He arrives just after dark in El Paso, exhausted from travelling for six hours. “On moto-taxi” I ask. “No, no, this was just the last hour from Asserío, the rest was walking” he replies. Despite time here I still forget that walking serious distances is a transport option, sometimes the only option.
We have a strong nice hug, I’m happy that we are going to be working and hanging out together again. Meeting and spending time with him at CISCA’s consultiva was a joy. We shared a very honest space; his openess and engagement with me quickly created a sincere communication between us. Recognition of who I am varies widely among the people I accompany. People acknowledge me, thank me, appreciate me but it is a me that at times I feel could be anyone, well, anyone with a white identity.
As O~ sits resting and drinking some home made equivalent of iron bru, I ask what he has been doing. Working on a finca comes the answer. Doing what I, ask without thinking. Raspando he quietly says. Doh, of course, picking coca leaves is a main source of casual work in the region. I tell him later I felt very stupid for my question. Thankfully he already knows me and laughs supportively with me.
Photo: Our hopes as young people.
More education and less work
More liberty and less violence
We were meeting for three days; 12 young people from the region, J~, an ally from a Bogota NGO and me. The aim was to look together at the problems they face as young people, their needs, wants and dreams, the organising spaces that already exist (or don’t in many cases) and based on this day long inquiry, devise a plan for the year. Bristol life felt like a continuous sequence of short term, high speed planning, with occasional bigger events requiering more time and planning. We knew why we were doing each action, we looked at the whole picture but I don feel we made thought out decision on how we wanted to use our limited resources of time, energy and money. This led, for me, to a lack of continuity and a lack of collective clarity as to how it all pieces together. The plan that they agreed on was a mixture of specific and general actions: agricultural projects, training in human rights, communications work, creating greater political spaces for young people, participating in the community councils and the highlight – a regional gathering of young Catatumberos.
I saw excitement, passion and drive in their voices. Their words have an authenticity, a normality and a good amount of humour (which I occasionally excitedly got) that is mostly lost in the older generation of leaders as they become moulded into a particular cultural style of meeting participation. The young people decided that they wanted active participation in their space and when it was not happening, wiggly hands (to show agreement) got introduced which they got well into.
I also saw moments of seriousness and concern in their faces. They talk briefly about the difficulties they will/may face: time, money, personal problems, problems from la guerrilla, obligatory recruitment in to army, paramilitary presence in the towns. O~ tells me he spent a fair bit of the 3 day meeting worrying about how he is going to earn enough to maintain his family and accomplish everything he wants to with CISCA. I spend a few hours later motivating and helping him to devise his own plan de trabajo so he stops wasting his energy stressing. I never imagined I’d momentarily I’d become a financial avisor while accompanying in Colombia, but it is in moments like these where I feel my ability to nourish their process with small details like this. This is my strength. With CISCA I spot my weakness, or less harshly, where I have the most to learn and least to contribute. CISCA are organising in Catatumbo to create and build Plans for Life, “for life, territory and integration” as the catchwords go; a project that has a long-term vision in which creation and resistance go hand in hand. It is not resistance for the sake of not wanting change; it is resistance so they can create the Catatumbo they desire, not what the rich desire.
In my motherland we are a way from collectively creating an integral vision for another Bristol, another South West and another Britain. While we are constantly visibilising and resisting facets of capitalism (climate change, war, no social housing, economic crisis…) the work is often not deeply integrated with those creating. Partially as those who are creating don’t often don’t get why we need to resist as part of this creation and write me off. Do you think it is an important goal that we try to entwine these two supposed opposites within a shared political coordinating space? Or impossible because of class backgrounds?
I feel hugely inspired (I am already lining up two months here in Europe’s summer) by how CISCA is creating a space where many different struggles, projects and visions in different parts are brought together and from this, they collectively are shaping a vision of life for the region. And this vision is ambitious, yet they are confident, proud and most of all serious when talkng about it.
Do we really have confident in ourselves when we talk about our ideas? Are we really serious that we are going to make this happen? Do we have clear what our ideas are? Are we thinking about how and what is needed to walk our words, as the indigenous and popular Minga says?