Here in Pereira, Ellen and I have been staying at our cousin’s farmhouse. Although it’s nominally our cousin’s husband Nelson’s house, it seems more home to Nelson’s brother Cesar and his large family. Cesar is not a typical Colombian farmer, but his wife, Luce, is very much a traditional farmer’s wife.
Nelson and his father invested in this property years ago, and Nelson’s parents lived here until his father was no longer able to farm the land and his mother couldn’t navigate the steep hillsides on her own. For a while, Nelson hired a local to live in the house and maintain the property, but that was an expensive way to keep land. Luckily, however, Nelson’s brother Cesar had decided to return to Colombia from Spain, where he had immigrated with his family years before. Cesar hadn’t done as well as he’d hoped in Spain, and came home a divorced father with custody of his five children and no place to live. He established himself and his family at the farm, where he met and married Luce, who is two decades his younger.

Luce grew up on a farm near here, and has never really left this mountain community near Pereira, other than the odd shopping trip in the barrio nearest the farm. She’s a small woman whose pregnant belly almost succeeds in overshadowing her petite frame. She has a round, smiling bronze face with the dark brown eyes and black hair that are common in this part of the world. At twenty-two, she has a daughter of almost two, another child on the way, and five stepchildren who are not that much younger than she is.


Cesar's motocar taxi

Luce spends much of her day taking care of her family. Cesar drives a motorbike taxi, and an unlicensed motocar taxi as well, shuttling people around the mountain community. It’s not considered safe here to leave the house unattended, so someone must always be here, and that task falls to Luce. She spends much of her time in the kitchen, where she prepares three meals a day for her family. The family seems to fall into traditional gender roles easily – the girls help out with sweeping and mopping the house, while the only son does more outside work, helping his father repair the motorbike or tending the farm along with Luce’s father.

Luce’s father is a strict and traditional mountain man. He doesn’t own his own property, so he makes his living looking after other people’s land for them. He can often be found walking a cow along the roadside, letting it graze in no-man’s-lands like ditches and vacant fields. Since neither Cesar nor Nelson is a farmer, Luce’s father helps harvest the bananas here occasionally. Whether he’s on this farm or someone else’s, he expects Luce to prepare and bring him his meals, and gets irate if for some reason his breakfast is late. He looks and acts twenty years older than his forty-something years of age.

Luce, too, seems older than her age, although in other ways much younger. Her stepchildren seem much more worldly than her. They use the internet, and have dreams of being actors, dancers, and creative types, far from the traditional and conservative world of the farm. While Luce is shy around us and limits her conversations with us to enquiries about whether we’re hungry and would like some food, the kids accept our presence with enthusiasm. They want to see photographs from our travels, teach us Spanish, learn a few words of English, and hear about our families and jobs. The younger daughters pull us by the hand to show us their favourite swimming spot in the river, an interesting insect, or the funny thing the dog is doing. For the children, our presence is exciting and yet unremarkable. Their aunt and uncle bring visitors to the farm regularly, from foreign guests to Colombians from all walks of life.


One of the girls letting a bug crawl on her to show us it doesn't hurt

My cousin’s family is unusual around here. They travel and live overseas. They work in theatre. They don’t know much about farming, but my cousin Daisy can weld (man’s work!) and they can both create amazing masks and marionettes, from the realistic to the fantastic. They speak multiple languages, and have friends all over the world, and yet their taps leak and their car breaks down. They live in a traditional house and yet don’t live traditionally at all.

This short description doesn’t even begin to paint a picture of the family, which is just one of many in this tiny community. Hundreds of communities like this surround the small city of Pereira, and thousands of cities and towns in Colombia have as many communities of their own. I despair of ever being able to show the vibrancy of life here, but I’ll just keep describing it, one pixel at a time, until gradually an image comes into focus that might represent a shadow of what there is to see. Life isn’t nearly long enough to see all I want to, let alone take time to describe it, photograph it, sketch it, paint it, write about it, and share it with others. I’m so happy I took the time to try, though.