|The DukeEngage Colombia team at the documentary site, Manantiales de paz.|
‘When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men’.
So, it goes without saying that as a person I really don’t have any secrets, or any withheld information that with asking I won’t reveal.
Thinking about something personal is not easy. It makes me tremble, makes my heart pound at my chest – but I take that as honesty. So with that, I’ll say that finding me in a bad mood is really hard to do. Assuming that you understood what I just said, I’m a happy person -- period. There is not a day that I wake up and say “Wow, this day is horrible.” I’m always trying to make other people happy, to share with them a little bit of my personality. I do because I believe that there is not a reason to be sad, everything that happens to us has a “brighter side.” But with that said, sometimes it is hard to keep on trying to give happiness when there is none to give. What I mean by this is that sometimes carrying the burden of others, starts to become difficult, but there’s no reason to show that. In other words, what I think I’m trying to say is that I do not like looking emotionally weak. I don’t like to show more than one emotion. Reason being – I don’t know.
But to share, an experience, one that changed me as a person, was when my grandfather died. I understand, people leave this earth – and we believe that they’ll find somewhere better. The hardest part about his death was that I couldn’t go to his funeral, or his service, or anything that commended his life. I was stuck in the United States. I was stuck in a house of 3 families, living in 3 rooms. I was stuck thinking about what happened. I was stuck, hopeless, not being able to say goodbye to him at all. We couldn’t leave the United States and how much did I want to leave. How much did I want to return to Colombia to say goodbye, but our family just couldn’t.
We all have different stories to tell, we all have sadness in us that we don’t want to reveal, we all have happiness that we don’t want to share, but our experiences with these emotions, always allow us to understand, just a little bit.
This week we visited Manantiales de Paz, a slum, in which we will be documenting the live or lives of people in the community, so their stories don’t get lost in translation. I had the pleasure of interviewing two men, with two very different stories about their displacement.
I am going to focus on one of their stories – a story that I was not able to document by camera, but definitely by memory.
He started of talking about how he left his home because a criminal group assassinated his wife. Simple. There was no padding to it. It was forward. It was raw. His expression was expressionless -- he kind of just looked off to the distance.
I didn’t ask for him to give me his most personal memory. I wasn’t asking for that.
Anyways, he told me vividly about his story. He told me that his wife was assassinated because the group was looking for him. Since he wasn’t at home, they left him a message -- his wife as a message. The worst of the story is that his wife was three months pregnant. Even worse, he escaped his town in his wife’s coffin. To keep his life, he laid still in a coffin where his loved one rested.
So with that, I can not imagine what went on through his head – or what goes through his head now, since this event is so recent.
I don’t mean to cut his story short, nor do I mean to not pay my respects to his wife. I just think that these stories are meant to be told by a face to face conversation. They’re not meant to be told by writing. It’s hard to evoke feelings through writing, it’s hard to share the pain that they shared.
Over these weeks that we have been in Medellin, I have realized that stories are meant to be shared. People need to share their pain, their happiness, anything. They’re not looking for someone to solve their problems; they’re looking for someone to listen. They’re looking for an out of their lives, just for 10 minutes. They’re looking to remember and not forget.
When describing my experiences to my boyfriend he asked me “would you rather be poor in Colombia or poor in the US?” I didn’t know how to answer. The thing with being poor in the US is that no one wants to acknowledge you. They tell you “you have the same chances to get out of poverty just like everyone else” or they call you the black sheep of the country for accepting food stamps. You live in government housing and yet your whole life is a reflection of how the other half lives, a life that you don’t have access to and yet the whole world is screaming “you live in America! I did it, you can do it too!”
Colombia is different. Poverty is everywhere. It’s not just one side of the city or one community, many communities are stricken by it and many are the results of displaced people. I don’t know enough about Colombia and that’s my problem. I don’t know where this poverty lies, what are their specific challenges, I don’t even know what these people need and that’s why I can’t direct my feelings towards them yet.
In Manantiales the poverty I saw was in their stories. The stories of why they were here. How many people were buried in the process? What was taken from them? Who is missing from their home that is supposed to be there? I don’t know what people think of Manantiales. My host mom tells me I should be afraid to go up there. but is that because of the violence or because I shouldn’t be associating with the people that live up there? I’m not keen enough on the dynamics yet.
I came to Colombia with no idea what this program was and in a sense I still have the same idea. I don’t know what this community needs, or rather what my actions can do in the grand scheme. I see Manantiales as a spring of sorrow, that while women and families build their homes, they also build their lives and each other back up. Manantiales de Paz, literally translated into Springs of Peace.
I don't have a goal for this project. It’s not my project nor my story. These stories won’t change the world, these stories won’t elicit that much change. I’m just trying to add a drop of humanity into the lives of these people. See the problem with oppressed groups is that they lose their ability to use “I”. They are forever bonded by their poverty, a unit of “have nots” when in reality everyone has their own web of a past that weaves into the community and why it is the way that it is.
I’m not some deranged American who thinks she’s here to change the world. I’m a black women who has lost. But see the difference is, when I lost my brother to cancer I lost him to the hands of God, at one of the best hospitals in the world. Women in Manantiales lose their children due to war, violence, because they don’t have enough money to treat them when they are sick. They lose people because the hospital is down the mountain by metro-cable and they just might not make. Because someone with a weapon decided to play God and end a life, because their resources weren’t aligned enough to save them. I wish that on no one.
And what hurts the most probably? Lack of acknowledgement. Because see, at least people realize that cancer is a problem. Every day Colombians see their settlement on the top of that mountain and it’s a little too reminiscent of the Lion King “You see that.. that is Manantiales.. you must never go there.” And as a result they are casted into a shadow and remain there.
The only thing I can offer citizens of Manantiales is the confirmation that their stories matter. I’ve never been happier in my life to be a brown girl. The only shared experience that I have is that yes I’ve been cast away at points by my own country and yes I’ve had people say that my suffering doesn’t exist or isn’t legit and that’s the knife that hurts the deepest. A small intersection at the divergence of two lives who otherwise would have nothing in common. I’ll give an ear, I’ll give a laugh, I’ll give them something that matters.. the confirmation that they themselves do.