Friday, March 9, 2018

Aluminum on the jungle floor


Let’s review.  I have been spending a month or so in Colombia working with Christian Peacemaker Teams for ten years in a row now.  We are “unarmed body guards” whose presence alongside people whose lives are disrupted by threats of violence helps to lower that threat.  Our office is in the oil town of Barrancabermeja.  We work primarily in the agricultural region north of the city along the River Magdalena or up in the foothills of the mountains with mining communities.

I arrived a week ago.  The trip down was amazing for the networking accidentally accomplished. It  began when I met a man from Guatemala City after we both got off the flight from Columbus and ended up having lunch together.  Then I spent nearly an hour weaving through the customs line in Bogota chatting with a man who was being sent down to the US embassy to work for four months in the USAID office.  Later that night I found a safe, comfortable bench to spend six hours snoozing as I waited for my 6 AM flight to Barranca.  A couple about my age sat down next to me.  I did some visual stereo-typing and decided to identify myself to them as a member of the Mennonite Church.  So were they.  They had worked in Costa Rica in the 1970s, and, of course, after playing the Mennonite game for a while, we identified some relationships we had in common.  They were down to consult on a Bible translation project for indigenous people here in Colombia.  We spent the night together there in the waiting area, sleeping badly. 

After getting to Barranca, this first week has turned out to be one of the most interesting and complicated since I started coming in 2008.  At this point, I can’t tell you exactly where we are working.  The specific incident involves small farms, jungle, buried two-person airplanes, the army, the national human rights office, and narco traffickers.  Ironically, I watched the Tom Cruise movie “American Made” on my flight to Bogota, and while it is factually mushy in several areas, the hidden, rural airstrip depicted on Cruise’s first run to Colombia is exactly what I am talking about.  The abandoned airstrip we are actually dealing with here hasn’t been used in 30 years and was controlled by Pablo Escobar’s branch of the Colombian drug cartel.  The discovery of these planes has triggered an attempt by someone to remove the evidence.  

Add to this the fact that this Sunday Colombia holds its Senate elections.  In Barranca, a city where literally half the people travel by motorcycle, sometimes a family of four on one bike, and motorcycle taxis are common, things change on election day when only one person is allowed on a motorcycle from 6 AM to 6 PM.  Alcohol sales will stop on Saturday night and resume again on Monday.  It’s going to be a very interesting weekend. 

This picture of me with Pepo the goat is posted for my goat farmer friends, Ivan and Nina. He wanted his ears scratched as much as any dog I have ever known.


Steve Goering said...

Phil... Again, we appreciate receiving these notes from your experience there. Each time you go to Colombia, our world is enlarged/changed... It is so easy and too comfortable to fall into a suburban routine that creates barriers to our knowing and standing for/with peoples in other parts of the world. Will look with anticipation for more of your updates... Steve Goering, F.C.

Joel Miller said...

Great post Phil.