Thursday, August 26, 2010

Not On The List

After three full years in this beautiful and diverse country I have had the opportunity to experience much of it. There are some places that continue to bring me back, such as the quaint mountain town of Salento in the coffee region, or places I dream of visiting again, like the romantic walled city of Cartagena or the quiet cobble-stoned town of Villa de Leyva north of Bogotá. There are, however, places that will never make my "to visit" list.

One such place is the town of Caucasia, north of Colombia's second largest city, Medellín. I had not heard of this town until just recently when I happened upon this article by Elyssa Pachico for the phenomenal website Colombia Reports.

Aside from profiling a still-very dangerous area, Pachico has written one of the better anylises of Colombia's social - political, drug, tourism - situation in recent memory. Feel free to read the whole thing, but two parts that struck a chord with me were her disection of Colombia in the international media and an analogy of the challenges facing the current administration change coupled with the ongoing problem of nacro-trafficking.

To quote the article in regards to why the is little press on Colombia, and when there is it is usually negative in nature, Pachico writes:
"In the international press, especially if you’ve got one correspondent covering the entire Andean region (as is the case for the New York Times and the Washington Post), Colombia’s ongoing drug war is pretty much a story not worth reporting, aside from the occasional grabby headline. For an international audience, trying to explain Colombia’s drug war is like trying to explain Mexico’s – there are too many characters and too much backstory. There are no central protagonists anymore, no central conflict that is easily summarized."
Part of the reason for the lack of "central protagonists" is the work of ex-President Álvaro Uribe and his work over eight years of breaking up the functionality of the FARC and other strong paramilitary groups opperating in the country. With the election of new President, Juan Manuel Santos, in office now for less than a month, she writes this of the current challenges in respect to drug control and gang enforcement:
"Uribe successfully disarmed and/or extradited the top level of paramilitary leadership, and now all the regular Joes too stupid and violent to previously ascend the paramilitary ranks are all scrambling for a piece of the drug-trafficking pie. Territory that was previously respected has now splintered, boundaries ignored. It’s a little as though Uribe punched a mirror and now it’s up to Santos to pick up all the tiny shards of glass, which nobody can find and which everybody keeps stepping on."
Some believe it is bad luck to break a mirror; I guess it would be good advice to follow then, to not visit places still containing shards of glass as well. Sorry, Caucasia.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Waiting for Water

Recently I came across an interesting article on a social trend toward minimalistic living. While this twist on "green" lifestyles, leaning heavily on technology, is intriguing, I realized these last two weeks, that I could probably do it if I had to.

When I packed up and moved to Colombia three years ago - this past August first marks the beginning of year number four - I came with just two large suitcases and a pair of rubbermaid storage bins. This was much less than what I moved out of my apartment in
Manitowoc with by nearly a truck-load. Granted the school here has provided furniture, but some of it serves no real purpose for me other than marking the corners of a room. (The couches are nothing more than glorified dorm lobby pieces.)

Upon returning from the States a couple weeks ago I found I had no water in my home. This was not surprised, and half expected, as I hadn't had time to pay my utility bill before leaving for summer vacation. I was honestly excited when, after taking a deep hopeful breath, I flicked the light switch and the lights came on.

I paid my bill on Wednesday of last week, and it was only restored yesterday after a long holiday weekend and several phone calls. Now, when the utilities people said it would be turning on later on in the day that I paid, I in no way believed them - this is Colombia, c'mon! - but I honestly didn't think it would take over a week's time.

Living knowingly without water has been interesting. Showering at school at the end of the work day and then not over-extending myself for the next 24 hours was tricky, but doable. Having enough forethought to buy bottled water for the brushing of teeth or making tea was a definite mindshift. I already had several used bottles, filled from the tap, frozen in my freezer (as a way to conserve energy) and that was used for rinsing dishes, in moderation, and other chores like shaving and wiping down spills.

This way of doing things went quickly from an inconvenience to a mode de vie. I knew how much water I had stockpiled and how much was needed to do certain activities. I had worked out a bathing system that seemed to work advantageously to my schedule. I am very happy to have my water restored and available at the turn of a faucet, but I learned that perhaps I use more than I need in the first place. When people would ask if my water was back on and my response was that it was not, they gave me the expected exasperated face and "how terrible" comment. Really, though, it wasn't, but I am glad I can now stop feigning agreement.