This week I was able to experience two extreme realities of Bogota: That of the poorest neighborhoods, and that of the wealthiest.
Both realities, I admit, were alien to me, and I ended up in them sort of by chance. They were interesting on their own, but having gone from one extreme to the other in a matter of three days, I think what I found the most interesting was the stark contrast between them. We all know it: Social inequality is a thing, but it has never punched me in the face so strongly.
To explain this punch better, let me take you through a mini tour of what I saw in both spaces.
Bosa is one of Bogota’s most marginalized neighborhoods. We went to check out a rap concert called Golpe de Barrio. The concert took place in a park that used to be used as a dumpster. Golpe de Barrio and other collectives got together and started thinking about ways to retake the space and change their community through it. They began an effort to clean the place up and used some of the trash to rethink and rebuild the space. The tires and pieces of wood were used to make seesaws, stands, and even a tire-dragon where kids can play and teenagers can hang out.
One of the collectives used the tires for a tree planting project with the kids, who would paint the tires that surrounded their particular trees. The kids gave each tree a name and were told that it was now theirs to take care of. The park was no longer an unsafe place. It was a place they had painted and built, a place where they had their own tree.
All the projects, including the concert, were meant help the community build a different relationship with their own space.
In other words, it was pretty awesome, but that doesn’t mean that we should overlook the reality of the community. A community where kids talk about being happy about what’s happening with the park because they didn’t like having to pass by all the trash. A community where violence and insecurity are part of life and where not being from there definitely makes you feel a bit on edge. Most people were cool, but we definitely got some aggressive vibes, and we saw some violence that shocked us.
It was even more of a shock when I went to the other extreme of the city, a.k.a, the fanciest place I have ever been to…
Fancy schmancy neighborhood (sorry, don’t know the actual name):
So by a series of random events I met a writer whose latest book talks about four amazing women from the late 19th and early 20th century who broke social conventions, hung out with intellectuals like Freud and Nietzche, and also traveled the world. She invited me to a talk about her book on Tuesday, and I was so sold.
So then on Tuesday, I get into a cab, and we do a million turns before we can find the place and when we finally do it’s this huge, and I mean huge, gated community. There were two guards at the gate, one that stayed in that little house gated communities have, and one that stood there and checked your trunk to see if you were bringing anything inside. Then I got into the building and announced myself to the portman, who wrote my name down and invited me to go into the elevator.
I went into the elevator and was about to push the button for the 6th floor when I realized there weren’t any buttons. No sir, here, you can only be called from the powers above to come up. Instead of buttons there were keyholes, since the elevator doors opened straight into the apartment. I have heard of such places but I had never been to one of them!
While in the elevator, I observed the people around me. The woman next to me had shoes I could tell cost more than what I earn in a month. When I entered the apartment, I felt completely out of place. Like in Bosa, people were nice, but I definitely got the “you don’t belong here” vibe. I guess my backpack and my torn-apart boots gave me away, whoops!
The view from the apartment was as breathtaking as revealing of the social condition of these people. You could see Bogota lit up from above. It was like in those movies where the king goes out into his balcony and sees his entire kingdom at his feet. The guy sitting next to me, an investor, kept pointing out the politicians, actors, writers, and ambassadors that were in the room. Yup, these people owned the city.
Don’t get me wrong, these people were pretty nice and the book discussion was really interesting and engaging. But being there, on top of the city, after being in Bosa really exposed the inequality of the city.
Here, the thing you felt the most (besides awe at the fact that there were waiters serving you food in an apartment) was safety. Layers upon layers upon layers of protection whereas in Bosa, the police are more of a threat than a protection.
We all know it: the world is full of inequality, but sometimes in our everyday life we forget about it. The constant reminders of it get lost in the noise of bus routes and bills and work. Sometimes we need to get out of our routine and our comfort zone to have it hit us again in the stomach. And it hurts, but it’s also good to remember: We have a lot of work to do.