Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An ecological experiment with bamboo and pop bottles

Please carry us” shouted the women to the bus driver that went slowly past us heading up the dusty unpaved road. The laughter filled the air even as it looked like the driver wasn't going to let us on but then he signalled us to climb on through the back door. The ten of us piled on, amidst “god bless you” and numerous jokes about how he would be a good husband. Solidarity on the normal buses is ever present and they always let you travel for less than the official price and sometimes when near the end of the line, they let you ride for free.... all ten of us.

Meanwhile the Transmillenium bus system, the multimillion dollar transport system never lets you on for less than the official price, imposing an altogether different culture of 'rights for those who can pay'. Several students have been run over and killed this year alone as they didn't have the money to pass through the barriers so instead tried to jump through the bus access doors. Students poured out of colleges on mass blocking the bus routes and demanding that a student price be introduced so that the city's poor students don't have to choose between eating, transport or risking their life. The response was the riot police but the political space seems to have been created for the debate.

Back to our day out. We scrambled excitedly out of the bus at the end of the line and headed toward the plot of land. It is a plot right on the edge of the city, you only see fields and trees and most importantly you only breathe clean air, high up in the mountains above the smog level.

Wilson, a young lad from the organisation “Jovenes Proponen” -Youth Propose – from Ciudad Bolivar explains the project to us. “We want to have a place where young people can come and learn new skills, choose a different route in life to joining gangs and learn about the relationship between humans and our environment and how this capitalist way of building is destroying our environment, our home

They are building a education centre out of guadua, clay mixed with horse shit and plastic bottles filled with plastic bags. Seven thousand plastic bottles roughly. The women from Paraiso got excited and inspired “so many of us had to work so hard to buy the bricks for our house, they are so expensive. If only we had known about another way to build.....”. They offered immediately, only to happy to help, to collect bottles to contribute to the project,

Local neighbours have been inspired by the project and have got involved, coming down to help with work in their free time. They proudly tell us how they have planted peas, potatos, peppers and lettuces and about their irrigation system, again using plastic bottles. In return the women from Paraiso introduced themselves and shared their thoughs:

I like to be nosy and find out what is happening in other places, but not to be nosy for the sake of it but to learn new things. I am very happy to be here today” says Elvira

For me it is very important that people are building again with bamboo and clay. That's how they build in my region. And it is a great idea to use the rubbish from this city so we don't have to exploit more natural resources” says Carmen

It brings back memories being here, where I come from we used bamboo a lot. We used it to carry water in, and I use to hide avocados inside them” says Gratiniano. I didn't find out quite who he hid the avocados from.

Maria presents the women's project “We are a smallish but solid and determined group of women from Paraiso who want to organise ourselves so that we don't keep being exploited. We have a small allotment where we have strawberries and peas and arachacha planted and also we have a wormery so that we can make good compost from our waste products. If you wanted to come and visit us one day it would be good. So we can continue sharing experiences of how to produce food. Also it would be wonderful if we could come here and begin to cultivate some of the unused land around this plot.”

The land around the plot belongs to either Victor Caranza or Forrero Fetequa, we aren't sure which but we are sure that they are both part of Colombia's landowning class.

Colombia has one of the most unequal land distributions in the world, achieved through violent dispossession of the lands and wealth of first indigenous peoples and now also of peasant farmers and afro-colombian communities. At the end of 2009 there were up to 4.9 million internally displaced people (IDP) in Colombia, bringing it alongside Sudan as one of the two largest internal displacement situations in the world. In 2009 alone there was a reported 290,000 people displaced. This massive displacement has resulted in over 6 million hectares of productive land being abandoned by campesinos.

The current Internal Displacement Situation situation has to be seen in the context of a historical movement of expansion by the land-owning elites, an agrarian and structural problem, complicated and compounded since the 1970s by drug-trafficking and the presence of large international corporations.” [1]

Using this land above the urbanised part of Ciudad Bolivar for growing food on would definately ease the problem of hunger but the land is earmarked as part of the Mining Industry Park, which will not ease problems of hunger.

As we walked back to El Paraiso the women commented to me how many of the houses, built from tin, plastic and wood, that we passed on our way home were not their a year ago. Signs of displaced peasant farmers trying to find a patch of land where no one will violently kick them off.

[1] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre


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