Sitting in the bus I crush some caramelized peanuts between my teeth. They taste like the ones at the annual fair “Brarup Markt” of my hometown. Thoughts of my family, the beautiful landscape and the house we lived in come to my mind. A little boy jumps into the bus. He sits down next to me and stares with his bright brown eyes. We share the peanuts – the bus stops at a restaurant, everybody gets out to eat – when I return to the bus, the kid is gone.
Arriving at night time in Medellin I start asking my way out of the terminal towards “wherever”. Like always I had neither made a plan what to do nor where to stay. The friendly lady behind the information counter hands me a brief map and highlights a safe area with many hostels. Walking up the stairs with my backpack and the guitar in my hand, I still don’t have a clue where to go. All I know is, somewhere are dangerous areas where I should not walk alone at night since I don’t fancy to get robbed or killed.
Suddenly the boy from the bus stands in front of me holding the hand of his younger sister and his mother. They ask me where I am going. But I don’t have an answer to this difficult question. Happily they offer me to come with them and to show me the city. We walk everywhere until we reach the centre. In a restaurant which fulfils the BBB criterias: barato, bastante, bueno (cheap, lots, good) we eat a typical Colombian “Sancocho” soup. Afterwards they show me a cheap hotel (6$ room/night) in the middle of Zona Roja where junkies cover the streets. “I am not afraid” ,is what the single mother Yosir says, “I and my kids are warriors!” Their father was killed here in the city. Stabbed in a fight on a bus many years ago. Her children mean everything to her!
Using hands, feet and the little Spanish I have learned so far we communicate on a very basic level – but it works. I am forced to speak Spanish now – no way of switching to English just because it’s more comfortable – I have to learn and listen!
When I don’t get a real answer to the question where they are staying and try to puzzle the information together, I start to understand their situation. They are not only without money and like me looking for a place to sleep during the night – they don’t have any place to live, nowhere to call their “home”. Just having escaped from the finca where they used to help with farm work, their new hope is to find a better fortune in Medellin.
We share the little room for the night and I appreciate the sleeping mat and bag I am still carrying with me. An understanding lady at the front desk let us stay under one condition: In the morning we have to leave very early, before the owner comes in! To prevent sexual abuse which happens often in this milieu it is strictly prohibited to bring kids into this shady hotel. She would lose her job if her boss found out about her breaking the rules to help us.
On the breakfast table we try to outline a plan. Without committing to anything I brainstorm ideas what could help this little family in their special situation. Daniel (14) and Evoleht (5) definetly need to go to school! Their mother Yosir (35) works as an independent saleswoman. She travels to small country towns and sells chic designer clothes fabricated in Medellin. An inexspensive place to sleep, cook and for the kids to stay while their mother is gone working – that could be the solution!
Travelling in Colombia I noticed the bamboo boom and heard a lot about the amazing construction material “Guadua”. This type of bamboo grows quickly in the climate conditions of the Colombian mountains. In 3-4 years the grass is ready to harvest and strong enough to be used as “vegetable steel” for many engineering purposes. As a carpenter I am very interested in learning more about this unique material. I can’t wait to find or set up a project to get my hands on!
Loaded with many ideas I think about the possibility to raise some money, buy a cheap piece of land and build a hut for Yosir and her kids. I seriously consider facing this challenge. But many questions have to be answered before I could commit to such a big project!
How much does land cost? In which areas is land affordable? Is there a school close by and would they want to live there? Is the land fertile for planting vegetables and fruits? Does guadua grow there? Where do I get other construction materials?
All excited Yosir and I travel to the big guadua growing region around Pareira which lies in the valleys between huge mountain chains, south of Medellin. We visit bamboo constructions at the university to get inspired and inquire for property prices in the area.
This trip didn’t turn out to be constructive towards the initial project idea but it made us think and agree on a better plan. With her last savings it would be possible to rent an inexpensive apartment until she gets back into work. Close to Daniels old school in Aranhuez we start walking through the streets and ask random people if they know empty flats. It is really difficult!
On the third day of the search a woman promises a small place to us. We transport the huge bags and all their belongings to this house. Waiting for the actual owner to show up, hours later the bad news reach us on the phone. He changed his mind. It is dark already. We sit in a dangerous neighbourhood of Medellin with all our stuff and don’t have a place to stay for the night.
Right after we moved to a sketchy accommodation around the corner an agent calls back. He is ready to meet us right away. He leads us through tiny streets in a shady neighbourhood. The apartment looks ok. Two spacious rooms and the rent of 100$ a month is affordable. The owners are a friendly family which lives downstairs. Still looking through the rooms, the next people already arrive to see the appartment. But we came first. With a good portion of luck we finally found a place! Santa Cruz district is not the safest but it’ll be alright.
We are happy! Yosir and her kids feel very comfortable here and we start furnishing their new home the next day. Everybody helps and together we fill the empty rooms with necessities, comfort and life.
We get some leftover wood from a furniture maker, find some more pieces in the trash and a friendly woman who heard us talking on the street presents us with excellent quality boards which she has no use for. Andrew Jaramillo a super friendly “carpintero” lets me use the machines and tools in his joinery on the weekend. His little joiner’s workshop with all the solid, old woodworking machines and tools looks somewhat like my grandpas used to. Whereas big programmed CNC machines execute the cutting jobs in many modern joineries nowadays, here fine handy craft and precise manual labour still fill the workdays.
The lovely neighbour helps us during the first week by cooking not only for her family but also for us because we dont have a stove yet. Everybody is happy when we eat all together.
Michael, who lives in the appartment below and Daniel want to set up their own barber business. I get to be their first customer 😀
During the last two weeks I spent with Yosir, Daniel and Evoleht, I have learned a lot and got to know wonderful people. It makes me happy to see them starting their new life in Medellin now. After this experience I appreciate having a family and a home where I can always come back to even more and my attitude towards settling down in one place has changed.
“Having a home, or fixed location to stay does not mean anchoring down ones freedom. It is rather a safe harbour to plan, prepare and provision for great adventures.”
It is time for me to keep on travelling and I am looking forward to the day when I return to the place and people I know 😉