Ironically, one of the things I find hardest about fieldwork is getting access to the people who directly participated in and witnessed what we are researching. We can call people in positions of power at the UN, the Colombian government, USAID, or NGOs, but it is harder to physically arrive on the doorstep of the people who lived and breathed the topic you are researching (shout out to anthropologists!).
After two months in Colombia (and two summers of pre-dissertation research), Jake and I finally got into the hard-to-access areas of rural Eastern Antioquia. A friend put us in touch with a journalist, Oscar, who covered the conflict during the height of the violence (1997-2005). Oscar actually moved to one of the municipalities to help free people who had been kidnapped and to drive civilians between military checkpoints along the highway.
This past week, for two days Oscar drove us around the municipalities, pointing out landmarks, identifying the historical bases of different armed groups, and introducing us to ex-mayors and others. He even pointed out Pablo Escobar’s parents’ old house, a small nondescript cottage that looked the same as the rest of the landscape.
Oscar chain-smoked and switched between natural gas and gasoline while the car stalled on steep hills. He explained the importance of every turn in the road, every waterfall, every electric tower tucked into the green mountains. (The FARC used to attack the electric towers because this area of Colombia produces about 33% of the Colombia’s electricity).
We stayed at Oscar’s place in El Peñol on Tuesday night. It’s a beautiful finca surrounded by green. We drank aguardiente and ate chorizo. We talked to police officers who had been stationed in one of our case municipalities (San Carlos), as well as a farmer who grows avocados, tomatoes, and onions, and who witnessed the violence firsthand. And then, on the drive home, Oscar took us to a roadside restaurant grilling meat on spits next to an open fire. These two days in the campo were my favorite days so far.
PS – Happy Halloween, everyone!