The Fringes of Bogotá (Part 2 of 2)
Trip Start May 2006
28Trip End Aug 17, 2006
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Serena and Luca have been volunteering their time with these children once or twice a week. He invited me here to spend the day playing and working with them. They are some of most neglected kids in all of Bogotá, economically, personally, politically, and chosen from a much larger group by the director of the program Julio, who had grown up in a similar environment. He served in the military, but through all his hardships, he has resisted callousness and has an enormous idealistic heart that desperately wants these kids to have an opportunity in life, to overcome their Fucked At Birth status.
We split into 4 groups and I joined Luca´s. Each of them received graph paper and a barely functional pencil. Out in front of the building, called The Salon, we helped them orient their maps get their bearings. They each drew the street and the location of the next-door school and the Salon, and then we decided to help them map where their houses were. At the end of the street, a series of zigzagging steps led to the upper neighborhood. This was truly the fringes of Bogotá, since if you woke up here, it would be natural to think you were in some rural village. The streets were earthen, splattered with rock and ruts, where animals such as cows, wandered around, and roosters were the perennial time keepesr
We walked further up the hill and passed by one of the girl's homes. It was a shack built from prefab hollow blocks spackled together. A roof protected part of the little home. 5 people lived in this 2 room emergency permanent shelter. We said high to a boy's grandmother. Her teeth were about 50% intact, though those that remained looked like they were lassoed and pulled by a truck. They were an every angle and every size imaginable as though she had not lost some of her baby teeth. She was fetching water out of a catch-basin to boil corn with firewood. A few minutes later we came to the end of the line, the frontier where humans had not yet permeated and the forest still dominated. It would be like walking from Little Neck, Queens (a border neighborhood in New York City) into the wilderness. The last shack was supposedly inhabited by a drug-dealer. He had the best views, quietness, nature, decent air, and communal space, as do all the people this high up. In the north end of Bogotá, the most expensive Real estate is also on the mountain and is coveted for the same reasons, in addition to personal space and peace. There, private cars access the well maintained roads
We cut across a trail and descended past a little convenience store and a dilapidated soccer field. Some of houses had a "Se Vende Chicha" sign. Chicha is a potent alcohol made from and with the color of corn. It takes no special equipment to conditions to make.
Back at the salon, Luca asked them to recreate their map, and include places of emotion, whether good or bad. One girl filled her map with the happy places of school, salon, home, and a soccer field. Another boy said the only happy place was the soccer field. He was indifferent to rest, an indifference that wrapped around pain. Lunch came in styrofoam containers filled with rice, meat, plantain and avocado. I kept the avocado and gave the rest away. The children ate not with an intense hunger, but with an intense delight.
Next came exercise and we walked into the forest and found an uneven but serviceable field with two basic goals. This is the highlight of the neighborhood, and at least for the kids, makes up for all that is lacking. How many people grow up a few minutes walk from a beautiful, peaceful, natural recreation area? We did not play soccer, but a game where the ball is passed by throwing it without moving, essentially ultimate frisbee with a soccer ball instead
(note: pictures will be sent once i have a broadband connection)