Thursday 10th of May was our first day in Medellín! Waking up do a sunny day we thanked the weather gods for another type of weather, weather that we associated more with South America than the rain Bogotá had given us. Starting off the day we had a meeting at ARN, the agency for reincorperation of former combatants, which has worked both with paramilitares (right-wing self defense groups) and leftist guerillas. There we met the amazing Daniel Cano, whom we quickly found out was a former master student of Uppsala. We asked ourselves: does everyone we meet in Colombia have a connection to Sweden?? However, Daniel did a great job explaining the work of the ARN, and the differences between the paramilitary reintegration process and the reincorperation process of FARC – the latter being more complicated as it’s supposed to happen collectively. He also told us a bit about his own experience, being kidnapped by FARC in is youth. However shocking it might be for a naive swede, it is not a very unusual colombian experience. In a country with more than 8 million victims almost everyone have had some kind of experience of the violence, either though themselves or a relative. For example, one of our taxidrivers happened to tell some of us about his seven years in the ELN guerilla and later service in the national army. With the conflict having affected so many the big questions seems to be – How does one forgive? How does one move on?
For lunch we enjoyed a delicious very colombian meal while talking about typical Uppsala things with Daniel (biking, housing, palt at Norrlands nation). The vegetarians enjoyed a dish with rice, plantain, avocado, salad and beans while some of the meat-eaters tried a local speciality: Mondongo, which is a stew made partly of cow stomach. They did not complain!
After lunch we went to an exhibition by colombian photographer Jesus Abad Colorado, priced abroad but for some years unable to show his work in his homeland. The reason? The photos portrait FARC and the conflict in a brutally honest way. They showed both the tragedies and the hope for peace, and left us deeply affected, but also very grateful for the visualization of the conflict that we had talked so much about in numbers.
Our second meeting that day was with UNDP, the United Nations Development Program. There we were greated by Carlos Rivera and Carolina Mosquera, representing also UN Women. They gave us their perspective on the reincorperation process and women’s and LGBTQ-people’s throughout Colombia but specifically Medellín. At the end of the meeting the energy of the travel group was at an all time low, which characterized itself by many hysterical laughters – hopefully we had already made a serious impression on our hosts. In general we were very happy to have some meeting more at a grassroot level, further away from numbers and paragraphs and closer to the people.
Dinner that day was also quite an experience. Hungry after a intense day we found a restaurant on google maps with good reviews and nice pictures. Coming there showed something else. Everywhere around big letters spelled out LOVE and at the top floor where we ate couples were sitting in romantic sunbeds feeding each other. Laughing and probably ruining the romantic atmosphere for the other guests we had our dinner, which unfortunately lacked in taste but was compensated by this strange experience. With that our first day in Medellín ended for some, whilst others went out to study the paisa nightlife.