16 June, 2010
In 2005 the city of Soacha, which used to be little more than a pueblo before the influx of displaced persons, became the 12th largest city in Colombia, and it continues to grow. What’s most shocking about this is that the poorest parts of Soacha, which soar above the raging city into the mountains, although crowded, actually feel like the country. It is, of course, in part the people, most having been displaced from the country with more formal mannerisms and language filled with cues of respect. But more than that, the neighborhood, with its lack of cars and height above the city, is actually void of noise, and filled with people walking instead of taking transportation.
I take 4 buses to get to school and it takes me an hour and a half. I start my 20 minute walk to the transmilenio (a bus system with dedicated lanes that acts more as a subway than anything else). The air is polluted, the sidewalks are crowded and the streets are filled with honking cars and thunderous trucks. My trip on the transmilenio is relatively quiet and peaceful, as the rest of the city is headed from the Southern suburbs into the city. I get off on a smoggy highway filled with traffic and catch a small crowded bus to the bottom of the mountain at Cazucá. From there, I catch a car up the mountain and everything changes. Cars disappear as we climb because the people are too poor to afford them, the air clears and lush vegetation reappears. Instead of the sound of traffic and horns, you hear birds chirping, and you find yourself, just a half mile above the busy city, feeling as though you are in the Colombian countryside, complete with goats and chickens roaming the green space. The views from the mountains are also amazing. Clouds seem to hang on the ceras, creating shadowy shapes and highlighting the impossibly green vegetation.
Of course, that is not to say that life is good or easy in Altos de Cazucá. It is obviously poverty-ridden, there is little access to services and the presence of the armed groups makes for a balancing act with deadly consequences. And although it is not often that I directly see the omnipresence and power of the armed groups and military, save the military presence in the streets, it was very apparent on this day. I sat down at lunch with my coworker and bunch of 5-7 year olds who were being served lunch by the older students. As they were passing out plates 5 soldiers walked in took plates of food off the counter that was manned by the single mothers that run the kitchen and sat down. I looked at my coworker questioningly and she shrugged, and said with disdain, “I guess they’re eating lunch.” The little ones didn’t even blink an eye at the fact they were sitting next to fully uniformed men toting machine guns.