What confused me about this was I had just watched my cogestora advise her to begin studying again among other things but the mother refused to work to improve her position. What further complicates the situation is the woman’s son is unable to walk and is forced to navigate in his wheel chair. The lack of paved surfaces beyond his front porch means he is restricted to the house. His neighborhood is not as wheelchair accessible as others- the steps leading to and from the plot of land on which his home sits on are carved out of the earth. He wants to get an education but lacks the access to do so. Both Carmen and the woman understand that the only way this woman’s son will get the education that they both want him to receive is by moving to a place where the son can move about. The method of doing so is where they diverge. The woman wants to hire a lawyer and sue those who she says are responsible for her son’s disability. Carmen, on the other hand, wants the woman to study so she can get a job which would enable them to move, so that the son could receive an education.
If her son were done wrong then yes, he deserves justice and economic compensation may be allotted with this justice. Even so, this course of action seems unsustainable as a means to improving their quality of life because they may be awarded a lump sum that would run out eventually. Once that money runs out, they very well may end up back where they started- living in a house that her son can’t leave. Carmen’s recommendations make sense. The woman would be self-sufficient and able to provide a better standard of living for her children and the chance to move up the socio-economic ladder, all regardless of the court decision.
It’s possible that I missed a critical part of the story, so I asked Carmen about it later. She said that this woman has made no effort to improve her life or her children’s lives. The woman is waiting for Medellin Solidaria to fix her life and for the courts to give her money that she doesn’t have to work for. Carmen’s evaluation seemed accurate and she would know, having been working with the family for an extended period of time.
Carmen’s evaluation may be accurate but it’s also possible that this woman wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities because her hands were full caring for her disabled son and the other children in the home. If I’ve learned anything from my first day in the field it’s that there are many sides to a story and the time I have in these homes isn’t enough to figure it all out.
Despite the limitations, I like what I’ve seen of my cogestora’s and Medellin Solidaria’s work. They don’t go about social development the way many people do. It’s tempting to do everything for the target population but this course of action doesn’t actually solve the problems in these communities. I hope that my first impression of this social development effort is correct and that they are actually helping their target communities help themselves.
I walked out of each house unable to speak. Helena kept asking me what I thought, and I could not mutter anything coherent. I saw families without much food, without stoves, and without many of the basic necessities that I take for granted. These families still fed me, gave me gifts (see the picture below), and were excited to share their stories with me. They are not ashamed of where they stand economically because they are also motivated to change their situation. Many of the families had members that were studying to obtain new skills. They are happy people and exhibit a kindness that is indescribable.
When meeting as a group to go over the steps to meeting a family, everything seemed simple. I knew there would be awkward interactions since I’m not fluent in Spanish. My cogestora, Helena, really helped me out when I struggled with the language. She took me to houses that she knew very well. Every house is different and this made finding the best camera position very difficult, especially given the sizes of the houses. I faced trouble with one interview’s audio and one interview’s lighting, but I think that my last interview has the best footage. The last interview was emotionally charged, but my worst fear came true. This woman began to cry during our interview. I felt the emotion and I froze up, but I could not understand why she was crying. On camera, you can hear me stuttering without a response. Thankfully my cogestora whispered in my ear a follow up question to ask: “Porque lloras?” This was an amazing moment, therapeutic almost, because this impromptu question required her to think about the root of her emotions. I tried my best to show my sensitivity, but I left feeling that I could have done better.
On Tuesday morning I left my newfound home in Medellín with my camera and notes to document the story of a woman I had not yet met and whose story I didn’t know. Her name was Jobeida. Her story took me off guard, and as she cried, I began to sympathize with something none of my experiences had prepared me for. She told me the history of Colombia through her personal story, one in which her house was burned down in the middle of the night by drug leaders who labeled her as a traitor for having given water and food to a competing group. Her husband disappeared that night, and was presumably killed; she has not heard anything of him in over ten years. She ran away in the middle of the night with her children and her daughter of nine years was kidnapped. Four months later, she was returned, but it was an experience that her daughter has still not entirely recovered from. She continued and told me the hard transition of making a home for herself in Medellín, and smiled with pride in showing me the beautiful home she lives and feels secure in today. As I returned to my apartment, 40 minutes away on a metro and in a much safer neighborhood, I called my parents to tell them that the interview had gonegreat.
Later that afternoon, I questioned my motives for calling the dialogue we had had great. I had unexpectedly come across an incredible story of Colombia’s history and a personal account that moved me but what were my motives for telling her story? As filmmakers, we want to tell an exciting story, one that will catch people’s interest and tell a story. How was I benefiting her by making this film? And then I fell down on the sidewalk. It took falling down to realize the weight of insecurity that I have been carrying. Colombia is notoriously known as a dangerous country, the last news that the United States has received in headlines concerning Medellín was twenty years ago when the city was plagued with drug wars. In the weeks preceding my departure, my parents made sure I would always be on my guard…
It is exhausting.
