Our visit to the department (state) of Sucre started with our evening arrival in Sincelejo.
A change of menu from our previous meals of caldo, arroz, yucca and plantains. A change of view from the metropolitan cities of Bogota and Barranquilla. Sincelejo is a small city reeling from the social and physical ramifications of the constant displacements that are exaggeratedly so in this region 20km from the Pacific coast. Of a population of 230,000, at least 100,000 persons are the victims of forcible displacements. Unlike Bogota, there is no way to exist in Sincelejo without being aware of what is happening in Colombia.
We met with Ricardo Esquivia of Sembrando Paz; which: “Based on the traditions of the Mennonite Church, Sembrandopaz is devoted to living out the word of God through community, peace, and service.” (See http://www.sembrandopaz.org/) Through interpretation by fellow justice worker and wife, Lillian, we came to know of this story of sadness and hope.
Our vans took us from breakfast and a brief shopping opportunity (homemade soaps, jewelry and hibiscus grown on farms sponsored by the Mennonites) to Mampujan. A small village that on Friday, March 10, 2000 at 4pm as children were playing futbol in the open center space, they were besieged by paramilitary forces that came over the hills. All persons were gathered in the village center. They were then told they were to lose their lives on that day. All frightened and beseeching. Their priest told them to call on God.
There was another call. Radio, maybe. Not cell phone yet. The man with the gun in charge got a call. The people of Mampujan were to be spared that day. Spared their lives. “Take what you can and leave now.” No boxes, suitcases. The villagers carried what they could in their hands. Their homes were ransacked of any valuable items and other precious belongings destroyed by the paramilitary.
As the paramilitaries left, the priest then told them to thank God for sparing their lives that day. As they cried out blessings to the Lord, they knew that in the next village, the inhabitants would not have God’s blessing. 60 members of the next neighboring village were massacred. Their cries to God unanswered.
I could not help my tears and anger. But for the grace of God, one village is spared and one is massacred. The cries of mothers, fathers and children are not answered by “grace of God?”
It started to rain as we walked in the gentle heat. Big drops that I could feel through the short hair on my head. Splashing on my scalp. Sounding in my head. Warm drops, that helped relieve the heat. That tried to wash away this feeling of hopelessness and sadness for the village that did lose its life, if not the lives of its people. Anger at God, for not being able to give that grace to the other village that died. To the children and families that called on God to save them.
How do I learn of new words to describe pain? Why?
We walked quickly back to our vans, through mud that reminded me of the red clay of Georgia. Made me think of slaves running for their lives through swamps and mud and rain, with only the belief that God would make a way through dangerous territory until freedom was found. Mud caked on sneakers and hiking shoes-not on the roughened bare feet of those forcible displaced. Enslaved.
Nuevo Mampujan. Kids playing in the rain – an impromptu waterpark. Sliding on cement, standing under drainpipes. Throwing balls to make the water splash higher. Playing tag and jumping in pooling puddles. Laughter and joy at the gift of rain from God. Is this the grace of God? The prayers answered?
We ate a bountiful lunch of caldo de res and strawberry apple soda. We viewed the quilts that showed the images of raped and slaughtered women and paramilitaries and decapitated bodies of men and children. As we stepped back into our vans, tracking the red clay, we tried to hold the smiles and remember the blood lost. We continued to Cartagena, where the displaced drive the streets with horses and carts amongst the taxis and motorcycles that mark “progress.”