You feel the warmth and love of the city in every being you come across. Children in my neighborhood tirelessly chase each other, giggle, play street games, and dance. There is a fusion of different salsa tracks that stridently play from almost every household brew –a rhythm of festivity that is intensified as the night goes weary. Ladies gracefully patch their stools and fire stoves along the street as they prepare different common dishes. Young boys play football under the close watch of their elders (brothers and fathers). No matter how busy they all seem to be, everyone stops to say “hola or buenas”, or at least offer an infectious greeting smile that makes you feel at home. These are the sounds and images that welcome me to Cali as I walk through my neighborhood on the way to church.
1. The cariñoso (loving, affectionate) vendor
He was the first to notice that I am new to the neighborhood. He often gives me extra vegetables and fruits. Also, he is the first to refer to me as “vecino” (neighbor). Since then my status has continued to rise– from vecino to “amigo” (friend) and now I’m officially “hermano” (a brother).
2. The mothers of the neighborhood
They greet me every morning and treat me like their son. My landlord (also known as my first mom) introduced me to every one of them. They remind me to take my garbage out, let me know if there is a sale in the local market, and keep count of the number of people who knock on my door when I am absent. Every conversations ends with the wishes of God’s blessing – “Dios te bendiga”.
They always have hundreds of questions to ask. Just their smiles are enough to reflect their affection.
4. The youth
They are highly aware of the current affairs in the neighborhood. I credit them for being responsible for all my knowledge of the community’s geographic set up – directions; security and important local issues. They assume the role of being my guardians and friends. They are a real blessing.
He has convinced me to buy his product once a week and always has a story to tell. I think he makes a great historian, as he has accurate dates of events that have happened in Aguablanca. He is a man of many gifts and speaks strongly against the use of violence and drugs in the region.
These characters all have something in common, a history scared by memories of violence and displacement as a result of the Colombian armed conflict. In Aguablanca virtually everybody has a story to tell. There are still many neighborhoods that are affected by urban violence, drugs, armed gangs, and police patrols. This reality serves as a reminder of the work that lies ahead for Colombians. It is also a challenge to me as it often sobers my excitement of being member one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Colombia.
*Cholao: a fruit salad typical of the area Valle de Cauca, in Colombia. Starting with a base of shaved ice, fruit, different flavoured syrups and condensed milk are added. Fruits commonly used are: banana, green apple, kiwi, strawberry, coconut, papaya and pineapple.