Buenaventura: “Barrio Escondido”


I have really been enjoying my time here in Buenaventura. I met some friends that live in the barrio of el Muro. I have been told that el Muro is another very dangerous area. When I told the receptionist at my hotel where I have been hanging out the past few days she gave my an incredulous look and told me that she never goes there. El Muro rests on the oceanfront and the houses are built on wooden stilts that rest slightly above the water. The water cannot be seen because there is a layer of garbage and debris that separates the open air and the ocean. From what I could tell the area is not serviced by any sort of public sanitation service, unless of course it has to do with busting some kid that is trafficking drugs. Everyone in this neighborhood shuffles their trash between the wooden floorboards under their houses.
We went to the market and bought 10,000 (5 dollars) pesos worth of fish. I offered to buy the fish and her aunt offered to cook it, being lost in this wondrous land I couldn’t resist the offer. When we arrived to her neighborhood she introduced me to every single person that we stumbled into. I must have met more than 15 or 20 family members and even more friends from the barrio. The people were all welcoming and a little curious as to who I was and what the hell I was doing in Buenaventura, let alone an area like el Muro. We got to her house and she scaled the fish while a stray kitten frolicked in the savory fish remnants. Meanwhile, I took a piss in the hole in the floor and watched it trickle down onto the heap of trash, shit, plastic bottles and scavaging dogs and cats. After that we enjoyed some fish and rice and spent the afternoon bouncing around her grandparents house accross the way and exchanging 2pac lyrics with the neighbors. I posed with many neighbors and friends from the area for photos, including the knife shank wielding youngster and the household 9mm pistol. I also attended a neighborhood birthday party and walked out on the rickety out to where I could see the beautiful sea come rolling in. I’ll never forget meeting her grandfather. He was old and frail and had a concerned disposition to his character that imposed upon me this notion that was always worried. Worried about his loved ones, worried about the crime, violence, drugs, and stomachs to feed. He appeared to have have lived a life that I would only snobbishly peer into from my privilege vantage point.

Iinside the neighborhood any presence of the military or police is virtually nonexistent, or any presence of the state for that matter. The heavily armed soldiers remain on the outside of such hidden neighborhoods. I am not sure if it is because they are afraid to enter or if they just don`t give a shit about the people inside; I suspect it is a combination of both. The area resides close to the infamous Lleras neighborhood that was described in the NY Times by Simon Romero as a no man`s land.

What the NY times described as a “no man`s land”
may be true for those that are not willing to see the humanity underneath all the hardship.  What I found here was not a no man’s land, but quite the contrary. The truth is that the people who inhabit these ¨no man`s lands,¨ and these ¨guerrilla strongholds¨ are human beings as well. They are not all combatants, they are not all leftist insurgents or right wing death squads or drug trafficking vagabonds who are only good for ¨dancing, drinking and killing.¨ They are friendly , warm and extremely welcoming Porteños. They represent a group of people who are largely ignored by their government and stuck in the grinding gears of a complex conflict.The childeren here represent the kinetic energy of thier country but are confronted with the crippling debilities of poverty and violence.

I was not very encouraged by anyone to visit Buenaventura who does not live there which was one of the reasons why I wanted to pay a visit to this place. I will not deny the reputation that this place has or my attraction to such exotic, dangerous places. I have listened to many first hand accounts of the violence that plagues this beautiful place. Most people quickly change the subject when asked anything about the dangers or the armed groups but I did manage to get some information about the reality that these people live. My friend told me about a very beautiful girl he was dating who was chopped up by the AUC because they thought she was a FARC informant. This same person also had a good friend who was caught in crossfire and shot in the bottom of the foot, the bullet exited his chest and killed him. Or the mother who was cooked her own child and told later that she was eating her own son because he was also working for the FARC.

It is a violent city and there are a lot of armed kids and narco-traffickers but to me they are not criminals, they are victims and should be treated as such. They should be treated with expanded social programs, not more intimidating soldiers. They need pipes that lead to septic tanks and books that lead to education. When the only viable jobs are induction into an armed group or to pilot a handmade submarine full of cocaine to Panama it is only obvious that people will fill the ranks of the underground economy. It doesn`t take a Phd in conflict analysis to figure out that people in desperate situations are forced to take desperate actions. Many times they are honestly trying to provide for their families through such underground, illegal jobs. It is true that poverty forces people to do unimaginable things, but I most certainly think that the movers and shakers of the system that creates such social ills do far worse in order to protect the status quo that they benefit so much from.
Is it any coincidence that the most violent areas in the world happen to be the most poor and the people with nothing happen to be some of the happiest? I hope people begin to understand why I enjoy visiting such ¨poor¨and ¨dangerous places and why it is so important that we work together to build bridges to and solidarity with people and communities that are marginalized.
Hasta la victora!

2 Responses to Buenaventura: “Barrio Escondido”

  1. Mariko says:

    >hey Ry I am teaching MOM how to enlarge your images and comment on your blog. We just got home from cutting the tree it was a good time…we were nervous that we weren't going to cut one because everything was closed in Manilla so we had to go by the dam….long stroy short we finally got one! Love you lots….glad to hear you may be coming home soon. As always be safe….oh wait mom won't be able to comment to you she doesn't have a google account….nevermind.

  2. Shaunabee101 says:

    >Wow great information! Keep up the good work, continue to travel, and good luck with your studies!Tabby

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