It wasn’t hard to figure out that the people next door to the hotel/hostel I moved into in Medellin were refugees from Venezuela. A sure sign is that they are often outside sitting on the pavement.
Why? Because they don´t have a television, a fan, or plastic chairs in the house. The only thing is a stereo/radio for a bit of music.
The habit I developed was to saunter by, smile, wave, and say ‘Hola mis vecinos’ – Hello my neighbours. As I got to know them, I started to chat and to ask more questions.
Theirs is a story shared by so many of the estimated 4.3 million people who have fled the country since about 2014.
The neighbour’s situation
Imagine a cramped two-storey ‘duplex’ with eight adults and three kids on one side and seven adults, four kids and two teenagers on the other. I have 24 neighbours. The oldest is Carmen Auiaia Tarasona who is 63 and the youngest is seven-month old Maire.
Rent for each side of the duplex is 200,000COP (about $84CAD)
including utilities. By contrast, my airy office/bedroom with a private bath, fridge, fan, television, communal kitchen, and laundry is 700,000 ($292CAD).
There is no privacy and everything is shared. Nothing is secure. The doors are open and everyone wanders between the houses as they are all family and friends.
Zuleidis sighs, ‘Sometimes we don’t have enough food to eat.’
The kids go to school and are doing well as they are bright and energetic.
Everyone agrees that education is very important so homework gets done.
Both Lizmery and Zuleidis were teachers in Venezuela. In Colombia however, even though they are willing to clean, mind children, or cook they have not been able to find much work.
The refugees will do whatever they can, such as selling empanadas in the morning or petty trading. One of the men rides to his construction job on a bike, which is cheaper and healthier than the bus.
The discrimination against Venezuelans is on the rise and the locals talk openly about how the refugees are responsible for many of the woes of the country.
A United States-er who moved into a room on the first floor requested to be relocated. He complained that ‘they’ made too much noise.
I’m on the second floor and don’t hear much because it is drowned out by the traffic noise.
Much as I loathe children, however, even I don’t mind listening to them running about playing tag when it is quiet on the weekend. They don’t have any toys, so I bought them a basketball. It is getting well-bounced.
You are cordially invited to figure out how much you would spend on one gift and then donate it to the Refugee Neighbours’ Festive Fund.
The donation can be sent via Paypal – email@example.com – or by bank deposit. A cheque or money order in my name to the Affinity Credit Union, P.O. Box 790. Watrous, SK, S0K 4T0 will do it.
The first contribution was $50CAD. I figure that is about what I would spend on taxis, a meal at a mid-range restaurant, and a decent bottle of wine for my Christmas dinner. Instead I will scramble some eggs and open a bottle of average red.
Like Down in the Dumps and Educate a Girl, the books are open to anyone who wants to see them.
The plan for how your money will be spent
Priorities, priorities, priorities and the answer is that it depends on how much money there is in the fund.
- An evening outing to La Playa to celebrate the festive season.
Every year this street is decorated with enough lights to make you want to wear sunnies. It is only about five blocks away so we will all stroll over and enjoy the sights, sounds, and interaction.
And the neighbours can pick out the junk food they don’t usually get – hot potato chips, ice cream, chocolate. If some kid wants the pink or blue candy floss that is all over the place, I may have trouble being in close proximity as it makes my teeth hurt to look at it.
- Food for a Christmas feast. An account will be set up at a local grocery store and the neighbours can pick what they want to prepare for the event. Hell, if there is enough money they might even be able to get a couple of chickens and some beef. Now that would be a treat.
- Fresh fruit. Not sure if this should be number 2 or 3, but we will figure it out depending on the budget.
- The basics. A television and a fan for each house would make life considerably easier. A few plastic chairs would be a luxury. Last night I sat on the pavement with mis visions. My ass was cold after a couple of minutes – and we know what a wimp I am about temperature.
- Not sure what would come next. If we reach this financial point we can have a meeting to figure out what the refugees think is best for them. Perhaps paying the rent so they are safely housed for January. Another option is more credit at the store. A dream would be presents for the kids who have never had a wrapped gift.