On some days in La Unión, the war is a faint pulse in the background — a far-off helicopter heard but not seen, or a military troop walking by on their way to a distant destination. On those days, to an outsider, La Unión is like any small town in the world. Neighbors talk about their days — about the cake being baked down the road or the baby with a cold. They work their fields in the hot sun and convene in the center of town when it sets.
On other days, the war permeates every moment. There are days when the war is so close that there is nothing else. When the jungle right around the peace community heats up with combat, the primary concern is generally for the unarmed civilians, particularly peace community members themselves. Our neighbors don’t go work the fields — they stay near the FOR house, pay close attention to what other civilians say when they are coming up or down from the hills, and make sure that they are safe. Things get quiet and tense in the village.
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In 2002, the first two FOR volunteers made the muddy trek up a mountainside to accompany the San José de Apartadó peace community — a project of campesinos in northwestern Colombia who had declared themselves neutral five years earlier, committing to nonviolent resistance in the midst of war.
In the 10 years since, more than 30 volunteers have been international observers as part of the Colombia Peace Presence, and spent a portion of their lives there — amidst the heat, rain and intense green, with the sounds of helicopters above, waking to gun shots fired in the night, five river crossings away from the nearest city, without a refrigerator and with the incredible life stories of these campesinos who have much to teach us about war, nonviolence and the story of their resistance.
By Charlotte Melly
There is an old woman in our village who is possibly the most affectionate person I have ever met. Her skin is soft and wrinkled. Her warmth is effortless and comforting. She strokes my arm as we sit for hours talking about everything and nothing. She has an age of Colombia’s history in her, has outlived five of her seven children and has a beautiful spark about her in spite of the horrors she has witnessed. From her house, she can see the back of ours and is always comforted when she sees our lights come on in the evening and knows we’re home.
There is an old man who likes to come to our house to drink coffee. He tells stories in his own peculiar way and has such a strong accent it’s hard for foreigners to understand him at first. He likes to quote the Bible to make the most absurd arguments and in ways that simply don’t make sense. He is always the first to tell anybody and everybody who arrives that we are the reason they are respected. He is also the perfect example of how a community can work so well. He has no family here. Everybody here is his family.
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