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 masterstudent Internationale Ontwikkeling, richting Sociologie, en woont in Wageningen op Droevendaal met zijn vijf huisgenoten. Hij gaat graag ’s morgens een stuk wandelen in het Bennekomse bos.