La paz con las mujeres

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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.

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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 G5como 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.

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Wonders of Bogota

Bogota, like any other huge city, has millions of pockets to explore, and as a vegetarian, tea-loving women who loves dancing and yoga, I’ve found a ton of places that seem like they were made just for me.

1) Maha Vegetarian Food & Yoga

Photo courtesy of Jasminewanders.com

  • Address: Carrera 7, #46 – 42
  • Hours: Monday to Friday from noon to 5 p.m., Saturdays noon to 4:30 p.m.
  • Websitehttp://mahaveg.co/
  • My thoughts: There’s surprisingly a pretty strong vegetarian presence in Bogota, and it’s not just limited to the glitzier area north of Calle 93! Inside the bright and colorful Maha restaurant, I treated myself to a meal of a quinoa burger, homemade chips and all-natural mango juice. I then took a wonderful yoga class (first class is free!) in its tranquil upstairs yoga studio, and enjoyed some complementary agua aromatica after the class ended. Check out their website for their yoga schedule and their eclectic, all-vegetarian menu! They are also vegan friendly.

2) Wok

  • Address: Located all around Bogota. I’ve gone to the ones in Parque 93 and in Zona G.
  • Hours: Depends on location. Here’s the horario for the Parque 93 location: Monday to Tuesday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday: noon to 11 p.m. Sunday: noon to 9 p.m.
  • Websitehttp://www.wok.com.co/
  • My thoughts: Oh, how I’ve missed Thai food. Wok is both vegetarian and vegan friendly, and both times I’ve gone, I’ve gotten the tofu and vegetable pad Thai with veggie spring rolls.

3) La Castaña Empanadas Al Horno

  • Address: Calle 57 # 5 – 17
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Website: http://www.lacastana.com/
  • My thoughts: Such delicious empanadas. They’re baked, not fried, and super vegetariain friendly. I especially love the cheese and onion empanada, as well as the dried tomato and oregano one. On Wednesday, they have a sale on vegetarian empanadas, so I’d recommend going then! The cafe also has WiFi and outlets, and a very comfortable area in which to work. They also appear to have chocolate making workshops (?), so ask them what their upcoming workshops are if you’re interested!

4) Cafe Del Sol 

5) Asocación Cultural Adra

  • Address: Diagonal 42A #20-45, La Soledad
  • Hours: Check out their class schedule on their website.
  • Website: www.adradanza.com
  • Phone: 232-8478
  • My thoughts: They offer classes in modern dance, arabic dance, ballet, Afro-Jazz, yoga, Chi-kung and Biodanza. The classes are reasonably priced, about $13 USD each. They had a great deal where if two people signed up for a 4-class deal at once, they could get half off one of the deals. I ended up paying about $30~ USD for 4 classes, which was perfect for me! So far, I’ve taken the Afro class, and am planning on taking the modern class and the ballet class this week!

6) Bogota Graffiti Tours

  • Address: Meet in Plaza de Periodistas, then walk around Candelaria
  • Hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • Websitehttp://bogotagraffiti.com/
  • My thoughts: Probably the first thing you’ll notice in Bogota is its often remarkable graffiti. This tour takes you around the colonial La Candelaria area of the city, where you learn about the cultural relevance and history of all different kinds of street art in Bogota, from the beautiful, socially-tinged murals, to tiny stickers on street signs, to sculptures of angels perched on roofs. It’s affordable, with a suggested donation of about $10-$20 USD.

7) Momentos Drink House

  • Address: Carrera 7 # 45 -52
  • Phone: 3143694469
  • Hours: ??
  • Websitehttp://www.reverbnation.com/venue/353796
  • My thoughts: With comfy couches and a rock-inspired ambiance, Momentos is a very short walk from Maha and features a variety of seating areas for the college students and soccer fans who frequent the locale. I enjoyed a delicious mango and vanilla ice cream milkshake and watched a futbol game , all while listening to the Beatles and classic rock. No WiFi, but there are power outlets, so I found the mellow coffee house a great spot for distraction-free writing.

