Boy, have I suffered through this. While La búsqueda. Testimonio de Leonor Esguerra Rojas (Pregón, 2011) depicts the life story of an utterly interesting character, this (first) edition is barely edited at all. As someone who for professional reasons has a lot to do with interview transcripts, I was apalled by the incoherences of style and organization, and the overall missing conception. What is worse, even as a non-native speaker I notice many mistakes in spelling and punctuation, and the at times unconvincing attempts at Colombian colloquialism. But I continued anyway, because I was curious to see how this nun of upper class origins ended up with the ELN guerrilla.
Even if, as such, this is not a unique story (there have been many nuns and priests in Colombia who collaborated – or still do – with guerrilla groups, most famously Camilo Torres), it is one of very few accounts of how women ended up guerrilleras in Colombia. It might have been a problem from the start that I had Gioconda Belli’s Mujer habitada in mind all the time, and that probably raised my expectations to almost unfulfilable heights. But even comparing her non-fictional biography, which was the basis for mujer habitada, to this supposed testimony left me with the impression that La búsqueda has some valuable stories to share but has not been thought through in its presentation. Especially I would like to rescue the idea of structuring the narrative through the different nome de guerres Leonor used during her life, but insist on the fact that many things she “testifies” would have greatly profited from contextualization with other sources (clearly, this is the anthropologist speaking).
How did I come across the book?
I saw it in the hands of a dear friend and ex-member of the M-19 guerrilla movement, so I assumed this would imply a certain credibility, if not quality. I still have to talk to her about it to see what she really thought about it.
When and where did I read it?
During fieldwork in Bogota.
Le tememos a la violencia porque origina dolor, sufrimiento; cuando hablamos de sangre que corre, de heridos, de fusilamientos, de decapitados, pensamos con horror en el dolor que esto produce, pero nos deja sin cuidado saber que hay miles de niños que se están muriendo por desnutrición, por falta de higiene, por falta de atención medica, no nos afecta mucho saber que hay personas que sólo toman una sopa aguada una vez al día, que hay ancianos que mueren de frío dormidos en la calle helada… todos estos muertos no cuentan, nadie los contabiliza, nadie ve que hay una violencia legal, institucionalizada. (p. 123)
Since I am back in Colombia to do fieldwork, and I’m terrible at keeping a diary, I decided to use this space for something it was originally also meant for: Instead of tiresome navel-gazing, I will from time to time upload small vignettes from the field in which I intent to describe incidences that somehow seem meaningful to me. I might be evaluating them at some later point, but for now, there’s more of a collectors attitude behind. I’ll start today with a trip in Transmilenio.
Friday afternoon, I try to find my way back from the city centre to the north. On the first ‘Transmi’, as people like to refer to the fast red busses traveling the major avenues, I am lucky enough to get a window seat, so I decide to stick to the line as long as I can. (Several stops would have suited me to change…) When it is finally time to get out, the bus is crammed with people and I have to watch my steps to find the few centimeters on the floor not occupied by other feet or bags. I manage to get out and wait at the exact same stop to get onto another bus, which doesn’t take long to arrive. I am lucky enough to get a space in the back, standing; the bus is not as packed as the last one. I stand there in the middle between two pairs of chairs in the last row of the bus, as the city outside fleets by. The streets are bustling, people doing christmas shopping on the sidewalks, lines and lines of cars trying to make their ways, many a colorful wall painted with graffiti from all kinds of styles, ocassional green spots, sometimes full of waste, several homeless men taking a nap in the grass or even on the paved sidewalks in the middle of the road. As I watch, I start thinking about the evening, when I am supposed to attend a novena by a very catholic family. (A novena is a tradition here where families meet before Christmas to come together and pray. There’s also ususally food.) As a non-religious person, these events make me nervous, because of course I know no prayers, not in my mother-tongue, nor in any other language, and at the same time I’m afraid of being or behaving wrong, or being judged for my lack of knowledge of these customs. I’m getting tense, anticipating discussions about politics that inevitably happen at family gatherings, even though there is a famous Colombian saying that goes somehow like not talking religion or politics in the family – because these topics mean trouble. I am thinking about how many christians have voted ‘No’ on the recent peace deal, and prepare myself for arguments. What to say when someone mentions how the peace deal would have destroyed the traditional family, benefitting instead same-sex marriage and adoption (NOT part of the agreement at all)? How to respond when someone claims all guerrilleros get amnesties (wrong: there will be no amnesty for crimes against humanity, genocide, massacres, kidnapping, extrajudicial executions, torture, forced diasappearance, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced displacement and forced recruitment of children, among others)? How to respond to people saying the guerrilleros will get 2 million COP per month (also wrong: they get a one-time payment of 2 million (approx. 630€), and 90% of the minimum wage for two years (200€), and of course only if they don’t have other income)? As I anticipate these discussions I think again about what a happy christmas this might have become had the peace deal been approved in the first round. I feel anger rising within me. I still can’t seem to understand how the image of a different Colombia could be so appaling to some voters. The afternoon sun shines golden through the high-rise buildings when I arrive at my stop. I get off the bus and walk home, past a nativity scene set up at the entrance of our compound, where baby Jesus still hasn’t arrived. He’ll be born on 24th, only.