It’s a lovely sunday afternoon, I’m sitting at a public library and am surprised at how many others had the same idea. The staff is busily returning books to their shelves, helping users find what they are searching for. I’m writing a review on my visit to Villa Grimaldi, as I overhear a conversation between two employees. “Budy, where can I find books about Gender Ideology?” – “No, that’s not going to work. That’s a political term. Try ‘Homosexuality’ instead, that way you might find something. Or check the ‘Gender’ bookshelf.” – “Thanks, budy!” He returns to the computers where people consult the catalogue, where a young women in animal print leggings waits for him, eager to find out more about gender ideology.
I’m on my way home with Transmilenio, and fortunately for me, I got a seat. I’m staring out of the window into the dark Bogotan night and think about nothing in specific. At the next stop, many people get in and the bus becomes crowded. As we continue the ride, I hear the voice of a man announcing his goods: the new police code (of conduct), and some drawing books for children. He patiently explains in detail some of the news, that police may now control your ID, that they may enter your car or your house for searches, and some other rules that to me actually sound a little encroaching. Then there is a short moment of silence, until he continues to speak. His voice is patient, but also more assertive and very tired, as he exclaims to someone I can’t exactly make out in the crowd who apparently told him to stop selling stuff on the bus: “You’re not living in Switzerland, sir. This is not Sweden, either. 54% of the people living in this country make their living doing what I do. You have to be a little more realistic, and face the kind of country we’re living in.” The other man stays silent to this, and he continues to explain the new police code. At the next stop he gets of. No-one bought anything.
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.