I stare over my screen at a sole cyclist braving the bridge between Forum and Orion. My eyes struggle to focus on something further away than my screen. It’s silent in the Library. My bladder and I decide a break may be necessary. I take the shortest way, against the grain of the Corona arrows on the floor. I was writing down some spicy fieldwork observations taking place a few months ago, at a prominent university in Medellin, Colombia. Observations coincidentally also concerning students and toilets:
I take a break from transcribing interviews in the university library and go to the toilet, where, at my most vulnerable, the smell of tear-gas hits me through the paneless window. Running out into the hallway, I am met by some students running one way crying and coughing, or the opposite donning bandannas, some wearing diving goggles or even gasmasks. I join the latter, using my backpack as a shield. Outside, the smoke of burning palm leaves and tear gas is mixing. Hundreds of students are chanting a plethora of leftist cries, tear-gas canisters flying in high arcs over the square leaving trails of white-blueish smoke. Che Guevara on the walls. The brave and/ or stupid pick up the burning hot, smoking canisters, run to the front line and toss them over the fence, back at the police. ‘Education is not filling a box, but lighting a fire’ a sign from the university kindly reminds me. Like most public universities in Latin America, this is a leftist bulwark. Trying to overthrow the government is one of the daily extracurricular activities.
‘¡El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!’ – The people, united, will never be defeated – echoes through the concrete and the smoke.
I perch behind a fat tropical tree and observe the battlefield. Because of some fundamental civil rights, the police is not allowed to enter the university grounds. As a result, two armoured police vehicles with eight wheels are pacing restlessly up and down the fencing. One coming in, shooting a barrage of gas canisters, and backing off again, the other coming in, with the water cannon, shooting a jet of water at the light-footed students.
As I stand watching three masked students come running in
As I stand watching three masked students come running in waving some kind of anarchist flag. They duck behind a wall, a flame is lit among them, one stands up, takes aim, and flings a Molotov cocktail on the windshield of the little tank. We all cheer as flames wash over the metal. A sprinkler system douses the flames.
At the Forum toilet, I try not to use too much paper, wash my hands, and walk back out. No tear gas, no leftism, no communism, no -isms altogether it seems. Capitalism, yes, but no one is waving a flag for it. Just realism, lots and lots of realism. I take the long way back to my seat, against the grain of the corona arrows.
Luuk Slegers is a Masters student of Sociology, majoring in International Development. He lives on Droevendaal in Wageningen with his five housemates and likes to start the day with a walk through Bennekom forest.