El Corazón

Graffiti art on Calle 43A in El Poblado, Medellin. Photo taken after 6 weeks in lockdown during the allowed 1 hour of exercise time.

Corazón. English translation, heart.

Colombia is going on 2 months of lockdown and in the city of Medellin where we reside it is highly reliable on tourism (which won’t pick back up until likely 2021), the majority of people here live in extreme poverty. This pandemic, is beyond mere inconvenience like for many of us, here it likely means the end. Living in a very nice area of the city, we often have had people come selling their street food and things outside our apartment complex as there are no longer people on the streets. We actually spend most days eating our breakfast with the music of our local avocado seller belting “aquacate, aquacate, aquacate” and my children often join in the rhythm of his call. Well today something different happened. 

Families that typically live off of selling
or bags on the street left with empty streets during lockdown in Colombia

Today I witnessed a moment I don’t even think I will forget. Today families approached our apartment building yelling out “corazón, corazón” and that they had children and needed any help. This is not atypical but what happened after was. I watched as the cleaning and maintenance workers of the building approached the families from inside the complex and started talking with them. Of course as Americans we think they are driving them off as how can we be so inconvenienced with people interrupting our Netflix streaming from our fortresses behind gated security. But instead the crew went and gathered items for them and handed them clothing and food. Then people from their balconies 23 floors high started gesturing they had food to give. So of course I ran to our pantry and gathered any non-perishable food items and some cash. As I handed these families my items through the electric fence fortress, I felt a human connection I have not in a long time. Even though we could only see each other’s eyes behind our masks and could not communicate with words, we were connected in that moment. An unspoken love and kindness from two different worlds. As a steady stream of people came down giving what they could to these families, a group of police showed up. Everyone witnessing this knew that this could be very devastating for these people because if they are breaking the rules of quarantine it means big fines or even jail. But then I heard a clap and more clapping and soon realized that members of our complex were out on their balcony applauding in support of these families. People continued to bring goods down to these families as the police were questioning them. Eventually they were allowed to go and we all waved and clapped in solidarity of this moment. A moment that could have ended in many different ways but instead humanity prevailed.

Below our apartment where the families gathered to ask for help and the police encounter

As tears were streaming down my face my daughter asked confused what was going on. I told her that I was crying from feeling so much love and kindness. And so if I have learned anything from being here during this time is that ignorance is blind. That sitting high behind our Costco stashes of food, mounds of toilet paper, Netflix and air conditioned massive homes lets remember what is really important. Lets stop ignoring what we don’t want to see. Stop turning up your headphones or looking the other way when we pass someone asking for help. Because making eye contact would mean that you have to admit what you are doing, what you are ignoring. Stop changing the channel of the TV when there’s a news story or documentary too hard for you to bear. Because if we are blind to it, well then it doesn’t exist right? Well it does. And I think we all know that during these times nothing is certain and things in our lives can easily be stripped away. And then what do we have left? Well today gave me the answer, each other. 

View of Medellin, Colombia from our apartment during our 2 months of lockdown

We all stand in some way mourning the loss of our lives before this pandemic. The loss of the ability to freely give human touch. This moment gave me perspective that I think we all need in this time of isolation. Where the world moves to a future of barriers and distance that we can still let humanity prevail. We all just need a little more corazón.

Empty streets in Medellin, Colombia during quarantine. Only allowed out for essentials every 4-5 days based on the last number of your ID.