White birds flew above our heads in a circle.
My battery had died, so I took a break and sat down on a pile of bricks.
Dancers dressed in long brown dresses and wearing head ornaments that looked like trees walked past me.
A mostly naked man in a cowboy hat and neon-shorts walked around with a red, blue and yellow banner reading, “Bienvenidos La Paz a Colombia.”
Nearby, women who told me they were all from indigenous communities located days from Bogota sat together, the pink sequins of their masks glinting in the sunlight.
Afro-Colombian women wearing head wraps chanted and sang, joined by a pair of elderly bogotanos who clapped with teethy grins.
On stage, the female hosts led the crowd in a series of chants, mostly containing the phrase, “La paz sin las mujeres no se va!”
If you go to Colombia, one of the biggest questions among social commentators, activists and the like is: how to construyer peace in Colombia.
How to create a lasting and true peace in a country with 50 years of a complex and damaging armed conflict among guerrila forces, the state military and government-backed paramilitary forces. All are responsible for widespread death, destruction and heartache.
What that peace would even look like – more security, more education, guerrilla demobilization, land reform.
For whom the peace would be – the well-off city-dwellers, the poor city-dwellers, the campesinos in the countryside, the indigenous peoples living in the jungles and the mountains, the Afro-Colombian costenos.
How it could happen in a country with a history of failed peace talks, or peace talks that backfire, and if a peace constructed far away from the countryside and jungles could work.
It is the question thrown about on talk radio, on street murals, in folksy songs and in academic talks at stately universities. In a country with so much skepticism about the prospects for such a peace, and what that could even mean, the answer is complex and big, and one of the only sure answers, say peace activists and the populist/Marxist political movements known as Marcha Patriotica, is “Paz con Justicia Social.” Making peace, they say, must attack the roots of social and land inequality that perpetuate the conflict, which lives on in new ways despite the harsh security tactics at the core of the government’s anti-guerrilla strategy over the past decade.
On Nov. 22, the women convocated in Bogota. The city closed streets, shut down some bus stops and the office of the mayor publically supported the event. The destinations for the rapid-transit bus line, Transmillenio, were not “Ruta Facil Norte G5” como normal – instead, the destination was “Paz con las Mujeres.”
Thousands of women paraded through the streets, beginning in the Plaza de Bolivar, going past the Museo del Oro, past the Estadio El Campin.
Onstage and in the streets, they united across sexuality, gender identity, disability, religion, political affiliations, nationality and race, with frequent cries for unity from “Comunistas” a “personas sin afiliacion politica.”
They called for a seat for women at the ongoing peace talks in Havana. They called for stronger punishments for domestic and relationship violence, a widespread, machismo-infused crisis leaving millions of women impacted each year. They mentioned their support from other countries, such as Chile, who sent a representative to the event to proclaim their support for a peace in Colombia representative of varied and marginalized perspectives.
A few weeks ago, I saw a documentary called “Mujer, nosotras en Colombia.” Well-known faces like Piedad Cordoba, an ex-Senator known for her human rights work and controversy, discussed the fight for women’s rights in Colombia alongside former guerrillas and folk activists. You can watch an interview with the director for the film, which addresses the complex economic, social, political and religious realities of Colombian women, below.
On stage, a woman danced in contemporary Afro-Colombian dress, beginning her piece by speaking of her complex, layered identities as “negra,” “colombiana“, “bailarina,” “madre,” y “hermana“, and her often uncomfortable but joyful feelings toward each.
I looked for a face in a crowd. I have what I think is my birth mother’s Facebook profile, and according to it, she is a somewhat active support of progressive politics and women’s issues.
For algun razon, I mention this to the women sitting next to me. With tears in her eyes, she tells me how a niece of hers was adopted from Bogota 22 years ago.
But her sister’s name is not the same as my birth mothers, and she did not stay at the unwed mother’s home I know my own did.
We talked and cried, and she told me to never abandon my parents in the United States. She gave me her phone number and told me to call her sometime, but I haven’t yet. Maybe I will soon.