  Russia during the revolution continue to manifest themselves in the everyday lives of their Canadian descendents?

The theme sticks with me not only because of my history, but also my present. I don’t want the hidden roots of conflict to continue to branch out into Colombia’s future generations.

March 2014 301

The “Colombian People” are simply people: co-workers, neighbours, friends, strangers, acquaintances. This is the thing I like best: we are all just people trying to live together, with our differences and our similarities, even when that coexistence is difficult because of conflict and violence in all its forms.

Peace talks will not solve everything, but  as this letter, written by Justapaz and co-signed by over 40 different faith based organizations demanding the continuation of the peace dialogues, states: “The way of peace is through dialogue and political negotiation. It is not an easy path to take, but it is possible.”

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