Colombia, Sierra Nevada, Resistance and the Human Journey

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I was asked by my doctor not to climb for a few months.  So when I came to Colombia I was asked by my family not to bring my brand new climbing shoes. I was not planning to do much here but to recover in Cartagena so I only brought flip flops.

I was told by many friends that I had to visit the Tayrona park while in Colombia. And that is why I got to Taganga where I met Yassert, the Plestinian from Gaza I last wrote about. Taganga is a small fishing village that is close to Santa Marta. It has through time become a backpacker village.

As I explained the last time I wrote, I heard about another battle of resistance taking place around here. So I went to find out about it.

Everything I will write from now on is what I heard from the people. People that I asked so much about. I was asked by an Italian to go see the Playa del Muerto. Now, it was called Playa Crystal. I took an incredibly scary boat ride to get to this beach, which is in the Tayrona Park.

The Tayrona were an indigenous population, which has been entirely decimated. The park Taryrona is a natural reservation and I was told is under the administration of a French man who is friends with the sons of Uribe.

Playa del Muerto has people living in it. People who were being massacred for tourism. I walked the Taganga beach till I found Joselito, a local who is known by all. He told me his version of the story as someone who was related to the people there. I took a boat and I got to the pristine beach now known as Crystal Beach. It was full of tourists. I searched for the senora Rufina who was a local I was told to look for. She was not there. Her grandson was. I asked him to tell me what was going on. He looked first scared… then he told me he wanted to tell me about it.

He introduced me to other guides who had in their shirts written “Playa del Muerto”, which was obviously an act of resistance. According to these people, the Tayrona came to Playa del Muerto and lived there for many years. They buried their people and their treasures. Now people who had lived there for many years were being evicted for tourism to prosper so they wanted to hide the past of this place by changing its name. The boy told me about his family members he had that had been killed there. I asked whether they were afraid. And he said they were resisting it. They were now armed. I left the beach not knowing what to think.

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I came back to Tagana and I decided that though I did not have climbing shoes I was  hearing the calling of the mountains. So I decided to go there.  First, I visited Joselito to tell about my trip and my desire to see the Sierra Nevada. He introduced me to Eliecer a great guide he knew and who was a campesino of the Sierra Nevada.

Eliecer came from Santa Marta to explain me how it would be for me to walk to the lost city. I told him I was in fact just more interested in walking the mountain and to see the Kogi if I could. He agreed to that. And I for the following 3 days started a long walk in the mountains of Colombia.

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I asked Tayrona, Kogi, and ultimately permission from the mountain and the spirits of the forest  to walk in what it felt like a sacred place. I asked for permission, connection, and understanding. I remembered how I once was a very critical of these ideas; how as an anthropologist I condemned perspectivism. Yet, as I entered Indigenous land I asked for permission of the spirits of the mountain.

Before that I asked about the Farc, the paramilitary, Uribe. I asked about all there was of politics that I read about. I asked the people. But suddenly as I walked in, it came to my mind my friend Nathalie. The woman who taught me about hearing those who have not their voices heard.

For those of your who have read me for a long time… she was the Australian I met in my first trip to India and who had gone to Afghanistan alone just before the war. Nathalie loves Colombia. And as I walked the sacred mountains I somehow knew Eliecer,our guide,  might know her. He did. It felt special, so special that all my interest in the politics, the conflicts all subsided and instead I focused on what was happening to me. Why was I walking a mountain.

In not even 3 months after thinking I was going to die ,I was walking a mountain. I, who could not walk nor eat, could suddenly do it. I walked that mountain with all the respect that I have developed for mountains and myself in these years.

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I observed the Kogi beautifully dressed in their white clothes. Yet I knew I could not know much of the Kogi in so short time. I walked those mountains thinking of my own relationship of the massacres of the indigenous peoples of South America. How much of a Holocaust had happened here…. Through theses centruries. I apologized to it. As I walked knowing I was part of it… In some distant past I was part of it.

And as I struggled to walk a mountain in flip flops I realized something incredibly important: I could recover my sense of independence because I was being taken care of by Eliecer, his wife Tati, and my friend Peter, who I found out in this journey was half Italian and half Jewish. Somehow it fell all inside of what I knew. He was born in the US. He was part of the Gaza mission and yet he was Italian and Jewish two people I know so well.

As I walked I felt I suddenly knew in my whole body it takes full care of someone to allow us to endure a human journey. I had it here. I was struggling between nonexistent muscles, wrong shoes, weakness, heat, cold, and I could do it because there was someone taking care of me completely. And I understood I needed it forever. And that life was too kind to me to always have given it to me.

