Christmas is well and truly here now the Novenas (nine days before Christmas) have started and people are fleeing the city to surrounding towns to spend time with their families.  It is traditional that during the Novenas the whole family meets each evening at a different family member’s house for food, drink, prayers and songs (accompanied by an array of instruments from maracas to the famous Colombian cheese grater people ‘play’ on street corners).  I went to one of a friend of mine the other day which was really great although it definitely made me miss my family seeing the whole of hers together celebrating Christmas.  She has 9 siblings!  We are having a Novena at our house on Saturday – a fusion of British and Colombian traditions with mince pies, mulled wine and carols, natilla (a sort of milk jelly), bunuelos (balls of deep fried dough) and some drink made from sugar cane and aguardiente (Colombia’s favourite spirit).  

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Monserate’s Christmas lights (the top of one of the mountains behind Bogota)

Since last writing the city has experienced some pretty major turbulence in the form of the democratically elected mayor, Gustavo Petro, being sacked and banned from participating in political activities for 15 years.  This has caused uproar in the city for several reasons.  One, the ‘Procurador’ who removed Petro from his post is a well known strongly conservative, anti most things liberal, supporter of paramilitaries.  Two, there exists a clause in the so called liberal democratic constitution of Colombia whereby this one man has the power to overrule the electorate and dethrone the mayor.  Three, the main reason for Petro’s removal that has been sited was his attempt to nationalise the rubbish collection system in the city which resulted in 3 days of chaos with rubbish everywhere last December – it depends who you talk to but I think most are in agreement that this, although pretty badly managed, does not merit a 15 year ban from politics. 

This rash decision on the part of the Procurador (not sure of the English translation – minister of something…) could not have come at a worse moment.  Just as the FARC are negotiating with the government over their potential future participation in the political arena and a political solution to the conflict, a blatant example of the underlying corruption and anti-democratic sentiment still rife amongst the upper echelons of the Colombian government has done little to encourage the guerrillas that entering into the political system will be in their interest.  It has been an exciting time though as civil society, who despite corruption believe in the power of the people and the democratic system, is extremely active in Colombia, and for almost a week the Plaza Bolivar has been filled with protesters with banners, music, even interpretative dance!  On Friday it felt more like a festival than a demonstration with a hip hop group supporting the mayor and performing in front of thousands of his loyal supporters.  It has since turned into an occupy movement with many people camping out in the plaza.  I’m not sure how events will play out but Petro has gone to Washington to present his case in front of the International Court of Human Rights so we shall see…

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Prize if you can spot me….

Through CPDH I managed to get a guest pass into the Congresso last week which was really great.  It reminded me of the House of Lords, lots of ministers not really listening to whoever was speaking but instead showing other ministers photos on their phones, dozing or talking at such a volume that it was quite difficult to hear.  I watched Aida Avella (a major figure in the Colombian Communist Party, Union Patriotica, who was threatened several times in the 90s, shot at and finally exiled to Switzerland where she spent 17 years) win an honouree award and speak about the need for peace and stability in the country.  A really interesting woman, it was just a shame so few people were listening to her!  I’ve also found out much more about the people working for CPDH and what they’ve been through.  Diego, my boss, was president of his student union and when he was 21 he was displaced from his town of Cucuta and had to live in exile in Norway for 6 months as it wasn’t safe for him to stay in Colombia.  When he moved back he and his family moved to Bogota which was considered safer but he continued to be threatened as the government tried to quell all opposition, with students perceived as a major threat.  

I’ve started writing for a new website called Embrace Bogota which has been set up by an Irish woman who is married to a Colombian man.  She wants it to be a sort of woman’s magazine online, a go-to page for women of Bogota who want to experience all the city has to offer.  Here’s my first article about the Cerros Orientales – the mountains behind Bogota which I climbed with some friends a few weeks ago and have recently learnt much more about.  http://www.embracebogota.com/#!Los-Cerros-Orientales-Getting-back-to-nature-right-here-in-Bogot/c23ok/57F4653E-3813-41AE-A0D2-EFBF535A3007 and here’s me! http://www.embracebogota.com/#!contributors/c53i

Also here’s a link to one of the articles in The City Paper which has now been put online. http://thecitypaperbogota.com/culture/a-literary-wish-list/

I’ve been struggling on with my English classes – some of which I really enjoy, others are pretty challenging but I’m getting there!   This week we have had a training course at ConIngles, the English teaching institute, parts of which have been quite helpful, in and amongst a lot of pointless exercises such as getting into groups and actually juggling tennis balls which was supposed to represent us ‘juggling our students needs’ and understanding the value of observation and guidance in lessons…please…!  I’m also teaching my boss at CPDH, hopefully in return for some Spanish lessons as he has a friend who’s a Spanish teaching which would be useful. 

I have had a BBQ at the weekend for the past 4 weeks which is impressive given the climate!  A few weeks ago I escaped the city to a really lovely village called Choachi, about an hour’s windy drive across the mountains and down into a much warmer valley for lunch cooked in a friend’s family’s house overlooking the valley.  The village has thermal springs and the fresh, tropical air was a welcome relief from the pollution of Bogota which gets quite overwhelming at times. 

In terms of work I’ve got further with the fundraising proposals and I’m helping finalise a proposal for a grant for a forum to be held next year on security during protests and manifestations.  I have been to quite a few now and have always been impressed by the lack of police intervention but my boss assures me that the situation is far from perfect and important activists are often detained for the duration of a manifestation without justification and others are often abused by security workers.  I am also hoping to get involved in CPDH’s human rights education work they carry out in the rural areas of the country still very much affected by the conflict as well as facing new challenges such as the prevalence of multinational energy companies displacing people from their land to ravage the country of its precious resources.  No prizes for telling whose side I’m on…

Anyway I’m spending Christmas at home with Lorena and her parents and some friends then off to Cali the nest day in a 12 hour bus.  Here Christmas is celebrated on 24th and most people spend 25th hungover!  Hoping to stay for a week then head down to Pasto for a carnival called ‘Blancos y Negros’ where black people put white face paint on and white people ‘black up’…not quite sure it’s entirely settled with my politically correct conscience but it sounds hilarious and comes very highly recommended so look forward to seeing photos of that…!  Otherwise I wish all my friends and family wherever you are a very merry Christmas, I’m sorry I’m not with you to celebrate but I’m there in spirit and I miss and love you all very much!  FELIZ NAVIDAD!! 

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