Monday, June 21 around 9:15 p.m.
“What was that! It sounded like a small explosion.” Lily answered my question by telling me she has been hearing yelling and chanting outside for a while now. “Really?” I continued, “Is this because of the protests?” “Yes, it is,” She said.
The “Paro Nacional” has been going on here since late April. It is a national strike being carried out by many Colombians who are upset/fed up with the “current state of the government”. So much so that they are willing to take this all the way to a revolution, some say. It has consisted of protests, violence and destruction of government and local properties. There has been a stoppage of truck deliveries and roadblocks leading to a shortage of food in the supermarkets.
Moving toward the window, I began to open it to hear a little better the disruption she was talking about. “NO! Don’t open the window,” she said. Startled, I stepped back away from the window. Wondering why she was so worried. We live in an apartment that is one floor below street level from the front where we enter, but being in Manizales, a city built in the mountains, our terrace patio in the back where the window is located is about 4 floors off the street, so I felt pretty safe. Boom! Another small explosion. These are not bombs though. It’s common in Colombia to hear these homemade devices going off usually in celebration of Christmas and the new year, they are not dangerous to us, just noisy. We see a flash and, boom, there goes another.
From our studio/office we don’t have a good vantage point to see out around the corner of the building so we move into the bedroom to look out the sliding glass door. We can see a little better but we’re still too high to see the action outside on the street. Lily leaves the room for a moment and I am beginning to hear the chants and yelling from outside more clearly now, “…VIVA EL PARO NACIONAL!”
“I’m smelling something burning, ” Lily tells me as she reenters the room. I didn’t notice anything but that’s not uncommon, Lily’s senses are much keener than mine are. Just then I noticed that my eyes were beginning to burn and I was smelling something also, not burning, but a chemical smell. “Oh no, the police are using tear-gas I bet, and it’s coming in through the windows,” I said. Because of the climate in Colombia and especially here in Manizales, homes do not use air-conditioning and therefore the windows don’t have to be airtight. The tear-gas was coming right in through the gaps in the windows. “That’s why I said ‘don’t open the window,'” Lily explained. “Hmmm, good point,” I thought. Lily was wetting a towel to hold to her face for protection from the gas and was encouraging me to do the same. I was scrambling to get some packing tape to try to alleviate the problem of the windows. Quickly taping the gaps we no longer smell the chemical and begin to relax a bit. This was a surreal experience that lasted till early into the morning. I never really felt that we were in any grave danger but the fact that it was so close did make me a bit nervous though.
This turn of events in Colombia saddens me. I love this country, the people, the culture, the landscape. I really hate to see a country so rich in natural resources struggling so much. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not taking sides. Being a foreigner and a guest in this country I don’t know enough of their history, their heartache and their struggles to form an educated opinion of my own at this point. Are the protesters going about this in the wrong way? Is the government to blame for all the evils in the country? I hear a lot of opinions from different people and I try to be careful not to speak too strongly about issues I don’t understand.
What I do know is this country is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was reminded of that this last weekend as Lily and I celebrated our one-year anniversary in a gorgeous little “Finca”. Finca means farm in Spanish but this was not a farm like you think of in the U.S. Finca is also what they call these little resorts tucked away in the mountains that provide rest, relaxation, good food and beautiful scenery.
Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Lily and I saw more varieties of beautiful birds and butterflies than I have ever seen before. Not to mention the exotic plants and flowers that were in abundance for our enjoyment. We had such a good time doing little more than walking, talking, eating and resting.
God has truly blessed this country with many resources. Mountains, great climate, tourism possibilities, some of the most beautiful and friendliest people on the planet and let us not forget coffee. Colombia is the third-largest producer of coffee in the world behind Brazil and Vietnam, (But Colombian coffee is by far the best.)
With so much going for this country, it is hard to watch it struggle like this. Would you please join me in praying for peace in Colombia? Pray for wisdom for its leaders and guidance for its people. Pray that God will bring post-pandemic prosperity and new opportunities into this wonderful place.
As I am finishing up writing this post on Wednesday, June 23 about 9:30 p.m. BOOM! Looks like we’re in for round two. Please pray.
As always, thanks for reading and
to God be the glory!
Video footage of the protesters and police in our neighborhood