MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Thanksgiving day – I awoke this morning far from home and family but filled with a profound sense of gratitude.
Grateful for the sun that was just beginning to brighten the sky outside my window; grateful for the dear friends who have given me a home in this city of cities. Grateful for the health and the support of my family, who continue to love me faithfully despite my wandering ways.
Most of all on this day, I’m grateful for the path I’ve been given this year, a path that has led me from inspiration to inspiration as I traveled from Mexico to Argentina, seeking to learn from those who are each changing our world in their own way.
My time in Colombia was so full of amazing people and organizations that it didn’t leave me time to write as much as I would have liked. This roundup gives a little information about each of them, with hopes to come back to each of them with more information later.
Perhaps more than any country in Latin America, Colombia has suffered the pains born of a savagely unequal distribution of wealth and the gross distortions of humanity that can evolve such a system. Colombia is a land of extremes: beginning, as the entire story of Latin America does, with the Spanish conquest – but more recently, with La Violencia, the decade-long wave of violence unleashed by attempts at land reform in the 1940s and ’50s. This brutal backlash laid the groundwork for guerilla, military and paramilitary violence that wracked the country for four decades, laying the groundwork in turn for the narcotrafficking that accelerated the violence, until recently, to the point of paroxysm.
VALLE DE CAUCA, Colombia – When Alicia Calle, an environmental scientist with Yale’s Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, first told me of El Hatico Nature Reserve, her face lit up for the first time since I’d met her an hour ago. We’d been talking about the state of the environment in Colombia, a subject with much to lament, given the spread of mining operations, cattle ranching, vast monocultures of sugarcane and African palm and coca, deforestation, water contamination, the same story throughout the Americas.
What is it that gives you hope, I asked her, as I do in every interview. It was then that she pulled out a booklet and started showing me photos of El Hatico.
“Let me be clear: I don’t like cattle farming; I think it’s created terrible environmental problems and social inequalities throughout its development in Latin America. But this is a place I’d really like you to see, a place that’s turned a major problem into a part of the solution.”