Paradise Lost

It´s two o´clock in the afternoon.  The girls are picking fruit, your mother-in-law asleep, the buffalos have been fed.  You slump into the hammock in the colombian paradise where you´ve lived your whole life, for a well deserved rest.  Two aggressive sounds break the tranquility.

– “Maybe someone still has left over fireworks from new year that that still haven´t used”, you imagine.

But the noise continues.

Short sharp shots tear through the air.

– “My girls!” you think.

You run outside where you encounter a scene that belongs to a horrow film.  Six helicopters shooting close to the land where you have brough up your daughters, where you´ve created your peaceful life.

“My girls!”, you shout at a soldier hidden behind his uniform, something that for many represents honour, bravery, but it generates fear within you as you remember the destruction that so many neighbours have experienced through this long war.

 “Your daughters are fine, don´t worry.  We are carrying out a military operation against a member of the Farc that has been hiding here, all under control”.

 During which, a non-uniformed man who seems to be the objective of the operation falls to the floor.  Two more shots into his heads confim he is dead.

Your daughters run into your arms shouting and crying.  The paradise they have grown up in is broken.

Doña Rocío and her girls return to the tranquility inside their home in the village of Dos Quebradas, or at least this is how I imagine it happened, as colombians seek out remenants of peace in the middle of war.

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At night, in the PBI house in Barrancabermeja, members of the Asociación Campesina del Valle del Río Cimitarra (Acvc), one of the organisations we accompany, came to inform us what had happened.  We listen to what they tell us and start to prepare our trip with our various analyses of the area.

The next day the atmosphere in the office is a mixture of tension and excitement.  Sadness for the affected community but excitement for the trip and with the Acvc, who were seeking to understand the facts and details first hand of what happened, as already articles were beginning to appear in various colombian newspapers[1].

At seven in the morning we leave accompanying member of the Acvc in a truth commision.[2] Four hours by road winding through the beautiful land of North East Antioquia.  The peaceful countryside.

– “War can´t reach these parts – I think – there´s nothing, nobody…” 

We cross a river and trek another three hours through the jungle.  I´m not used to the heat, but the people we are acompanying who I´m walking with keep up a good rhythm that inpsires you to keep going. Sweating we pass monkey, walk through clouds of butterflies as colourful parrots fly over out heads.

 – “This is paradise”.

We arrive at Dos Quebradas and the lady shows the members of the truth commision where the military operation took place, so close to the civilian poulation.  Crying, still in shock, she tells the story of what happened and we listen to her, alongside those we are accompanying who take notes and ask questions.

– “Yes this is paradise – I think – but a paradise caught in plain war.  A paradise lost”. 

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This is what Colombia is.  Mountains, beaches, rivers, fruit, colours, music, dancing, happiness.  All beautiful.  All in the middle of and surrounded by war.

PBI accompanies the Acvc whose focus their work on the Zonas de Reserva Campesina and sustainable development, the development of agricultural projects in areas of education and health. Their work is inspiring and it´s an honour to accompany them.

– Hannah

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[1]     El Tiempo: Murió hombre de confianza de alias ‘Alberto Cancharina’ de las Farc, 24 de enero de 2015; El Espectador: Alias ‘Zapata’ murió en enfrentamientos con el Ejército en Antioquia, 24 de enero de 2015; Prensa Rural: Bombardeos indiscriminados en las veredas Dos Quebradas y Ojos Claros en el valle del río Cimitarra, 24 de enero de 2015

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