Friday, 30 December 2011


We didn`t really believe that the path could be that bad, that there could be that much mud, that walking could be so hard. The first hours I enjoyed; it was tough but I was excited and high on the adventure of it all once again. But the mud greedily stole my boots and cruelly slipped me up too many times. The instinctive reaction of breaking the falls with my hands resulted in my arms sinking into the mud past my elbows.

By the fifth hour we had both gotten to the stage of questioning whether it was worth it. But as we arrived, descending in the twilight towards these quaint thatched houses set in a valley against the thick, lively jungle mountains, with so many people buzzing around, many of whom had embarked on the same arduous journey as us, answers were no longer necessary as those questions themselves had evaporated to nothing. We were welcomed with jokes and limey water sweetened with panela, and given the privilege of spending Christmas with the Peace Community.

There are representatives from all the veredas of the Community, spread throughout Antioquia and Córdoba, which gives me the feeling of being part of something bigger, of supporting a wider movement of resistance to the conflict.

The next two days have a strong communal feel, a strong sense of sharing and of coming together. There are hammocks strung up everywhere. We all eat beef from a cow which has just been killed and then the guitars come out and the distinctive, monotonous rhythms and clever lyrics of the vallenato begin. The lack of electricity makes it feel somehow more communal. The 24th December brings baptisms, important community meetings, more beef and then later, vast quantities of sweet natilla poured onto banana leaves, more guitars and singing. I stay up late into the night dancing vallenato and merengue.

The second accompaniment we have, travelling on Christmas day, takes us back to the village around which paramilitaries have had a strong presence in recent weeks. Being Christmas, family visits are numerous, with so many of us staying in the same small house, hammocks in every possible space available and people sleeping on corn and planks of wood.

The first night we share one of the two small bedrooms with vast quantities of corn and rice, a family member´s hammock crossing our path to the bathroom (really not a bathroom at all, just a place in the kitchen where dishes and clothes are washed and people also urinate). I don´t want to wake him to pass, so I decide to go underneath his hammock, checking the ground with the dim light of my torch for excrement or anything else I might not want to put my hand in. On the way back, I get down on my hands and knees, this time not bothering to check with the torch, and crawl underneath, only to find myself face to face with what at the time I thought was a huge dog, but the rays of morning light later reveal to be a calf.

Some of the family visitors are coming from the city and, although originally from the region, appear relatively clueless as to life here. It´s oddly comforting hearing them ask aloud and in far cruder terms the same questions which came to our minds upon our arrival and to know more than they do about life here (“if you go to that mound in that field over there, you may get cell phone signal, but not here” etc.).

Christmas is so different here and it´s easier not to think of what it´s like back home as I would miss it enormously. Probably the only thing in common is that I eat way too much. But here it´s rice, yucca and sweet corn arepas with beef, chicken, duck and pork (not all on the same day). I also don´t normally witness their slaughter, plucking, gutting etc. as I have here.

It´s definitely been a Christmas I won´t forget.