"A guy just ran past with a bat in his hand," said my mom. It only took me a split second to move past my shock and into reality mode. There was a fight happening in the street in front of our house.
It was early enough that the all-night drinkers were hitting the burn-out crazy mode, of people who have been drinking all night. Being a three day weekend in Colombia, it was no surprise that a Saturday night rumba had ended in violence.
As the situation developed there were two or three men about age 25 or 30, who ran past with knives, and two more with machetes. There was even a guy on a large cylinder motorcycle hovering, ready to grab his compadre and take off should the heat arrive.
Picture taken during Feria de Manizales - of different knife fight
All photo's in this article are intellectual property of Erin Donaldson and published with full permissions.
Dear Diary - Suffice it to say we had an interesting morning
Especially in the working class neighborhoods of Colombia, these incidents are quite common. Later, when I called my boyfriend to tell him about it, he mentioned that drugs are becoming scarce due to the increased control of roads and transport. People will fight harder for their fix than they will for food.
The most probably situation is that someone had either drugs on them that the others wanted, or an argument after an all night drinking binge simply spun out of control. Gunfights are very rare, knives are almost always the preference.
It was very obvious that these weren't trained fighters, or even the more typical street fighters. Their movements were light and skittish. It only began to look serious, when one started winding his shirt around his left arm indicating that he was ready to get real about shedding blood. By then it was already too late, as most of the neighborhood had begun poking their heads out. The two nosy old women next door ran straight out to their front gate almost immediately when they noticed that something was going on.
We mostly stayed inside our house only cracking open the door to peak. What my mother had previously thought was a bat, was actually a machete - the average person here doesn't play baseball.
Man being checked on the road by a military checkpoint in the conflict zone of Colombia. Of course, the big shipments go through because they are as complicit with the drug trade as the police are - if not more so.
It was over as quickly as it began, and a few minutes after the fact a police cruiser followed by a motorcycle went past. This sector is actually VERY calm and safe - being one of the neighborhoods of choice, for many police, military and medical personnel. This was the first time in almost a year living here that we had seen violence in the street during daylight. Probably, we will have to wait a year for it to happen again - unless this lockdown continues.
That being said, there are a few "invasions" in the area below us where more of the "gamines," or low class street kids, are living. In Colombia, you can tell Gamines by their footballer mohawk style hair-cuts, the silver and gold chains, rings and bracelets. There is a type of "flash" that marks them as the drug dealers or gangster types.
Plaza de Mercado, or La Galeria, is the main point of arrival for local produce and meat.
When I want to go unnoticed in La Galeria, the major food distribution center downtown - I try to dress a bit more gamina, show my tattoos and put on my bitch face. It totally works, I already tried. Cops won't even bother to ID me - especially when I enter from the poor neighborhood which borders La Plaza de Mercado.
What can I say? I like to experiment.
By now, my readers are freaking out and seeing Colombia as a horrible place. So let me back up...
I live in a lower middle class neighborhood - but people recognize us as "locals" which means we are mostly free from being bothered. We also don't get too friendly or party with them - EVER!
The average expat lives in upper class neighborhoods with vigilantes and security guards at their buildings or in the street. Security guards in Colombia, are basically mafia - you treat them nice or THEY will rob you. So don't be an asshole - buy them a bottle of alcohol, or give them 20-50,000 COP each year for Christmas. For the most part they won't bother you. They are ALWAYS loyal to the owner of the building/apartment, so don't try to buy them or think of them as friends.
Manizales is the MOST secure city in Colombia. Especially this close to the police academy, their reaction will be very strong and they will do whatever is necessary to put down any breakouts of violence.
The quarantine is fraying everyones nerves. People are stressed, pissed off and have nowhere to go to let off steam. Unfortunately, this HAS led to a sharp increase in domestic violence.
This isn't weird or new. If we were in places like Cali or Cartagena, it would have been a gunfight and blood would have been everywhere. Manizales has ALWAYS been mafia-free (they aren't allowed to join the country club or do business here), and a stronghold of military/police power.
