Tuesday, 15 November 2011

La Unión

It takes a while to travel up to the community, a day from Bogotá to Medellín and another from Medellín to Apartadó, then a chivero ride from Apartadó to San José and a two hour hike up to La Unión, where we live. The main reason we aim to get here early on Sunday is because there’s mass in the afternoon. So we hike up in the midday heat and it’s not easy (many people ask me if LU seems far and reassure me that soon, as I get used to the hike, it won’t seem so far). So mass is the first thing that’s happening as I get to the community and, seeing as it´s important to meet people and I’m also curious about the levels of religious indoctrination in Colombia, I go along. It’s pretty much what I expected it would be: Colombia is a very Catholic country, and the Padre is a very serious man. At one point early on he asks “reconozcamos que somos todos pecadores” (let us recognize that we are all sinners). There’s a boy of about three or four years old sat in front of me, who, following this, says loudly and in a slightly inquisitive and confused tone “pescadores!?!” (fishermen). I’m the only person to try to hold back a burst of laughter at this child confusing pecadores with pescadores (imaging his confusion as he tries to understand why the Padre is asking us to recognize that everyone in this campesino community is a fisherman).

Following mass I talk to people. First a small girl wants to introduce me to her mum, who is lovely and pleased with the fact that I eat meat so she can feed me morcilla. I then speak to an older man who tells me that we are a strength to the community, that we mean that they are respected in ways they simply weren’t before and wouldn’t be without our presence, and who thanks me profusely for being here. I then hang out in our house, where people from the community come in and out, asking me lots of questions and, at one point, managing to get me to dance salsa for them, which I do, in my wellington boots. Most latinos are impressed by a European who knows how to dance.

The children from the community have decorated the house with pictures and messages to welcome me. The one on my bedroom door says ‘Bienvenida Carla, tu presencia nos fortalece’ (Welcome Charlotte, your presence makes us strong).

Life will have a simple beauty here. We have electricity, but no fridge. We must burn all of our rubbish. Fashion here is muddy wellington boots. I’m happy at this point in my life to be so far from consumerist and materialist society, to have shed the makeup, pressures to look and dress a certain way and to own specific gadgets and brands. Here, there’s none of that. Here are simple lives and simple homes. And these people have had to struggle hard to maintain them, and for their lives, their ways of life, and their land to remain theirs.