I walked back exhausted yesterday. A day I survived. And today I visited Yassert. He had a gift for me. Some artist called Vladimir had painted us while we talked. I wanted to take a picture of the painting… but Yassert said it was for me. I took that precious gift just as Mattias the chair of the Religion and Politics of the Upsala University in Sweden showed up.

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Mattias had been to many flotillas of liberation to Gaza. He was in the Marmara mission with his wife. They told us how two people were shot by the IDF  before they came down.; how terrified the IDF soldiers were; how all their recording video was taken away from them. They told me of the different treatment they had compared to the Turkish people because they had a different passport. I heard it all intrigued. Yet I thought peace could not happen there.

We sat with Yassert for coffee… And I could only speak to Yassert that though I was impressed by people who went to those missions, I thought peace could not happen there.

I explained to Yassert I wanted to hear him play the Oud. Peace had to happen through the collapse of separations. Through art. Through similarity. Not in things that made stronger divisions.

I remembered how once from the West Bank I spoke how subversive I thought love was. How an Israeli philosopher I had met who was against the occupation could not deal with what I wrote.  I asked him why… and he said, “it is too human.”

And that is what it is. All separations and divisions, and occupation depend on the idea that people are very different. Collapsing these systems takes us understanding we are not very different. We are all human, Indigenous massacres depend on people believing the indigenous are less humans; occupations can only take place because people believe Palestinians are a different kind of human.  Slavery was only possible because humanity was stolen to slaves. We are however fundamentally human! We are all how capable of amazing cultural diversity yet we are human beings who are so fundamentally flawed and amazing.

When my dear friend Michal told me now she had been to Hebron with Breaking the Silence ( the ex soldiers of the IDF who speak against the occupation). I cried. It hurt me to imagine my dear friend seeing the absurdities that go on in Hebron under her name.

I knew she would suffer seeing what the settlers did there. How could she live after? I did not wish that for her. A collapse of her system, yet I was so proud that she did it in spite of it. And I gave her what I could do of most valuable…. My unconditional love.  I could never do that before but in this X-mas, I finally could and that is what I did . I gave full unconditional love to my two cousins who made me survive my disease. And then to Michal. I gave them, and thank them to make it possible for me to give it. And in doing so I understood that only being unconditionally loved we can venture in a human venture full of mistakes, pain, love, happiness. I gave Michal because I could, because I could, and because this way she could venture in the difficult journey of humanity knowing she would always be loved.

I walked these mountains as weak and as strong as I have never been. And I understood I too needed to be cared for, loved to be able to step one step next to the other. It hurt me to imagine some of my ancestors massacred these indigenous peoples of the Americas. Yet I could take the pain because I am not directly responsible for it; but most importantly, because nowadays I take different choices.  I do know, and understand, I am part of a whole process of colonization. And yet, I can walk one more step in these indigenous lands feeling part of it as well.

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I hear all stories of Uribe and Farcs and Bolivarian ideals, and I am more convinced then ever that ideologies are just one more thing. Time goes away and takes it all. I take one step and I almost fall on a loose rock.  I have to ask help. And I do. Even when I feel so fragile to this help, I finally can ask for it.

And when I finally return to Taganga I go to see Yassert. He is my oldest friend here. He has read me. He thanks me. “Thank you, Just thank you. Thank you for my people” I am moved. But as we sit for coffee today I tell him. Yassert “ I know you crave to go home. I know middle easterners have different conceptions of time, and relationship of land.” I remember as I tell that of Hannah telling me of the people who go back to Europe to visit where they came from before the Holocaust and it does not exist. They all suffer.  So I tell him how much I felt lost in this enormous world. Always looking for home.

In Colombia, I know finally where home is. Home is in an encounter. For me it is when I can seat here and write of those who have no voice. I can be home where I am allowed to be vulnerable. Where my vulnerability does not oblige me to run. I take one more step.  I breathe in and out and the weakness of my body does not do much to me. I inhabit here now.

I sit and hear a man, Alejandro, an old Peruvian playing songs from Latin America. I feel home in his voice, in his music. In the fact that I take the guitar and I sing. I feel finally home in all that I am…. Till I loose grips to it again. I encounter Yassert one more time as I am about to go to my hostel. I tell him one more time I want to hear the Oud, and tell him to go to sleep and rest.

And there I somehow know that home is when we take care and are taken care of. It is in the cultural production we all have in the world. I feel exhausted but so happy that I could walk for 3 days the mountains. I feel mountains will always be where my soul lies. Where I can recover my sense of belonging to this world. And I could only be there because I understood in my whole my body that I could only be an individual because there were people taking care of me.

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