The Colombian city of Cali sprawls the basin of the Cauca Valley, it harbours a thick tropical heat that sticks to jungle vines as they creep from ancient trees to city blocks. Divided, wild and pacey, Caleño culture is rooted, yes in salsa, but also in a mercilessly revolutionary spirit that runs very deep and very proud. The most recent spark that lit the flare of resistance was the Paro Nacional in 2021, a period of widespread strikes and riots in response to the former government’s push for neoliberal labour policy and fiscal reform that benefitted the wealthiest. The social revolt, labour shutdown and physical demonstration was particularly acute here on the streets of Cali during the Paro - the initial discontent with Duque’s policy proposals evolved into a broader societal sense of resentment, an inflection point that rejected the long term culture of corruption, inequality and stagnation on tackling violence in politics. The collective action that happened here and in cities around the country, in many ways, tipped the scales away from the right wing status quo and in favour of the, now president, leftist Petro.

It’s palpably disparate and chaotic but Cali’s hedonism promises ferocious fun, a culture rich with art, music and movement traditions that simply can’t be found elsewhere - even the salsa runs at a higher frequency BPM here - this city’s remarkably powerful self definition is uncompromising. Amid this cultural abundance though, there is also profound neglect, discrimination and domestically unrivalled rates of violence, the fear of which affects the most marginalised. There is multidimensional displacement happening here - the city hosts migrants fleeing the crisis in neighbouring Venezuela as well as Colombians forcibly dislocated from other poorly resourced regions and, more granularly, Caleños themselves living in exile from neighbourhoods that are brutally inhospitable as a result of gang related hostility. It's rich in dynamic vibrancy, jarring with injustice and warm in all the ways it can be.

I spent my time in Cali meeting women that embody the resilience necessary to survive displacement and the associated trauma. We discussed the power of active listening, of restorative practice and the potency of being given time and space to grieve. Many of them expressed a sense of freedom at finally taking up the space they deserve and reclaiming the capacity they have to relate well to motherhood, to their material circumstances and the communities they are beginning to lead forward. 

It has been a joy to see where hummingbirds flit and palms stand solid above the chaos, to get to know that there are cycles of disempowerment and gendered oppression being broken here, against all odds.

Thanks Cali.

Now, to Bogotá to reflect, cool down and wrap up my time in Colombia… for now at least.

Abi Nolan, 2023