Paris, one of Aburra Valley’s most impoverished barrios – a densely populated heap of haphazard rooftops with a violent reputation. It is where many displaced Colombians arrive to build a new, urban life.
Tatiana, a 23-year-old waitress, invited us to see her home – a cramped, windowless structure with corrugated iron roofing. “The wind never stops whistling,” she says. Tatiana shares a bed in the main room with her mother, sister and her two year old daughter, “we are often freezing at night.” Despite the apparent severity of their situation, the family are warm, open and incredibly astute. Tatiana’s mother is teaching herself English and she worries about her youngest children’s loathing for school. Tatiana’s sister presents two medals won playing football, of which she is timidly proud.
Paris sits just above barrio Castilla, where violence is once again ruining lives as local gangs struggle to expand their territories. Police are present — as in most of Medellin’s violent neighborhoods — but spend their time flirting with the local girls, reluctant to be caught up in a shoot out.
Tatiana’s mother explains the mentality that those who make trouble in the barrio, pay for it – for the most part. But innocent people inevitably suffer the carnage.
A perilous footbridge leads us across a sewage stream on the other side of which the concrete houses are replaced by vegetation and shacks built from whatever could be found. Here the “desplazados” are rebuilding their lives – families forced from their homes by Colombia’s interminable armed conflict. The city barrios are ever-expanding.
A Christmas tree sits outside one wooden hut while children play idly in the evening dust. We are greeted amiably by every person we pass.
A spectacular view stretches out over the ocean of terracotta urban sprawl, extending some 20 kilometers south. The towers of Medellin’s city center are hazy in the distance and storm clouds threaten the horizon.
Tatiana invites us to spend Christmas Eve in Paris – I eagerly agree, there is nowhere else I would rather be.