By Miguel Macias, Guest Blogger and assistant professor at the department of Television and Radio at Brooklyn College.
Miguel, a youth media producer and MADRE volunteer, recently traveled to Bogota, Colombia to lead a multimedia workshop. The participants were young people affiliated with Taller de Vida, a MADRE sister organization. Below are his reflections on the experience, featuring a video produced by one of the participants.
I forgot about the dogs on the roofs. I used to look at them from the top floor of the house that Taller de Vida has in Usme, Bogota. And wondered about their lives. How much time did they spend on the roofs? did anyone ever walk them? is the culture gap between American and Colombian dogs bigger or smaller than the one between humans? As the taxi cab arrives to Usme I see the dogs on the roofs again. I forgot about them. The same way I forgot about the two policemen on one small motorcycle. About the thousands of Colombians trapped in the capital's omnipresent transit system where buses want to be trains and streets want to be tunnels. I forgot about the food, the watered down coffee, the local beer.
The memories start to arrive quickly. But for some reason I am not amused or excited... it feels like I was here a few days ago. Not a few years ago. A few years ago I was in Bogota for a week, teaching a group of students how to produce video. My time in Bogota consisted of trips back and forth from a neighborhood in the middle of Bogota, to Usme, a former small town that now has been absorbed by the huge city. This time I come back for two weeks to teach multimedia. I am not expecting to see a lot more of Bogota. So my taxi rides to Usme become my time to look at the city. Its small stores, its chaos, its military and police, students and professionals. In one of those taxi rides someone explains to me that the city is organized in different areas or "estratos" according to the average income of the neighborhood. The idea seems logical but extremely strange. Class is one of those things that North Americans don't like to talk about. Here... they don't need to talk about it... they are told what class they belong to. It's part of the reality so... why not put it on the table?
The first day of workshops is conducted at the top floor of the building Taller de Vida has in Usme. I look out of the window, watered down coffee in hand, and I see the dogs on the roofs.I try to remember the names of the students who will be taking part on the workshop. This will be a tough one. I realize as soon as I ask them to tell me some stories in writing. Some of the students are barely twenty years old and they have already been a part of an armed group in Colombia. Or two. My instinct pushes me to push them to give those stories away. So I can publish them. So I can surprise the readers of the world. With their stories. But when it becomes evident that these students are not particularly interested in remembering, or telling me amazing stories, stories of losses, of cruelty, unknown stories and experiences, I also realize that I am not interested in pushing them to talk to me. It's their choice, not mine.
Memory is a funny thing. I am fascinated by it. Perhaps because my own memory is always influencing what I do. Teaching these young students from Bogota I wonder about their memories. And I wonder about how those memories shape who they are. One of the people I met in Bogota told me: "I've met people who have gone through horrible things, and they are fine. No psychological consequences... that I can see". But can it be that these young people are immune to the kind of things they went through? Some of them certainly look like it. That is... assuming that the kind of things they went through are actually horrible and traumatic for them. Maybe these realities are just the norm for them. Maybe they grew up with them and never saw this environment, this political violence the country has been involved in for so long, as extraordinary. Nothing extraordinary.
I took a bunch of memories back from my two weeks in Bogota. Most of them will be posted soon on the web in the form of stories the students created. In the end they did give me their stories... maybe not the ones I was expecting. But they did give me their stories. It was hard work... not all of them knew how to put their memories on the paper... but they did it. One of the students I worked with, Jorge Quesada, produced a video about the circus-like artists who perform in front of the stopped cars when the traffic lights turn red in Bogota.
But I also came back with the feeling that I had missed something. I try to figure things out around me. Analyze, calculate, analyze more, explore the look of the people around me... analyze even more. And I left Bogota without the conclusions that I usually reach. Maybe I needed more time. Maybe I need to come back and have the opportunity to ask more questions. And maybe I will. Because I still feel there is a story that needs to be told. There is a messy body of memories, history, experiences, opinions, years, interpretations, conflicts. And I want to deconstruct it. Understand how the consciousness of this conflict is built. And maybe then I'll feel that I gave something significant back to those Colombians who gave me their trust.