Sunday, 8 January 2012

Two Realities

Here are two distinct realities. The first is the reality of campesino life, an already full and demanding existence. It is hard physical work: pulling yucca from the ground, chopping firewood for the stove, collecting cocoa, grinding corn, peeling rice and milking cows. It is killing a chicken, plucking its feathers, slicing it up, placing the knife in just the right place so that the stomach doesn`t split open and the faeces don´t spurt out, knowing which parts are eaten and which aren´t (these being skills I now have after killing and preparing yesterday´s lunch). It is vallenato music blaring from houses, village dances and traditions like burning the ´old year´ dolls at midnight on New Year´s Eve. It is never having your door closed and always accepting visitors that wander in and out; it is entering other people´s houses as freely as if they were close family members.

And then there is the second reality, which imposes itself on this one, seeping into it, trying to overwhelm it, control it. It is the reality of conflict. It is the militarization of life and land. It is constantly monitoring armed actors and regularly passing through military checkpoints. It is the reality of fear.

And each time I feel like the former is able to just be for a time, that I am able to absorb that way of life, it is shattered by a sudden and imposing manifestation of the latter.

This time it is in the form of an armed strike throughout Urabá. In the early hours of 1st January, Juan de Dios Usuga David alias "Giovanni", the leader of one of the most powerful neo-paramilitary groups operating in the region, was killed by the police. The swift and shockingly well organised reaction of the Urabeños was to enforce an armed strike, bringing the whole región of Urabá to a standstill. Everything shut down: shops, banks, public transport. In their pamphlet, the Urabeños stated that they did not want to see people walking on the streets. And so an entire region is paralized with fear. We could not go into town to buy food and my colleague was trapped in town and could not come home.

The strike is a shocking reminder of the immense power that the neo-paramilitary group wield in the region. It is yet another example of how that first reality, the campesino life which I am learning to appreciate and adapt to (people said I wouldn´t be capable of killing a chicken, but I proved them wrong), is so often dominated and overwhelmed by fear and violence.