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Police escort

by Alex on Jan.16, 2010, under Blog

On Friday Travis (my mate and business partner) and I headed to Cazucá in the south of Bogotá with our friend Inge. Inge works for Touch of Love, offering loans to disadvantaged people so that they might set up businesses or expand the scope of their current enterprise.

We’d heard that Cazucá was a very poor part of town, built illegally and full of displaced people – displaced usually by paramilitary and guerilla activity from parts of the country that are not as safe as the large cities. Until recently water was brought in by donkey and it would be usual for children to discuss how many dead bodies they’d come across on their way to school – violence is a big issue in this part of town.

Paved road turned to dirt as the bus climbed the hillside, pedestrians protecting their faces from the dust as we pass them. There are shops and business, ‘phone and electricity cables feed the bare brick houses with ‘tin’ roofs, gas meters in cages adorning the front walls of buildings – not the kind of poverty you might see other parts of the world but then not a living situation that you’d wish upon anyone either.

We were warmly welcomed at the little shop in which we met the local ladies. It had once sold only empanadas and now, after a micro loan, offered a more varied range of produce. Chairs dusted down, we sat separated from the shop behind a wooden divide. I looked at the simple brick walls, half painted with steel reinforcements jutting out at random angles. Again, not the type of living set up that I’m accustomed too but shelter, water, ‘phone, gas and electricity is a lot more than many have. Saying that, I hear they only get water for a few hours a week. We chatted with some locals who were after micro fiance, Inge explaining the concept and terms and the locals expanding on their business ideas. We then heard that there’d been an armed robbery outside the shop and that the attackers were in the shop, just behind the wooden divide buying empanadas with the money they just taken at gun and knife-point. Time to keep the voices down – not time to be standing out as foreigners…

Apparently the police don’t often go to Cazucá and you need contacts to demand their presence. After a few ‘phone calls our extraction team turned up – two police motorbikes sporting two armed men per mount. We drew a little attention and one cop’s declaration to an old lady that she can call him if she needs anything, even if it’s only her cat or dog dying drew my attention being somewhat at odds with what we’d heard about police presence in Cazucá – empty words or had there just been a policy change? The ladrones had moved on by that point but we were under no illusion that they weren’t near and felt much safer than moments before with an armed police escort.

We wandered up the hill with the police and met another lady by a basketball court who’d used micro finance to buy a sewing machine. A truckload (literally) of cops then turned up, a few different police contacts having been called, and we stood about chatting for a bit eventually leaving the cops to wait for us whilst we went to the sewing lady’s house for a meeting. Another rustic abode with bare walls, a single ‘chair’ made from cover-less folded foam and a dog running about on the tin roof gret us and we discussed duvets. The only duvets I’ve seen for sale here were in an expensive mall and cost over £100/$160 each. We need duvets for our hostel and also think that if we make them, we’ll be able to sell them easily, in vast quantities – them being warmer, lighter and potentially cheaper than the here ubiquitous blanket. What better than to be able to give the work to a women’s collective in a poor neighbourhood?

Business discussed we regrouped with our escort then jumped on a bus to get back to the main road, one cop riding shotgun (well, revolver) and the other following the bus on his bike, the rest of them must have got bored and left whilst we’d been discussing duvets. And that was our visit to Cazucá – interesting, productive and potentially pant-shitting. I’m just glad for the wooden divide!

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