We are not allowed to leave for anywhere without someone within our group, and most times we travel with the eight of us. The precaution leaves room for anxiety about venturing on my own; something I have never felt. I have traveled on my own and have developed a way of becoming familiar with new places, and that is by exploring. What I have become familiar with in Medellín has taken hold of my heart, my feelings, I love it. However, the way of life here is very different from what I am used to and it is taking time to become accustomed to it. I don’t feel comfortable, and I don’t know how to change that. I feel comfortable in my house, in my new GREAT circle of friends, with my wonderful and warm host mother, but alas, the threat of Medellín’s notorious history still makes me insecure. As I fell on the cement, I felt myself let go. My breath fell out and my knees slid across the concrete hard. My palms cracked with pain as they reached out and met the road. Walking away, my thoughts were not focused on the pain but on the constant guard that I always have up here. Independence is something I’ve always been grateful for but have taken for granted. Hearing these stories has forced me to think about my own privilege of independence but also question it here, and I am curious how I will convey this incredible development of Medellín over the past ten years in my documentary while also portraying the continual threat that I still feel is present.
When I walk around town, I have accepted that I am una extranjera, una gringa. I expect it. The stares are not new, the attention leaves no lasting impression, but I want the person behind my camera lens to experience more than a living, breathing, personification of a 'language barrier.' When I tape their story, I want the footage to respect and empower el entrevistado/a by sharing the pain and joy of their own personal narrative, instead of merely capturing it on minutes of film.
On my first day accompanying and conducting interviews with my cogestora, I didn't know quite what to expect. I remembered her from our meet and greet in Moravía. She was sweet, patient, and encouraging, but I was extremely nervous. How would the families be? Would they be receptive to me? Would they feel comfortable sharing intimate and personal details of their life? And WOULD my technology function? When I get nervous, I sort of lose all common sense and even forget to put the mini memory card disk into the actual adapter. Yes, I actually spent an hour trying to figure out why my memory card wouldn't "format." Suffice to say, doing interviews in a foreign language in a foreign country with no knowledge of the history of Picacho (the neighborhood) is daunting to say the least.
I finally started my first interview and it seemed like sadly, all my fears came true. The woman was very timid, shy, and reserved. Her voice was so soft it was nearly a whisper even with the microphone. The only sitting area placed me too far from her, she could not understand my Spanish and so she directed her gaze and conversed with the cogestora. After snapping their official portrait, I felt defeated, but instead thought-- challenge accepted.
Watch the “El Triunfo” video with Farconely here: http://medellinmihogar.blogspot.com/2011/02/15-el-triunfo.html
After that awesome, yet entirely uncomfortable interaction, we went to a couple more houses where I couldn't interview before venturing on to the location of my second interview. We walked in and the young woman named Stefania welcomed us into her home with open arms. It was dark and there was a soft breeze inside, offering a refreshing relief from the strong Colombian sun. Her hair and appearance was impeccably styled and she appeared to be in her early twenties. Once we climbed up the stairs, she began to brush and braid her six year old daughter's hair and we just started to talk with no mention of an interview or even Medellín Solidaría's work. After thirty minutes of meet, greet, and light conversation about how "ugly" she thought she was before starting to use a "plancha," we started the interview. Unlike the first one, I explained our work and the types of questions I would be asking in great detail before I began recording. I told her that this was her story, her interview and not mine. Anything she wanted to tell me was what I would want to hear. The interview was animated and Stefania told me all about her family, her childhood, her hopes and dreams for the future, and her gratitude to Medellín Solidaría for providing her with an assortment of services and guided counsel. The second interview was on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to my disastrous first attempt, but I'm still torn over my inability to respond to her tears and sudden stream of emotions when she mentioned the role of her father in her life. It wasn't that I didn't understand-- I did. And it wasn't because I didn't know how to respond, but maybe I actually didn't know in retrospect. I felt the mix of sadness and deep admiration she expressed for her father, but I should have asked her more about their relationship and let her explore its impact on her life instead of abruptly moving on to another, but in my mind similar question. My cogestora was beyond helpful during this emotionally demanding first day and even gently suggested that next time I focus less on my pre-scripted questions and more on engaging with the interviewee, before offering to bring me back to Picacho to spend more time with Stefania and her children in a more natural and less structured environment. But I still left feeling nothing short of defeated…
Watching the interview later that day after I returned back to Carlos E., I realized it wasn't as horrible and rude as it felt in that moment. I'm my own worst critic. I'm a perfectionist and criticizing myself comes more naturally, than just being 'okay' with something that I have worked diligently to make or produce. Coming to grips with the fact that my first day doesn't necessarily affect or determine what will eventually become my final product at the end of this program is a really big step for me. But this documentary project is all about the process and embracing the uncomfortable and at times, discouraging situations. We didn't come to Duke Engage Colombia as video production professionals with fluent Spanish skills on our resumes, but instead, we come here as motivated and impressionable college students who can never say no to a challenge. Challenge accepted.