Tag Archives: colombia1

Ex-guerillas are more humane than most of us!

They earn barely enough to make ends meet, yet they brought refreshments to greet us. The only thing we could do was admire their humanity and focus back on our own : Khalid Raza

All of last week has been no less than a roller-coaster ride of emotions, learning, tourism and compassion. We had opportunities to meet with persona en proceso de reintegracion (PPR). And, it was definitely a day we all were waiting for – to meet demobilized people from the Organized Illegal Armed Groups (OIAG); we call them PPR in ACR. I personally could not wait to meet them and we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit their homes.


A neighborhood in Soledad

The first PPR does not have an address, so he met us near a hospital and then took us to his house. A tiny, but very neatly kept house, tucked inside a lane which reminded me of old Delhi lanes, where only one person can walk at a time. We were greeted by his wife and a cute dog. They were so polite and humble that it made all of us go teary eyed. He earns $40 from his night job and the rent of the house is $200. He makes ends meet by selling cinnamon flavored floor cleaner.

But, though his means are meager, by no measure is his kindness. His wife brought a bottle of cola to welcome us. We all were touched by the gesture. It made me think – how selfish we all are in our lives, living each day just to save more money.

The second visit was to a place called Soledad, 30 minutes’ drive from the city. There was no road to this small community, although once we got inside, we saw some people, anxiously looking at us. We met another PPR, who has set up a small grocery shop along with his brothers, which feeds four families. His story is one of the success stories in ACR.

The final visit was an hour drive to a faraway place under the hot sun, but that did not burn us the difficulties of their lives did. After going through the lanes, once again we had to park the car at a distance from the house and be on foot to reach the house. There were four PPRs in the house – the mother, her boyfriend (who wasn’t there then), two daughters and a son. The house is nothing but a bare structure but provides shelter to more than 12 people. One corner was converted into a makeshift kitchen with almost no utensils.

The house was dirty. But I came to understand that this is not something done on purpose. These people have no idea about what a house looks like – they have spent almost all of their lives in jungles! This was something which, once again, shook me from inside. Things which we take for granted, are a luxury for many.

On Friday, we attended a function where some PPR who completed their process with ACR, were being felicitated by officials with a certificate and a promise of better life. One of them spoke at the event about his experience of the ACR process. He looked really smart. We are not allowed to share their pictures.


I can dignify women!

In my view ACR is doing a phenomenal job in Colombia by creating ways for ex-guerillas to reintegrate into society. Colombian society is equally open to accepting the new citizens. Almost everywhere we see statements enforcing the message.

Yesterday, all of us (the larger team) went on community service where we did science projects with young kids, whose families are supported by Fundación Mario Santo Domingo, which builds sustainable communities for the poor. It was a great experience to see how the FMSD is creating healthy neighborhoods for the needy.


Introducing self to the kids in Spanish.

The kids were overjoyed to see us and we became part of the moment, forgetting the harsh realities of life. We taught them how to do the tie and dye printing on t-shirts, made ice cream for them and played the lung capacity game.g6

The week ended with so much activity allowing us to appreciate the great work being done here in Barranquilla and Colombia for the society.

For me, this has been one the most satisfying experience of my life so far and we are just half-way through our assignment. I am sure, the 30 days in Columbia, will change me for the better and will be the time to hold dear for the rest of my life.


Cartagena Day Two – The 24 hours got us story worth 240 hours

We got up late (later than what was agreed upon) as we all slept late. But regrouped quickly and headed to see the walled city after checking out from our hotel. With no destination in mind, our small group (some members decided to stay back and enjoy their bed than what Cartagena had to offer), once again resorted to group think tank way of thinking. After some deliberations we agreed to go and see Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. But as luck would have it, it started raining and we had to take shelter next to a closed store.

Finally the rain stopped but we lost a lot of time and had to change plans. We headed to the Hard Rock Café. In the meantime, rest of the members joined us. We split into small groups and headed on our own little expeditions. Our group decided to walk through the lanes to absorb the beauty of the walled city and I promise you it was totally worth it.

cocadaEat like a local is my motto at all times and so we tried cocadas. Cocadas are a traditional coconut candy or confectionery found in many parts of Latin America. They are particularly popular in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile. They are oven baked but are served at room temperature to ensure the nice chewy and soft texture. Made with eggs and shredded coconut, cocadas come in a variety of colors due to the modern use of food coloring; however the traditional variations are golden brown.

The cocadas were tasty, although too sweet for me. We found a small market where people were selling handmade stuff and souvenirs for travelers. I bought few of them for my friends and family. Finally we came back to our hotel and then headed for lunch. And once again, it was a decision making time and once again we all were divided. Finally we decided to go for Jeno’s Pizza. The food was quite fine.

All that walking made us super tired, we got on to the bus, napped and in no time, we were back at our hotel. The trip was brilliant and something I’d recommend to everyone traveling to Colombia.

kalidprayAs I reflect back on the time we spent, I feel us, as a group became closer, some of us now have stronger ties and some of us are still tied to ourselves. As they say, traveling together makes you see the real person. Plus the IBM CSC assignment makes it all more challenging.

There is so much I want to share – the ‘dance’ island, the masseur who wants to name her kid ‘Khalid,’ the story of my lost slippers, the guy who almost sold me ‘Colombian happiness’, the gift Dani got from a street vendor, the boat which stopped in the middle aka the scary boat ride, the ‘lizard’ apartments, the thundering night (see the video below) which scared me and much more. The weekend was a lovely one.

Tomorrow, we are going to meet ex-armed guerrillas and I am looking forward to it. I am told, that to do so sometimes, we have to take the police along, as the neighborhoods are not safe. But I am hoping tomorrow it would be all fine. I will share with you how it went. Till then, be well and make this world a better place for you and everyone else. Cheers.

Arroyos in Barranquilla are real and dangerous and very very beautiful!

It was a hot but lovely afternoon yesterday as we headed out to have lunch at the Crepes and Waffles. I loved the pita bread dish they served! After eating our lavish lunch and sumptuous dessert, we headed back to our client’s office. As we walked out of the restaurant, skies got a little murky but there wasn’t any warning of imminent downpour.

The moment we sat inside the taxi, it poured like crazy, which was cooling and a welcome respite from the hot sun. But, a cooling moment or two aside, we realized that the legendary arroyos weren’t the fiction of anyone’s imagination but a real and present danger. In fact you have to see it to believe it!

As we crossed lanes and roads, it was evident that we were going to witness something elemental. While we still could see the funny side of it (see the video below), everything escalated really fast.

It was water water everywhere and reminded me of the movie Waterworld. We managed to continue towards our office and at one point the rain stopped and so did all the cars. Pretty anxious to get back to dry land now, I checked with the driver, who was a cool one. He quipped, “The arroyo won’t let us pass!”

I got out of the taxi and made a video to capture how strong the current was and how dangerous it all really is. And I learned my lesson – while in Barranquilla when it rains, stay high, stay dry and stay inside!

So you think you are Brad Pitt? or Mebbe Angelina?!

Two things in Barranquilla will never leave you wanting for more – the food and the warmth of people: Khalid Raza

The first thing we all note in any new place is food and it leaves a lasting impression on us. I am not a foodie (ask people around me and they would say I just nibble). But I feel I am eating a lot here in Colombia as the food is sumptuous and people who serve it to me are amazingly warm. My lunches and dinners have not been in the hotel I stay and hence I have already checked in into a lot of places and experienced a variety of tastes and flavors.


L to R: Khalid, Wendy, Ping and Remy @ Benito Juarez

Especially at lunch, Dani, Jordan and I, try to go to the neighborhood restaurants, which are most likely family-run establishments, to to savor the local and true to geo gastronomy. Meat is an integral part of the food here, however vegetarians will be happy too. (Dani is vegetarian). The food is not spicy, thank god because though I am Indian and we eat spicy food, me not so much.

Yesterday, I ate Arroz con coco (Coconut Rice), something Diana from ACR (our client) suggested that we try and it was yummy. It was different but really really tasty. At lunch, we went for an ‘executive buffet’ kind of a setup in which we get soup, main course, salad and desserts. The soups are magical here and the servings are huge. I am not a big fan of soups and never have them in India, but here, I am almost scraping the bottom of the bowl. The corn cake that I ate yesterday was yummy and filling.


