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The teacher who teaches sounds of peace

Edinson Fernando López draws with his index finger in the air what his green eyes saw in a child’s drawing several years ago: three curved lines that longed to look like mountains, Something that looked very like a helicopter, Dashed lines that were not raindrops but bullets and several more lines whose lines were unmistakable: assault rifles.

It was a sad, but strangely beautiful drawing. One of her pupils had produced it in cardboard as a result of a simple exercise: the children of the class had to recreate what for them was Toribio. And you see that for all, in that room, Toribio was that: a people accustomed to feel the bullets descending every moment from the mountains and sometimes, also, from the sky.

For the rest of Colombia it is almost the same: a population of the north-east of Cauca that has been crucified in the sections of public order of the newspapers with the sad fame of being the municipality of the country most attacked by the guerrillas. Figures, like children, do not lie. Since 1979, Left-wing groups in arms, especially the FARC, have carried out about 600 harassments and taken the town in 100 opportunities. So the life of the Toribians has been, for the past 30 years, to mend their town with seamstress patience, over and over and over again.

Professor Edinson, whose image of white skin and green eyes does not make it clear, once you know him, that he is a man who was born among these mountains, 37 years ago, in the shelter of San Francisco, conformed, Such as 98% of the inhabitants of Toribio, by nasa natives.

It is not that his student’s drawing surprised him, he clarifies. It is that, instead of arms, he would have preferred that the boys draw clarinets, transverse flutes, guitars, Trombones or any of the instruments that daily faces them in the School of Music of Toribio.

That school came ten years ago, convened by the Ministry of Culture and an ambitious program that still exists and is known as the National Plan for Music for Coexistence. And in it he sits right now, in an orderly and neat office, preparing his classes at the foot of a computer.

The school, which only has a budget of 22 million pesos per year, is based in a narrow, two-storey house, located just in front of the small town square and a few steps from the San Juan Bautista Church. On the first floor – where we are now – the House of Culture operates, there are several rooms naked and one, dark, especially packed with instruments, carefully kept in black cases; The second floor is a continuum of public offices, from the Umata to the Ministry of Health.

It is a Friday morning and, while the teacher is talking, outside beneficiaries of the Families in Action program quickly collect their subsidy because the mood of the sky has begun to decompose and threatens one of those rains of uncontrollable crying. “You and the photographer,” says the professor, “came in good time. We have taken a month and a half of a calm suspicion, many believe that so much silence, so much absence of bullet, is because suddenly the guerrilla is preparing to make a worse attack.

It is a basic suspicion of survival in Toribio. A sign, apparently, just as unequivocal as the fact that he spent a whole day without seeing a single car going up to the village. Something bad is going to happen, Is believed immediately. It is that the 32 thousand Toribians, despite so many years of war, so many days of blood and terror, have not learned to dope the feeling of fear. Believe one, rather, that you have tamed it.

The simple dry sound of a drum manages to disturb the nerves, to make people jump to the ground fearing the start of a new ambush. It was what happened last Holy Thursday, minutes before a night procession. Some decorated saints, the ladies put flowers. Someone sounded the drum of a band, invited from Jambaló, and the scene that followed was etched in the retinas of this stubborn master: people running in all directions and people huddled in search of shelter.

Only came out of the doubt when you heard the sweet sound of a lyre. It was not, therefore, The beginning of one of those concerts of bullets that in the stony days of the conflict extends until two days. They were sounds of peace. The people breathed a sigh of relief.

And that happens rarely. Not so, for example, on July 11, 2011, when a ladder bus, known as chivas – the most common means of transport in the area, after the motorcycles – flew through the air at the foot of the trenches Located near the police station.

It was a Saturday, market day. As the smoke dissipated, the Toribians knew that one hundred of them had been injured. The locksmith melbourne, a cockerel and the butcher had died. A police sergeant was so ruined that only one leg was found. There were more than a hundred houses that were destroyed, as if arranged for an autopsy.

And the school? Professor Edinson’s school? Several parts of the goose that fired after the detonation went to fall into a back room, whose roof did not resist and went to the ground. Fortunately, it was not a school morning. The instruments were unharmed. It was as if the criminal action of the FARC would have allowed the weakness not to damage the whole place where the teacher teaches his boys sounds of life. The sounds of peace.

So, if that’s so, you soon realize that Edinson López’s job is not to teach his students how to read the musical grammar on a staff. How to get a note on a bassoon or a flute. That is simple, in the long run.

In a town where so many arrive with the intention of giving the wrong direction to the death, its work consists in actually making its students interpret corridors and bambucos ignoring that from the womb of their mothers they are tuning the ear, without wanting, to distinguish With the correct sounds of war: the burst of tattoos, the explosion of bomb cylinders, the blasts of rifle.

Here, in Toribio, where to live and die remains for so many people a face and seal, the obverse and the reverse of the same thing, the teacher Edinson Lopez has managed to achieve that the three generations who have already passed through his school Turn the music into necessity, in a way to be saved from the loss.

