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 We Survived.
 Asale Angel-Ajani, Columbia
 June 11, 2003
 
Twilight finally managed to breakthrough night's brutal exchange between the FARC and the Colombian military. In Andalucia, a small river community along the cuenca off the Rio Atrato, we rattled our way through our morning rituals, bodies still sleeping, minds alert, our ears filtering out the sounds of the jungle for man-made chaos. Weeks of nocturnal combat piled on months of the presence of armed actors joined with years of threats, displacements, forced recruitment and death and more death renders this a war zone. But this plot of land, this carved out community on top of a hill surrounded by sugarcane is more than just the space between warring army's. In this soil lives memory's ghost. First words were spoken here. The trees contain the maps to dreams carefully crafted in the once quiet evenings. On the walls, sounds of laughter and first love are recorded.

We are more than survivors.

This morning we move like mute ants, busy with the work of defiance. Older girl children gather up toddlers and corral young boys into order. Women crowd around an open flame to cook the last bit of food and the men, the few that remain, tend to the boats down at the river. Visiting human rights activists and academics from Bogota and the United States dissect time's significance and catalogue the history of what cannot be taken on our journey. Together we defy the universal classifications that are the spoils of war: civilians, noncombatants, and collateral damage. Collectively the women, men and children of Andalucia, like many of the families who live up and down the river, resist the proselytizing of violence's disciples. This is a Peace Community, one of fifty-four that struggles to maintain a life of dignity in the midst of the reigning chaos of war.

We pack for survival.

We have little so we take everything, leaving only the shells of small houses and our souls that live in them. When a military helicopter hovers over head, the sound of the blade slicing through the sky momentarily disorients us. We congregate at the base of the Peace Community bandera, a white flag attached to a pole cut from a long tree branch. The flag is a symbol of all the incalculable ways war has changed the routine of our living. Widows and mothers of the disappeared have gone through the corridors of Hades' knowledge and earned doctorates in steel-plated truths. Children have learned to restrain their laughter with thick ropes and have developed the habit of reading the invisible script of fear. These are dubious honors.

We survive because we savor the strength that resides in each of us.

Forty years ago, peace was driven out of this country. Since then we have been left with the corpses of soldiers, hollowed out men and women who have tasted the power to give and take life. Their righteousness is sanctioned by the state or by their ideologies, all of which are fueled by greed. The North and South Americans, the Europeans, and the Japanese all have a nail, a finger, a hand in the kidnapping of peace. But here, on the margins of the nation, in a place that is unseen by the eye of the cartographer, we have dared to envision a world of non-violence. Hope in tomorrows and in our children's tomorrows, faith in the beauty of love and humanity is what makes us subversive. Our will has made a home of our conviction.

The waiting ritual is over. We now begin our descent to the river. We carry our future on our backs. Our eyes are braver than our mouths. They cast us forward into the unknown. Our feet compel us to stay for this will be the last time they touch the smooth earth of Andalucia. We are heading down river to the Peace Community of Costa de Oro where we will, for now, be safe. Our souls heave with excruciating sobs. Our memories of home drop from our bodies like birth. We are silent. The leaves look on as we pull our boats down the river. They whisper their good-byes. The wind dances off the water, taking with it our secrets.

Asale Angel-Ajani currently lives in New York City and teaches a course on Human Rights and Violence at New York University