It is a weird reality for us as Americans. My mother came from a middle class family in California, and her father sent her frequently into poor neighborhoods to pick up rent payments. She was the first person to begin teaching me how to be street smart in my life. The second was attending the worst inner city public high school in Reno, Nevada. Third, I have studied self-defense skills and mindset my whole life.
Still, you never get used to seeing people fight with knives and machetes.
This was one of my belt tests for Taekwondo a couple years ago in Pereira, Colombia
We decided that really, we had the perfect hideout if things ever involved guns. Our back patio, dining room and kitchen are all lower than the street and even with the falling trajectory of bullets, we should be completely out of line-of-fire. But, it is not something we ever expect to deal with because all of our immediate neighbors include working families, a retired cop from Bogota and people living modest lifestyles at lower strata's or hiding their wealth.
Colombia is a savage place. Men here are PREDATORS. This is NOT the place for broke-ass women or single moms. You should NOT consider becoming a resident unless you have the financial security to live in middle/upper class areas. I recommend that you have $1,500 USD per month or $2,000 for two people - to live here comfortably.
If you ARE on the lower end of the spectrum, Colombia should not be your choice unless you have familial connections and you speak FLUENT Spanish. Even so, there are some pretty wild things which can happen to women who are alone here. Especially if you are young and pretty.
I was warned many years ago, not to go live or hang out in certain pueblos because if a mafioso/cartelero decided he wanted me, the entire pueblo would hand me over and look the other way. Other expats reading this will deny it with fervor, because for many of them, it is easier to act like everything is ok and live in their dollar lined bubbles versus admit that their perfect expat lifestyle destination has problems.
Most people would rather live a lie than learn to deal with harsh realities. Remember that.
If this lockdown continues, what we saw today will only be the beginning. This is going to become much more common place even if things go back to "normal."
My last visit to the Conflict Zone of Colombia. I spent 4 years visiting the Pacific department of El Choco in Colombia. Which is where I learned a LOT about how things work, particularly when corruption is so widespread.
Our economy is destroyed and to some extent the violence of the 1980-90's WILL return - unless the government can keep the poorest 30% of the population mostly fed and housed. If the gravy train ends, cities like Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena and Cali, will become very difficult for expats. I also have a prediction to make...
If Colombia moves forward with their plans to start spraying glyphosate on coca fields, we will see an EXPLOSION in drug trafficking and violence. What the first world thinks will kill off the coca - actually helps IMPROVE cultivating conditions and output by getting rid of all the surrounding weeds and vegetation making it perfect for replanting. If they were serious about eradication they would replace COCA, with cocoa (Chocolate). But, the CIA will NEVER give up their main source of profit. THAT, I can guarantee you.
But, it only makes SHORT-TERM gains, ultimately resulting in long term crop increases and human rights violations: https://www.wola.org/analysis/costs-restarting-aerial-spraying-coca-colombia/
So anyways, that was my morning - and some of the thoughts which came from it. I also included a video of me sparring for one of my belt tests when I was in karate. Now, I have to go do my daily workout (since it is too rainy to go hiking, maybe tomorrow), eat lunch and then spend the afternoon doing housework. But, I won't bore you with the details.
Dear Readers, Life is an adventure - and not for the weak of heart. I do have a thing for adrenaline, so maybe I push my limits a bit. That being said, I am NOT an advocate of solving problems with violence or criminal lifestyles. I am always an advocate of women who are victims of abuse or street violence and I WILL report anything I see regarding violence against women or children.
It has been a wild Sunday so far, but as always...
If you feel a kindred spirit in my diary about times of coronavirus, pressure and overcoming - then do your part to help a neighbor get through to the other side by upvoting, and/or giving me a resteem, of this post. Tell a friend - and join #thediarygame so we can all bring home the rewards of high quality content curation on the @SteemitBlog ecosystem.