Travel opens our minds, broadens our perspective of reality, and teaches us that everywhere there is much to discover. Today I am going to share about an exchange of experiences between members of the coastal comunities Pichilín and Libertad with some of the communities that other Seeders are accompanying in Chocó. Mr. Eliecer Vitola Villalba will tell us in the interview about the trip from its beginning, leaving Pichilín, Morroa (Sucre-Colombia) by land to Sincelejo, flying from Medellín to Quibdó, Chocó, and arriving in Istmina to navigate the San Juan River to Andagoya and Bebedó.
1. Which places we visited stood out to you and why?
Waterfall near the San Juan River: I had never been to a place like that – it’s beautiful, with the water falling in the middle of the jungle. It’s a very beautiful place.
Medellín: I liked trying out other types of transportation such as the metro and the cable cars we took. That was a new experience for me.
Bebedó: I liked that we met with the community council. They told us about how the council was managed, how the problems of the town were brought up, and how from there they drew conclusions about how to improve those situations. I also shared with them what is cultivated here, that we work the land planting ñame, cassava, corn, tabacco, and sesame. They told me that there the same things couldn’t be grown because the land has different conditions, and that mining, especially gold, was the principal source of income, and that some were cultivating cacao.
San Juan River: I had never seen gold being mined. We were going down the river when we saw a woman and a girl, so we pulled the boat over to the river bank and got out to watch them mining gold with a batea they were moving. We gave them some bread to thank them for teaching us the traditional way of mining gold.
The Farm in Chocó: I liked this because I saw how the rice is processed. I had never seen that. We learned how rice is processed and also saw how the fish are raised – all of this was new for me.
2. What similarities and differences did you find between Chocó and the coast?
I didn’t find similar things – we’re very different. It’s jungle there and here it’s coast; there they live from mining and there are no chickens, donkeys, turkeys, or cows. I only saw one pig. We also have pigs, so they are very distinct lands and beautiful in different ways.
I liked the people in Chocó. Everyone was very friendly with those from the outside; wherever we went they treated us very well. I liked that there are many rivers there.
3. What was the most difficult part of the trip for you?
That there was hardly any cassava to eat – that was difficult for me.
4. What did you hear about the country’s armed conflict?
I saw signs on the houses that were made by the guerrilla and saw statues of the guerrilleros. One woman told me that the governement didn’t give them anything, just kicks in the behind, while the guerrilla gave them food sometimes. I also saw a woman crying because she lost her rice crops in the government’s efforts to fumigate coca crops.
- How to graft cacao trees
- I learned about different forms of transportation because I traveled by plane, bus, train, boat, and cable cars, which were very new things for me.
- I learned about different foods according to the place we visited.
- I learned to represent my community and value the trust that they placed in me.
- I learned that others have suffered as we have and continue to suffer because of the war.
We returned to Pichilín with our minds full of memories, with new smells, flavors, and sights, with the consciousness that our country is beautiful, full of richness, water, and life; but that also there, as well as here, people are suffering the effects of the war and the abandonment by the state, which doesn’t think about the damage that it inflicts on its citizens. For me as a Seeder, it impacted me most to see the eyes of the woman who told us about how her subsistence crops were fumigated because of the problem of coca. I could see in her eyes the indignation, sadness, and anger at her powerlessness to stop the planes. As a Christian, it was beautiful to learn that the church is opening its eyes and using its resources to respond to the social, political, and economic context, perhaps not to change the social structure, but to raise its voice like the prophets and denounce how people are suffering because of evil, and also to see how the church is fighting to create alternative proposals that allow the communities to maintain their food security and the life of the inhabitants of the region.
Translated by Amy Eanes