Friday, June 13, 2014

Colombia Cartagena: Day 8

It was our last day of work here in Cartagena, and only a half-day at that. Many of the participants in our workshop have to travel to get to where they live so we wanted to wrap it up early enough to allow for travel time.

The workshops have been somewhat frustrating for me. For the most part I feel as if I'm sunk at the bottom of a hot pool of Spanish, totally immersed by (what sounds like) random words & phrases, several conversations at once, all spoken very, very fast. Occasionally I can pull a scrap of meaning out of it all but in general  I can't tell whether the impassioned debate is about the workshop at hand or whether it's an argument about who will win the Mundial.

But during the small group discussion about gender inclusion, one of the participants who has a bit of English-speaking ability invited me to sit with his group. He translated the gist of the conversation for me & translated back my occasional comments. It was a very interesting discussion. For the most part, it seems, women in Colombia enjoy a much stronger position in the community and even in the family. Of course, a certain amount of machismo is obvious but as Brian points out, that's only a thin veil over the fact that this is a matriarchal society. Or it may be a reaction to the fact that women hold most of the real power.

The man who invited me to join his discussion group pointed out another interesting example. He asked me if I had noticed the women selling fruit along the wall in the Old City & in the park squares. I told him yes, I had noticed them (in fact it's hard to NOT notice them). They are all very dark-skinned, obviously of African origin, & they all wear brightly coloured 'chiquita banana' style dresses. He explained that they are part of a distinct ethnic group called the Palenquera, who speak their own language & live in a community not far from Cartagena. The Palenqueras are descended from a group of African slaves who escaped & created this community in the 17th century. According to my friend, it's only the women who sell the fruit; the men do very little. Women create & manage the wealth. When a girl child is born, the family rejoices but when a boy child is born, the reaction is more subdued ("another boy, hm. What shall we do with him???")

While I don't think the gender roles in Palenquera are ideal, I appreciate encountering yet one more surprise in how things are done.

Tonight I will start packing. Our flight leaves Cartagena at 11:24 am & although I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Old City, I am ready to leave the heat & humidity for a while.

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