Also, make sure to hit up just about any “comida corriente” (i.e. fast meals) restaurant you can find. For the equivalent of $3-$5 USD, you can get a typical Colombian lunch of rice, beans, meat, etc. As a vegetarian, I’m perfectly happy with rice, beans, avocado, sweet plantains, salad and of course, mango juice, wherever I go.

Lulo

DSCN0522I’ve been very into myself this entire trip. Taking in the holes filled with trash on the sidewalks, the smog in the sky, the silence of the Transmilenio bus, the taste of jugo de lulo – all the little parts that make up this city I’ve convinced myself I alone must absorb y conocer. With a greedy tongue and longing gaze, I’m taking this city in, sharing little with others close to me.

I’m at a coffee shop near my house right now. University students are here coding and staring out cafe windows, boyfriends are kissing sus novias with full-on amor, and I am observing, eating a plate of pasta. It’s like I asked, smothered in pesto, oil and mushrooms, with little garlic tostados on the side.

I haven’t been letting myself write, and I’m not sure why. I lull my time away at coffee shops and empanada bakeries, always sipping on aguas aromáticas, making lists and re-Tweeting the afternoon away. I strike up conversations with strangers, always hoping they might ignore the discrepancy between my gringa accent and piel de color cafe. I hope to find someone whom I can temporarily spew observations to, someone who will tell me about themselves, and will know and understand when I have nothing left to say. I’ve found myself excited to meet others here, but at the same time I must admit I intentionally misplace phone numbers, or skip a day trip to go to a random part of the city alone. I didn’t expect to enjoy solitude so, that I would so crave being solita y pensive. I am addicted to the feeling of being an anonymous body in a city of millions.

What troubles me is the thought of being an anonymous body walking past a certain other body, a body that gave me my own. Knowing my birth/natural/first/unknown mother lives in this city gives me a reason to search faces in a crowd. They do not know, but I am not just a people-watcher – I am a possible-mother watcher.

Still, I’m not quite sure if the reason this always comes to my mind when I’m in big spaces if I’m truly interested in meeting her, or if I just have little else to think about.

I’m trying to put myself out there more.

Last Friday, I got a Facebook message from a friend of a friend of a friend about a party going down in an unknown barrio cerca de mi apartamento.

My mistake was that I got there early. I found myself in a bohemian, artsy boarding house someone called the “underground of Bogota,” home to French girls with short bangs and a goateed guy from Alaska who manages an art gallery.

I stood next to the bar – the adult equivalent of the dessert table at a school dance – making conversation with the bartender from Armenia.

Party guests trickled in, coming in one-by-one and later, splattering in by the dozen. I said hello as they walked by, making inane comments about why I actually don’t mind aguardiente, the ubiquitous, oft-disdained cheap Colombian liquor. They always replied with an “Oh!” and told me that I needed to meet so-and-so, or go to so-and-so-‘s bar or restaurant or exhibit. I always told them I will.

The guy from Alaska told me he only “produces art,” he doesn’t create it. He lived in Vancouver for a bit, and then decided to up and move to Colombia.

“Vancouver’s like dating this beautiful woman,” he mumbled. “She’s so nice to look at, but so expensive.” He ended meaningfully, eliciting a laugh from a woman with a blond fauxhawk.

Of course, he had a sister who graduated from Dartmouth. And I was no longer the random Colombian-looking soul looking at people and charging her phone at the bar. I was a job-less college graduate, that “adopted Colombian girl trying to find her roots in a big city,” the wandering intruder, the girl who left all her friends and family hundreds of miles away. I could no longer listen, wonder and question – I had to participate. People crowded around me, the Ivy League girl, before filing away one by one as my stories about college proved dull, unrelatable and slightly bitter.

A couple of beers later, I left.

“Well, next time!” said the friend of a friend of a friend, who wore a metallic bandeau and matching shorts ala the party’s theme: the future.

I nodded, gave him a wave and called a taxi.

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I like this act of spewing 500 or so words with a 30 minute deadline – it’s the precise mix of adrenaline and pleasure I’ve always craved. I’m listening to the same playlist of electronic, Adult Swim commercial interlude music that got me through the college essays I somehow “wrote” during overnight, chocolate-covered expresso bean binges. My goal is to write asi everyday for my last 17 days. I think it would be good to write about things I haven’t shared with anybody.