20150426_170105I was away at the weekend with my missionary colleagues on a retreat held in the coffee-growing region of Colombia. We drove home through south west Antioquia on a new route, for me. The sun glistened off little lakes, horses chased each other through fields and every so often, citrus perfume wafted in to the car from the orange groves we passed. It was paradise, and the conflict seemed a million miles away.

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Conversation on a bus

A lad got on the bus and sat beside me.

This is some of the conversation we had:

Him: Could you spare me some change for some breakfast?

Me: Isn’t there something else you could do? Like sell sweets?

Him: Later on that’s what I’ll do. But first, I have to get money for breakfast for my little brother and sister because there’s no food in the house. [Before you read on, try and imagine that. Literally no food in your house.] Then I’ll buy a box of chewing gum and go to work.

Me: How does that work out for you?

Him: It depends. Chewing gum is good. I pay $2,000 for the box and I can make $5,000 to $10,000 in day.

Me: What about your parents?

Him: My mum works as a housekeeper in another part of the city and I never knew my dad. My mum comes on Sundays. My little brother was injured in an accident to his spine and can’t work. But he gets a pension.My little sister is doing well, she’s in Primary 4. I studied to Primary 7 but I’m not studying now.

Me: And how old are you?

Him: 17.

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Dead give away

A gang of thieves that had dressed themselves in police uniforms was spotted because they were wearing trainers (=sports shoes) instead of regulation boots.

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Something I’ve never seen in Colombia before

Believe it or not, I’d never seen a guide dog for the blind in Colombia until this week when a young man got on the metro led by his black labrador.

Everybody stared, enchanted, and some people had big grins on their faces. The dog settled down right in front of me and at one point, sniffed my hand, but I very correctly didn’t pat him because I knew he was working.

As the blind man got off, someone behind him gestured to the young policeman on the platform to come and help him (a nice act of solidarity, I thought) but man and dog chose their direction and  walked confidently away.

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Staggering Stat

According to this week’s Semana magazine, a man aged between 15 and 39 in Antioquia (the region around Medellín) and Cauca (the region around Cali) is 50 times more likely to die a violent death than in other parts of Colombia.

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A blow to the peace process

This week the peace process between Colombia and the FARC took a blow when eleven soldiers were killed by FARC fighters in an ambush in the Cauca region.

This is why we must have peace, someone in the area said, but for many it’s just confirmation of the FARC’s lack of good faith.

A cartoon in the Semana magazine showed a hand labelled the FARC snuffing out the candle of peace.

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Park life

One of the points William Ospina makes in his book is that Colombia’s cities lack parks and other public spaces. For him, this fact is further evidence of the contempt her leaders have felt for centuries for the common people.

And it’s true. Apart from the lovely Botanic Gardens, there aren’t many open green spaces in Medellín and often what are called parks are tiny and are mostly concrete. But now, a stretch of land along Medellín’s River is being turned into a park, part of the city’s ongoing drive for self-improvement.

The only problem is, the work on the parks is making the traffic unbearable.

We are Bogotizing ourselves, a taxi driver said to me glumly, referring to Bogotá´s terrible traffic problems. What do we need parks for? The way I see it, if I have a plot of land 50 metres square, I can’t build a house with 10 bedrooms and six bathrooms. People say to me, you’re not from here, criticizing the city like that, but I am from here and I’m just telling the truth.

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The bus ride home

When it rains, as it did today, it gets very difficult to get a taxi (I’ve complained about this before) so when I saw there wasn’t a long queue for the bus, I decided to join it and I didn’t have too long to wait.

The peanut seller who works the bus queues said, “Oh, they’ve let you come to these parts again,” and I said, “I usually get a taxi because it is such a pain to get the bus” and he said, “You’re posh, you.”

As it worked out, the bus wasn’t too full for most of 20-minute journey up the hill and then, two minutes from home, we stopped and an overfull bus in front off-loaded 10 to 15 passengers who all got on our bus.

So when I had to get off, I had to force my way through a scrum of bodies; somebody got her long hair painfully yanked; toes were stood on; tummies squished.

When I finally stood on the step I turned back and said, a bit grandly, “I apologize to everybody I may have crushed,” and some gracious people laughed.

When I got off the bus, my heart was pounding, I was short of breath, I was sweating – it felt like I had been at the gym.

Taxi tomorrow, I think.

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I’m left-handed not deaf

The Spanish for left-handed is zurdo. And for deaf is sordo.

Remember in Colombian Spanish we don’t lisp the “z” like they do in Spain so the only difference between the two words is the vowel. I am left-handed but not deaf and always have to do a quick check in my mental dictionary that I am getting it right.

I had the same problem in German with Sekt (sparkling wine) and Senf (mustard).

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