Arroz con Coco and Beef Stroganoff

Now, going back to how we started the story, if you are wondering how is this in anyway about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! When we arrived in Barranquilla, we had a meeting with Diego Sandoval from IBM security, where he detailed a long list of Do’s and Don’ts. Most of them being ‘don’ts’ and only one do – follow all do nots!

Diego’s sense of humor ensured that we laughed till we fell off of our chairs. About night life, he quipped, “…we guys think of ourselves as Brad Pitt and think all girls will fall for us so it does not appear strange to us if we get lured into any trap. Trust me we are not Brad Pitt so always be careful, and ladies please don’t think you are Angelina either.”

As we pack our bags to go to Cartagena this weekend, his advice will stay firm in our minds (Maybe lol). Hasta Manana.

Hola, Mi nombre es Khalid

Barranquilla has been a great host so far, with sumptuous food and amazingly warm people. The impression with which we came, has transformed into a delightful experience. The rich culture and the amazingly aromatic coffee makes this place THE place to be.

But wait, there is a catch. All is not awesome when it rains in Barranquilla! Arroyos (intermittently dry creeks) can become dangerous. We were advised by our security officer to be alert and careful with arroyos when it rains and we all wondered if the warning held any merit. Everything looked so calm and peaceful.

But, things do change in a heartbeat. We were out last night for dinner and it started drizzling. When we came out after an hour, the streets had formidable water streams (reminds me of Bangalore lol), although it did not really rain at all! I wonder what happens when it really rains. And today I found this sign on the road.

BxtTi1JIQAEoAUMGoing back to what we came here for, on Monday we met our clients, the Agencia Colombiana para la Reintegración (ACR) team, and spent a day at their office in Barranquilla. This government agency office was different and all the employees greeted us with a bright smile. Of course learning ‘mi nombre es Khalid’ really helped. In the coming days I will pick up some more Spanish as Dani has been super kind to teach me some of it already.

The Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR) is a subordinate entity of the Presidency of the Republic of Colombia. It is in charge of coordinating, advising, and executing, in partnership with other public and private entities, the social and economic reintegration of the demobilized people from the Organized Illegal Armed Groups (OIAG).

It is really painful to hear the stories of how OIAGs have tormented the canvas of the society and comforting to see that agencies like ACR are relentlessly working on a solution despite all odds. We (Dani, Jordan and I) are fortunate and honored to be working with the ACR team and helping not just local society but entire Colombia change for the better.


Our CSC team and ACR team: (L to R) – Khalid Raza, Andres (ACR), Leena (ACR), Dani, Diana (ACR) and Jordan

After two days of unlimited experience-rich moments, I am looking forward to the rest of my assignment. Keep reading and Hasta Mañana!

The travel ends and the journey begins…

“…there ain’t no journey what don’t change you some” ― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

After 45+ hours of tiring travel, which included plenty of stops and four different airports and countless uncomfortable naps, we finally reached our hotel in Barranquilla, Colombia. Is the journey a precursor of things to come or is it the perfect ‘wake-up’ call to get out of the corporate slumber we have all been in?

UntitledOn the way, my fellow CSC participants from India, Upendra, Tommy, Nilanjan and Tushar were great company and without them, it would have been a super arduous task. Upendra is busy shooting small and sharp videos, which he will stitch together to create a wonderful animated account of our CSR journey. I will probably share the video once it’s ready in one of my upcoming blogs.

Tomorrow is already planned and set with an orientation meeting at 10 am and a formal dinner with the Mayor of Barranquilla. It should be a lovely evening. While I look forward to this wonderful journey to unfold, I am struggling to keep my eyes open now. Catch you all soon.

Out of office but in action!

IBM CSCI am on my IBM Corporate Services Corps assignment to Colombia, working on an exciting and enriching leadership assignment. My small team includes Danielle Rosado Galiazi from Brazil and Jordan E Scarboro from the USA. I will be out of office from 12th Sept 2014 and will be back on 13th Oct 2014. I will have limited access to my internet during this period and hence, I will be off the grid.

In my absence, please feel free to contact (internal IBM profile links):

I will continue to update this blog as and when I get time and net access, so feel free to follow it.

Do continue to post on my wall and profile, so that I may reply whenever I can or someone else will, to help resolve issues or answer queries. If it just can not wait, then call me at  +57-300-505-3836 (Colombia) or +91-80-4317-7239 (India)

Thank you all,

Khalid Raza

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