Day Five brought with it the second day of Festival Vida -- meaning a similar schedule as the day before lay ahead. However, since the city provided over night security for our setup in the plaza, a morning that would have been spent re-installing all the exhibits, was now freed up for us to travel outside the city to throw a mini version of Festival Vida in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Armenia.
So after breakfast, we loaded up into a bus and were off to Simón Bulevar. However, by the time I found my seat, I was not feeling so hot. I started getting really clammy and was overcome by a general sense of nausea. I asked Jim if I could have the window seat, though given Armenia's apparent intent of leaving a Bigfoot-sized carbon footprint, I could hardly say I was getting some fresh air.
By the time we had arrived and unloaded, I could barely walk without feeling like I was going to pass out. Some of the team led me to a strip of grass near the front of the neighborhood where tents and a stage had already been set up. If I had not experienced almost this exact same feeling earlier in the summer during a camping trip, I would have probably been a lot more concerned. That didn't change the fact that I was lying there, debilitated, in a FARC-run slum in the middle of Colombia, South America.
|Notice the horse in the far left.|
|The Government provided security. Though I was told the police normally stay out of these types of neighborhoods because of the FARC. Note: The horse moved.|
While the rest of the group went off to go door to door and evangelize/invite people to the festival, Scott stayed back with me as I downed a water bottle and sat nursing my current state.
Of course, as my 5 year old's excuse for a bladder would have it, soon enough I had to pee. Enabled by the hospitality of one of our volunteers, I was offered up a bathroom in one of the nearby abodes, to which I feebly shuffled. As I made my way up to the row of houses behind the festival area, I remembered Antonio saying that running water was not a guarantee in this particularly poor neighborhood, so I prepared myself for the worst. Upon entering the house, what I found was a brightly colored little foyer with 70's themed couches and what was essentially a stall door situated at the beginning of a hallway. While Scott and the homeowner sat conversing on the couches, I did my best to pry the plywood door open from its too-tight threshold. Once inside, I was relieved (in more than one way) to find a familiar white-porcelain face staring up at me.
After being as discreet as I could behind a door that only came down to my knees, I was soon back to the festivities outside. But not before joining Scott in praying over the unborn child of one of the family members in the house, (per her request, of course).
I soon found a comfy spot on the curbside where I continued my recovery. As I sat there observing the droves of people drawn out by the festival, one thing became abundantly prominent: almost every kid I saw had a dog! Some pulled them along on ropes, while others seemed to have them trained to run freely along side them, while still others simply fireman-carried them between destinations. They all seemed to pay me no mind as they poured into the tented area behind me, though one dog did take a passing snap at my face -- so closely that I was showered with little flecks of slobber.
After my time spent people-watching, small parties of Evoke members soon began returning from the far reaches of the neighborhood. Thankfully, I was now feeling more like myself again and remember hearing plenty of amazing stories that came from the various homes the teams visited, but one that stuck out to me centered around Antonio's interaction with three young men he had come across hanging out in front of one of the houses.
Each of them claimed to be part of the FARC and made some cheeky remarks about working for the Devil or something. However, by the end of their conversation the lot of them had severely changed their tune, deciding they'd become ambassadors for God! I even remember Antonio saying one of them stated he wanted to make it his goal to travel far and wide proclaiming the Gospel.
It never ceases to amaze me how outright hostility toward God can turn to allegiance so suddenly, and through something as simple as a seemingly spontaneous conversation. I'm learning more and more how God honors boldness when Love is at the root.
The rest of our time there was spent celebrating the people of that place. Kids and adults alike received free haircuts, manicures and pedicures, basic dental hygiene supplies, and a whole lot of love and affection. Along side such services, we also had dancers, a puppet show, face painting, live music, and more! It really was a mini Festival Vida!
I asked what was wrong, and she proceeded to tell me about her interaction with a mother and her infant child from the neighborhood. I remembered the woman and child she spoke of. The baby was stinkin' adorable and the mother looked about the same age as Stephanie herself, so they had hit it off right away. Stephanie was smitten from the get-go, holding the little girl for most of their conversation. The mother opened up about how the father wanted nothing to do with the child and how she has no friends in the neighborhood. The girl seemed so trapped and alone, it broke Stephanie's heart. The three of them spent a good portion of that morning together as Stephanie encouraged the young woman.
As their conversation began wrapping up, the mother suddenly looked at Stephanie and said flatly, "You should take the baby with you. Please, take her."
As Stephanie stood there, relaying to me how she had to explain to the woman that she couldn't do such a thing, I witnessed how overcome she was by the gravity of the young mother's statement. Even now, as I recount the conversation, I'm struck by how poignant a reality played out that morning. It felt like that type of desperation was something only reserved for a movie scene, but to hear Stephanie explain how this woman was willing to give away her own child, likely never to see her again, so that she wouldn't know the desolation and despair found in that place -- found surrounding them on all sides in a home that imprisoned them with circumstance -- it awakened something in me. But for a fleeting moment, the veil of privilege was lifted from my eyes and I was able to see how un-right this world really is. I was able to see oppression from outside of the elementarily school definition I had been ascribing to the word.
The mother and her little girl:
The mood of the moment suddenly shifted, however, when the booming of drums and ringing of chimes came spilling out from over the top of the hill. Much to everyones surprise and delight, a small parade of school children came rolling down the street. No one really seemed to know if the timing was intentional, or if the little battalion just happened to coincidently coincide with our festival day. Either way, the whole spectacle drew smiles from all around. A marching band, flag twirlers, banner carriers and adorable niños and niñas dressed in traditional garb, this parade had all the familiar trappings. They even had some older kids dressed in clown-ware who passed out dried kernels of corns to the spectators (I didn't ask.)
Shortly after the street had cleared, our bus finally arrived. It was time to head back to town and prepare for the final day of Festival Vida!