It begins with corrugated cardboard and blue tarp. A bit tattered. Maybe torn. The cardboard may be soggy or blood stained found behind a butcher shop. A lean-to shelter is built on a slope of a vacant or abandoned hillside just beyond the limits of the city.
Scraps of wood discarded at construction sites or buried in the debris of a collapsed building are added to support the deteriorating cardboard. Tarp is replaced with more tarp. Tin is added to create a better roof. A few bricks. More wood. In time walls take shape with a door opening and spaces called windows. No glass. More bricks, and the walls become more clearly defined and stronger than the cardboard and wood had been. Tarp is replaced with fabric remnants that become door and window coverings.
The walls grow taller. The tin is lifted and replaced with wood planks and then the tin is positioned higher to become the roof of a new forming second floor. Plastic squares remnants, blue, green, amber, fill the previously bare windows openings. Stairs of concrete blocks or of rusty spiral staircases found at a bankrupt building sites offer access to the upper levels. Ill fitting wood doors or slabs of warping plywood, cover the door openings. Painting these entry ways garish bold primary colors, the structures because unique. Individual.
A house. No plumbing. No running water. No electricity. No, not a house. A home.
Beside it, another home is morphed out of the cardboards and blue tarps. Two stories become three or maybe four. One home and another appears. Like a melanoma, the earth’s surface is covered by this uncontrolled growth. Expanding in every direction. No order. Chaos. Survival. The homeless build their homes.
Someone wires into the city utility pole and there is electricity. Free. Light jumps from one structure to the next and to another. The hillside shines dimly in the night. In time, bright.
No building codes, the structures pile on top of each other as they creep up the hillside. Steep narrow almost impassable walkways become the “streets.” A new city of squatters is born.
Not sure, but if the people can continue to squat for five years, the property becomes their own. The stench of raw sewerage and rotting food and stale air are almost unbearable. Yet, amid the chaos and the growing dangerous squalor, the human spirit survives. Eventually more and sometimes better building supplies are added. Windows get glass. Doors fit and get locks. Porches form.
And people sweep. They sweep those new porches. They sweep the dirt floors. Their homes may seem a shambles but they are clean. Always clean. The slums become crude barrios, rough plumbing and more sophisticated electricity become part of the neighborhood. Narrow paths are widened becoming “open roads” (rut riddled dirt roads) and in time paved streets (sort of). The squatters now own their land. A municipality acknowledges its existence and its presence. A neighborhood … small shops and store fronts emerge. A few park benches create a community gathering place. A community forms and thrives. The human spirit thrives and shines brighter even in the raw stretches for survival.
I love Colombia. In the air of lawlessness, it survives. It thrives.