I have been back in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó for a couple of weeks now, but in some ways it seems like I never left. The stresses of life in the city were effortlessly exchanged for those in the jungle: rather than read about combat in reports sent to me in my Bogota office, I am hearing them in the night. There are physical stresses, too; I fell on muddy rocks and have a bruise on my hip the size of a dollar bill. My legs are scraped up from thorny plants. My body is vigorously trying to get back into shape for the hikes through the tropics that we take regularly.
The urban garden on a window sill overlooking buildings across the street has been exchanged for a backyard of jungle; here my seeds sprouted in a day and a half, after bringing in some good soil from under a rotting jungle tree whose base spanned twice my height. In this climate, things need to be kept clean and I am back to dedicating a significant part of my day to washing my clothes by hand and scrubbing down the kitchen to avoid rat
Cutting Cacao. Photos: Elisabeth Rohrmoserand ant and other critter infestation. City streets have been exchanged for jungle paths, high heels for rubber boots, public transportation for mules, and capital metropolis for a village of 30 homes.
When a rural teacher was killed in a neighboring village last week, the secretary of education decided not to send teachers to the villages here anymore. And just like that, the students stop studying. The military showered civilian homes with bullets in San José when the town found itself between their base on the hill and the FARC guerrillas’ position on the far side of the river. I spend time hearing about how these things happened and why. I listen as people tell me their concerns and fears about what is going on around us. I analyze the security situation with my neighbors and meet with public officials and other organizations in the zone. I write reports with information from the field and imagine my co-workers in Bogota reading them over a cup of coffee on the fourth floor of our office there.
The war goes on and so does life. It is good to be back here among old friends and neighbors. September is friendship month in Colombia, and we are in the process of discovering who has whom in the annual amigo secreto game. This year nobody is interested in helping me figure out my secret friend, so it looks like I will have to sing a song or do a dance when the discovery day comes. One man brought me bananas, so I decided to bake banana bread over a wooden burning stove. It’s amazing how fast time slows down. My exchanges with my neighbors are short and beautiful. People stop to talk and then walk on, like some sort of café culture with no need for a coffee shop. Their commentary and questions jump from yucca to combats to cacao to armed actors, from death to life and back again without a blip.
Walking through the jungle by day has me ripping calluses from my feet in the evenings. I lay awake to the sounds of the forest and
watch lightening bugs in my room. There are lizards on my walls and spiders in my bed. I hear the rain coming in from across the canyon and run to get my clothes from the clothes
drying line. I hear the whacking of machetes and axes. I watch the cacao nursery sprigs grow under a palapa hut and see snakes in brown fallen cacao leaves. I help my neighbors shuck corn and collect zapote and let them tell me stories of their lives. I jump rope with the children and play domino by candlelight when the electricity goes in the storm.
The author and a community memberSometimes I feel like the life here is a forever summer day. I am dirty and sweaty and smiley. The stars glitter at night. The rain falls hard. The sun burns. I see monkeys jumping though trees and let women braid my hair to get it off of my neck. I gather flowers with little girls. I lean up against trees and breathe in the heavy jungle air.
Being here, it seems like there is only here. Even though I am seeing such differences with my own eyes and experiencing them in my own life, it is hard for me to believe the different realities that people live on this planet. This place is so beautiful. These people are so strong. I once again feel grateful to be able to play a small role in their resistance with my physical presence in the peace community.