Friday, 18 July 2008

Now I know their names

It’s impossible to engage with the current Colombian reality without confronting the issue of internal displacement. Up to 4 million people have been violently forced from their homes over the last 20 years. I had read a little about the issue before going to Cordoba and tried to make sense of it in terms of the Scottish Highland Clearances and the migrations to the big cities that I have seen in South Africa. But of course, nothing prepares you for the reality: a community of thousands of people living in roughly-made huts, many with only plastic-sheeting for walls; children running to the roadside with bowls in their hands, begging for food; a mother cooking a meal of a few eggs for her three children by the light of a single candle. What made the biggest impression on me was spending time with displaced people, listening to their stories, trying to grasp their profound sense of loss and the intense struggle to survive they face every day. Now I can’t think about displacement in terms of statistics, or of a perplexing social phenomenon. When I think about displacement, I see faces, faces of people whose names I know: Orora, Yefer Andres, Cesar, Camila Andrea, Enith, Ricardo, Tito, Aron, Jorge, Jenys, Luis Felipe, John, Ruth. It has become much more personal and much more troubling.

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