We met at 4AM. My friend and I crawled into the backseat of the ride. Me with a backpack too big, filled with snacks, spare clothes, and sunscreen as advised. Him, with his camera to document the journey. It was our first time on the trip. The three others in the car were now seasoned vets.
Once a month, FEM goes to Boca Cerrada and provides support in the form of food and milk delivery, while collecting quantitative data for analysis and further research about ways to better support the small community of 500.
We got to the dock and were on the water by 4:45AM. The men who sailed the boat were of few words with kind and thoughtful eyes. The boat was filled with bags of food and milk, headed to Boca Cerrada. FEM partnered with Goticas Éxito to make the delivery of good possible.
The sky was black and freckled with more stars than I've ever seen at once. We caught two of them shooting and the space around us was still. It felt as though I traveled back in time, where things were simpler but slower and took true skill and effort.
Three hours and a stunning sunrise later, we had arrived.
As the men of the island unloaded the sacs of food, the leader of the excursion, Marialena lawyer with FEM, articulated the action plan for our morning. We would alert the women of the community that there would be a workshop on healthy and water sanitation in the commons at 9AM. We would then take the weights and measurements of the children on the island, wrap up, and head back home.
I speak little to no Spanish, but my friend, the one with the camera, is a true Cartagenero--so I listened and followed. An elder named Pito took a liking to him and acted as our tour guide. He showed us the houses that were no longer homes due to rising water levels. He showed us the flooded church, and cautioned that I don't get too close to the hogs--he was proud. He knew his home was beautiful, or that it once was and that it would be again. I too became convinced.
There's no school on the island and the church is flooded. Two children, excited by the new faces, followed us around. They were joy with little legs. There were double the amount of children than mothers who cared for them. The community was a chorus, singing loud the sounds of children; they played, screamed, fought, laughed, bawled.
There is a wisdom, and authenticity that accompanies young children. They are natural comedians. Their humor and joy, buffered the adults' collective stress of knowing and the burden to provide.
Men on the island mostly fish and the women mostly care.
Boca Cerrada translates to "closed mouth" in English and as the adage goes, they don't get fed--a proverb to which the tens of dogs with ribs visible to count could attest. The island is only one example of the bone deep inequality of the country, and specifically in Cartagena. In a case like this, I'm led to believe it's not so much a matter of closed mouths as a group without sufficient resources to be heard, even if they did scream.
The trip to the early 1900s was less romantic than before I had arrived. A three hour boat ride meant that when a newborn had a fever, which one did, and her Mother feared for her health, she would have to take a three-hour boat ride without fresh water to the nearest dock. Followed by another hour or more commute on a crowded bus to the nearest hospital. My heart sank and drowned in guilt as I imagined all the emergencies that went unattended to, all the newborns with worse than fevers.
Organizations like FEM do their best to be a strong and strategic voice. To speak with and for communities like these, and to provide the support of communicating with __?___ to get these stories heard, and provide things like food and milk, and conduct relevant research that can be brought to local officials as evidence for support needed.
I was fortunate to be a part of this trip. Then work FEM does is more than admirable, but painfully necessary. The inequality in a city like Cartagena is a text book case of neglect. The trip to this island was a vivid illustration of that truth and I hope that some day soon I can do more than simply write about it.
The report of the qualitative and quanitative analysis can be found on the FEM website