Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Happened to Angelica?

A fruit kiosk in the National Park where Angelica once worked. 

Angelica was a shy young woman who worked in a fruit and juice kiosk in Bogotá's National Park. Bogotá Bike Tours often passes thru the park often during our tours, and we sometimes stop at the kiosks for a snack. I used to tease Angelica sometimes, but I finally realized that she was sensitive about it, and I laid off of that.

For the past several weeks I haven't seen Angelica at the kiosk, and so I asked the others there why.

"She disappeared," they said, and then made weak jokes about her having maybe run off with a gringo.

Angelica in better days. 
Finally, they told me that Angelica, 22, had just stopped coming to work. They didn't know where she was. How about her family? No, her family didn't know, either. 

But then, slowly, more details came out: She lived in a dangerous South Bogotá neighborhood near the La Picota prison. There was a rumor that Angelica's husband had stabbed her, perhaps on a bus or at the South Bogotá bus terminal. I didn't understand where that rumor came from.

Then they told me more about Angelica.

I asked whether "Angelica's husband had always been violent?" Yes, they said. "Why hadn't she left him?" Maybe because she was scared - or he threatened her.

"What about Angelica's family?" She had two brothers and one sister, but they worked little and were criminals, Angelica's ex-coworkers told me. And Angelica's mother had become hostile toward Angelica because the daughter had stopped giving her money.

Angelica's family hadn't bothered to look for her. They hadn't even filed a police report, as far as the coworkers knew.

Angelica also had three children, something I hadn't known. They were in a state orphanage, called Bienestar Familiar.

I had had no idea that this young woman was surrounded by so many crisis. And I wonder how many other people I know casually might also be enduring such situations. I come from a middle class background in the United States, where the disappearance of a relative would mean a crisis, police searches, newspaper stories, internet campaigns, photos on milk containers and on and on. In fact, when my dog Parchita disappeared here in Bogota, we searched for her, posted flyers, alerted the neighbors, who worried, until someone eventually spotted her in North Bogotá and we got her back. Another time, when a neighborhood kid took her, the police recovered her. For that matter, when we've had bikes stolen, we've filed police reports and searched for them at the pawnshops.

But when Angelica disappeared, nobody seems to have cared enough to do anything. Does that mean that a dog or a bike are worth more to society than Angelica is?

Perhaps society has made that judgement. Dogs in wealthy nations certainly get more money spent on them and enjoy many more luxuries than the very poorest people do. And I've seen lots of bicycles in Colombia which are worth more than a poor Colombians can earn in several years.

Of course, it's possible that Angelica is doing okay. She and her husband might have reconciled and gone off to another city. Or, she might have finally left him and her family and gone to live with a distant relative. Let's hope that's what happened. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: