Arriving at Buenaventura, Train rails to the harbor.

On going.

Barrio San Francisco in Buenaventura

Blanca agreed to bring me to Buenaventura, one of poorest cities in Colombia, where Olga and herself had been working for 10 years. Buenaventura is on the Pacific see and is a slum build around an harbor. Every day nature is waking up here completely indifferent to human lives: the daily tide brings trash in the streets, the temperature in February was around 90F and extremely humid, mosquitos and cockroaches were everywhere. One day we were in the San Francisco neighborhood, visiting all the people that she used to work with many years ago.

Doris Cachimbo was with us.  While I was feeling lost in the white fog of early morning she rebuked me: "Pay attention. This is my people, this is my land, I want to introduce it to you".

Mercedes has been Blanca's mentor for twenty years.

Selina is a nurse that recovered from tuberculosis.

Doris has been living here since 21st January 1989. When she moved here this was just a trash dump on the sea, with mangroves plants everywhere. A peace of land was sold to her for 6000 pesos, less than 3 American dollars. They put chips of Madeira wood on top of the trash dump, and build their house. There were no streets and no bridges. Now we could walk on gravel paying attention to avoid all the giant holes that were filled with salt and rain water. She brought us to visit more than twenty women. One of them was Kalymary Betancuru. She lives by the canal and by a factory that works Madeira wood. The sea here is a swamp. Even in the darkness of the stilt house, I realized there was something wrong with her skin. Skinny kittens were running among my feet and when she offered me her hand to shake I forced myself to hide my fear to touch her. Only later we could hear her story: she has skin cancer, everywhere on her body, and her only son has been paralyzed for one year. He was injured in the spine while he was working. She was fighting with the government for an invalidity pension that wasn’t arriving. There was something about her and her son that hit me painfully. There was a contradiction. This family, so poor and so unlucky and so sick, was extremely regal. There was something about the way they carry their body that was so full of presence and soul and elegance. Kalymary was like a princess restrained in the wrong cocoon.

“Do not cry in front of them Giulia, do not cry but be there be strong be nice be one of them. Touch her skin Don't be afraid Touch them... Touch the hand.... Walk with them down the hell”, this I repeated myself all the time I was there holding back my tears.

That evening Blanca couldn’t talk and couldn’t eat. She went to sleep in the bed in front of me, her back towards me. For hours I looked at the contours of her body, like a black onyx stone against the golden curtain reflecting the streets light. She never moved. Only the day after she shared with me how difficult is to see sometimes that you cannot do enough, that things don’t change.

Kalimary and her son in San Francisco, Buenaventura