Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Bogotá that for years I did not know

By Lina María Silvina Sánchez Rivas

It started when my group of  Public Policy Analysis Methods and I identified as a public issue "the difficulty in generation of income in an autonomous and sustainable way by the displaced population that lives in Caracolí, Ciudad Bolívar".

In September 2017, we did our field work; we went to Caracolí and discovered the Bogotá that for years was invisible to us, a Bogotá that had only appeared in conversations with friends or family, on television, in one article or another, and all the descriptions we had about this place were related to poverty, children with nothing to eat, violence, criminality and thieves.

When we arrived in Caracolí, we settled in the community eatery where there is food and activities for children, women and elderly people. Until we had our first focus group, Angie, one of the daughters of a local cook, gave us a tour of the dining room, told us how much she liked to go to school, the importance of saving and how happy she was in her neighborhood. While she told us her anecdotes, we had in the background a panoramic view of a part of Bogotá. However, it is not the Bogotá that is seen from Calera, it was a Bogotá with special characteristics: tin rooves (not all, but most), a rural atmosphere, houses with an unstable appearance, striking colors on the walls, narrow streets, urban music, dogs, cats, everything was part of Caracolí, and identified it.

The first focus group that we had allowed us to understand how Caracolí was the place that welcomed many of the displaced people that our country has, each of them came from different places in Colombia, but all agreed not to want to return, they preferred to bring a bit of their customs to the capital or leaving them behind, the conflict took them away so much that it even took away their desire to return.

One of the women participating in the focus group invited us to her house, which, as she called it, was the house in the air of Caracolí, only two wooden poles supported it, and because of the height it was at, we could see the landscape and the go of sun in the sky. Her stories, contrary to what we would expect from the biases we had (there was no bathroom, the kitchen was the same place where she slept) showed that she was grateful and how lucky she was to live in that place , how grateful she was with her neighbors and the work she found sporadically.

Nobody had ever told us about Caracolí, its landscapes or its grateful and hard-working people; they told us about thieves, but not about the people who had to leave the places they once belonged to because of violence. They did not tell us about the fear with which they live, not because of the insecurity or criminality that is supposed to exist in every corner; they live with the fear of having to return.

From this experience, I have a reflection: from that moment, every time we say we are and feel like Bogotans, I wonder if we refer to all of Bogotá, or only to the part that is visible to many. We believe that the city is full of problems and we live in fear of thieves, annoyed by pollution, etc., but there is a Bogota that shares these and other fears and other anxieties, which clearly identifies them and makes them feel part of their community. I think that when we say we feel like Bogotans, we omit a large part of it.

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