21 July – I knew before arriving that Quibdó was going to be hot, but it was literally the hottest and most humid place I have ever been and stepping off the plane was like walking into a sauna. Quibdó is the capital of the department of Chocó and is located on the west coast of the country. The city is known for being a large receptor of displaced persons from the region and is home to another one of the Foundation’s schools.
Although not quite a typical Colombian tourist destination, I really enjoyed my stay in Quibdó from the mopeds that served as taxis, which I LOVED, to the wonderful school itself and the great steps they had made with regard to the quality of education provided. There are some stark differences between Quibdó and Cazucá. First, and most apparent, is the sweltering heat and humidity. Second, in Quibdó everyone is black. Third, it is a city of just a little under 100,000 as opposed to Soacha with a population of almost 400,000 that lies right on the outskirts of Bogota’s 7 million people. Finally, and probably the most jarring at the time, I could actually walk around alone in Quibdó. After almost two months of being closely watched and guarded, we left the school one afternoon and after spacing out and falling back a bit to have a look at the neighborhood, I came rushing back to reality with the thought, “why is no one close to me or at least looking around to see where I am?”
Honestly, it was unsettling until I remembered that I was fine here and it was okay that the people I was with were a few feet ahead of me. However, it almost seemed cold at first. I discussed in an earlier post how the people in Cazucá have a way of assuring your safe arrival to a place by accompanying you, but instead of it feeling as though you have a bodyguard it feels more as though they just really want to talk to you (which is generally the case as well). When there was no one right by my side today I realized that this custom hadn’t come forth in this area because the threat of violence is not the same and so there was no need to walk in groups or to check to make sure that a straggler was taken care of. It didn’t take long for me to become accustomed to this of course, and I really relished the freedom I had over the next few days.
The school was great. Brand new, built by the foundation and totally enjoyed by the girls and boys in attendance. The school was built in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Quibdó and, like in the other schools, the foundation assisted with the public education through programs for both children and the surrounding community and also a cafeteria run by mothers. This school was particularly interesting by way of ensuring nutritionally sound meals because the children were totally unaccustomed to eating protein. When they first started serving just a little fish or meat most of the kids wouldn’t eat it and when they did there were stomach problems. Slowly the kids began eating, the stomach problems went away and the malnutrition rates plummeted. In fact, the children attending this much more rural, and supposedly poorer school have lower malnutrition rates than those living just outside of Bogotá in Cazucá.