He says in his own way Luis Ángel Murillo, A skinny young man of 14 years whom Edinson taught to interpret the cornet and to cultivate a sanguine love by the music. Luis Ángel imagines himself studying his instrument professionally when he finishes the school. Not long ago, the boy came to the House of Culture. It’s just after 2:30 pm on this Friday and in a few minutes I will see how the place will fill up with the voices and distracted notes that begin to sound the 45 children and young people, between 8 and 17 years, who Currently receive classes.

Luis Ángel has been attending for five years. And in that period has been three guerrilla harassment, in full class. “It always gives me scrapie and the scare lasts for several days, although one is later getting used to it, and sometimes I even forget it. When the bullets are no longer heard, I take my instrument and walk out to my house. I do not know the teacher how he does it, but I’ve never seen him in fear. As the guerrillas and the police shoot out there, he calls our dads to reassure them. ”

Other children do not react the same. Professor Edinson thinks of Frank. In Frank’s fear. A couple of months ago, the little clarinetist added to the sad figure that the teacher notes in a notebook: between 10% and 15% of the children he receives each year must leave school because their families move because of the violence.

Almost all of them do it to the south of the country, Nariño or Putumayo, explains the mayor of Toribio, Ezequiel Vitonás; Other families migrate more towards the Eastern Plains and others less towards the Valle del Cauca.

“When that happens,” says the teacher in a broken voice, “there is tremendous impotence. It is an unequal struggle with war. They have guns that frighten me, I only have guitars and trumpets to make these children happy. What can I do in front of a mother who says to me, desperate, profe, I can not stand it anymore! Just wish her luck, and that child who will probably miss music forever. ”

It was also what happened with Cristian Darío Julicué. Also clarinetist. He lived with his mother, a nurse, in the village of Pueblo Viejo de Toribio. Years ago, he walked every day, with enthusiasm, the 45 minutes that separated his house from the music school. One day of many, with his clarinet packed in a case, walking on a trail of the ridge, He felt a red laser light in his chest, an unmistakable sign that someone was pointing him in the distance. Then came a requisition. Then fearful explanations. No, Mr. Police, except for my instrument in that briefcase, I carry nothing else. His mother believed that on another occasion the guardian angel of the child would not be so diligent and preferred to send the boy to finish his studies in a school in Pasto.

Goodbye clarinet … One hears those painful stories and then he wonders why, after ten years, Professor Edinson is still in Toribio. Resisting, making homeland. Exposing the skin daily. Living alone in a room, away from Santiago Alejandro and Maria del Mar, their children aged 15 and 7, who wait for their father to arrive every weekend, safe and sound, to Popayán, Where the two have lived with their mother for several years, after the teacher understood that he could not follow them exposing the intransigence of the war.

Claudia Cruz, director of the Fundación Polifonía, who leads musical training projects in Cauca and coordinates the National Music Plan for Coexistence in that department, ventures a single word in response: gratitude. “The only reason Professor Edinson does not quit his job, despite the difficulties, is the sense of belonging to his people. He was not only born there, but also had the opportunity to learn music. He did it professionally, at the University of Cauca, but he knows well that there are many other young people who do not have the same fate and life does not make that wink.

Is that when you are young or a child in a town like Toribio you encounter the difficult reality that, although you represent 53% of the total population, there are few options for progress that you face. Vitonás, in his office, lists some of them: sowing tomatoes, pumpkin, arracacha, potato cider, or that long onion so famous in Cavasa that it sells well in galleries in Cali. You can also associate to grow trout or plant that coffee that for four years has own brand ‘Quescafé’, which in nasa means ‘Our coffee’.

And that sounds nice, yes, but it is a municipality that, according to the mayor himself, has 68% of his basic needs unsatisfied. Of the 66 lanes in Toribio (where the bulk of the population lives), 40 do not have electricity. 90% of them do not receive potable water in their homes, 2,884 families do their needs in open fields and about 4,000 children are left without a place to study. To achieve this, Mayor Vitonás would have to build 60 classrooms. And in this town there is no silver.

While that reality slaps his kids, Professor Edinson resists. He does not complain. Proposes. Three years ago he asked for help in founding a similar school in San Francisco, the shelter where he was born, but he had no echo. No matter: armed with improvised flutes with PVC pipes, made by himself, he went there to continue seducing with music, like Pied Piper of Hamelin. Soon, a dozen children came to the call.

Intuye one that the professor Edinson López has made of his office a form of rebellion. He purposely ignores the harsh reality of the people and prefers to talk about dreams: the greatest is to be able to form an orchestra of 200 children musicians. “Can you imagine? All playing time “… Maybe I will. He does not mind that he has not been paid for four months or his contract for service is as stable as a house at the foot of a volcano. What goes: the day will come when students draw guitars instead of rifles. The day when, thanks to his dramatic sense of duty, Toribio forever changes the sounds of bullets to those of a traverse flute. He does not mind that he has not been paid for four months or his contract for service is as stable as a house at the foot of a volcano. What goes: the day will come when students draw guitars instead of rifles. The day when, thanks to his dramatic sense of duty, Toribio forever changes the sounds of bullets to those of a traverse flute. He does not mind that he has not been paid for four months or his contract for service is as stable as a house at the foot of a volcano. What goes: the day will come when students draw guitars instead of rifles. The day when, thanks to his dramatic sense of duty, Toribio forever changes the sounds of bullets to those of a traverse flute.

 
 

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