Monday, January 31, 2011

The hired help

Not long before I left Bogotá the last time, in March 2010, FOR (the organization I work with) found itself having to find a new apartment for its volunteers in Bogotá. One of the first things we put on the list of requirements for the new place was a permanent doorman. Though we had had a part time doorman (actually, a doorwoman) in the previous apartment, the apartment was robbed in 2006. It's still unclear exactly what happened, but it probably didn't help that the doorwoman was part time and all the neighbors had keys to the front door.

Having a doorman is not uncommon in Colombia. Many, if not most, middle class apartment buildings, and all upper class ones, do. Most also have empleadas: part-time, or in the case of many upper-class households, full-time, maids. So do all offices, including the office FOR shares with a Colombian NGO. Éxito, the chain store that I consider a slight nicer version of Walmart (though I’ve never actually been in Walmart so it’s just a guess), sells, next to the towels and sheets, uniforms for you to purchase for your empleada.

Despite doormen and empleadas being ubiquitous, I still don’t feel entirely comfortable having a doorman (note: I sweep my own floors). My little building employs two men who alternate shifts every 24 hours. No one besides them has keys to the front gate and door, so even when I come home at 4am after a night of dancing, they have to open the front door to let me in; I'm sure I have awoken them several times. I feel badly every time, but I have no other way to get in.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The oft-ignored incidence of sexual violence in Colombia’s conflict

Six every hour, 149 per day, 54,410 per year.
That’s how many women on average, according to a recent study, were direct victims of sexual violence in Colombia from 2001-2009 in areas with presence of armed actors (military, paramilitary or police).
Violence against women has remained a seldom-discussed consequence of Colombia’s conflict. This study, however, seems to be generating a bit more attention to the issue. So too, hopefully, is the recent denunciation by ONIC, the National Indigenous Orgainzation in Colombia, of the trafficking of indigenous girls.

Indigenous adolescent girls, ONIC Secretary Luis Evelis Andrade revealed, are being kidnapped from their villages, raped and/or forced into prostitution. Some girls are returned to their homes after a few days. Others never return.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What makes a city? Or, The sounds of Bogotá

It turns out that a friend I had been hoping to see upon my return to Colombia moved to Houston a few months ago, so I won't get to see him. When I asked, via email, how he was liking life in the USofA, he admitted that he's finding Houston hard to adapt to. Among the most difficult things, he said, is the fact that he feels like people look at him like he's crazy if he attempts to walk somewhere, instead of racing from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned office to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned house, ad infinitum

As a Colombian, he wrote, “The concept of city that I have is very different than this. I believe that a city is a network of genetic, cultural, phenotypic, and environmental information of a specific area that is totally dynamic and symbiotic, and inhabited by our species.”

His email arrived just after I had finished writing in my journal about the noises of Bogotá. That morning, I had been awakened by some combination of the hot morning sun rendering my curtains useless, taxis roaring down the street outside my single-pane window, the local bar blaring merengue as workers cleaned up from the previous night's almost-New-Year's-Eve revelry, and the head cold that had come to settle in my nose. I turned over and tried to fall back asleep, but to no avail.

Despite my desire for a few more winks, the chaos that awoke me exemplified one of the things that I have come to identify with Latin American cities--or at least Bogotá, since it's the one I know the best: the cacauphony of sounds continously bouncing off the dirty concrete walls and cracked sidewalks.

On any morning spent sitting in my apartment or walking to the corner store (of which there really is one on every corner, if not more than one), I am likely to here many, if not all, of the following sounds: