Author: klmalcolm2014

Comuna 13 — Medellin’s Hillside Art Project

During the years that Medellin was the center of a civil war, Comuna 13 was one of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. Winding up a steep hillside near the main highway, the neighborhood was well-situated as a conduit for drugs, guns and cash. Paramilitary groups recruited young men living there as terrorists and gangs controlled the streets. Residents lived in poverty, hopelessness and fear.

In 2002, the Colombian military attacked the neighborhood and killed 9 of its residents (including 3 children), and something snapped. The people of the community took to the streets waving white flags.

Shortly after that, a group of innovative residents began a coordinated effort to use art, hip hop music and break dancing to change the neighborhood.  Today, the walls that meander up the hillside are covered with paintings.  Youth are involved in small business development and crime rates have fallen dramatically.

A series of escalators installed by the city in 2011 allow residents easier access to the greater community — prior to that, residents had to walk as much as 28 stories to get home from the center of the city because there is no access to cars.

One stretch of the six-section escalator in Comuna 13 (Stock photo)


A small white dog (Theo?) stuck his head out of a break in a veranda wall to bark hello.

Sebastian explains the meaning of one of the murals, which honors old people and children

When we visited, young people were practicing break dancing in the street and children played with balls along the hillside paths. Tourists and locals popped in and out of a tiny coffee shop overlooking the city and an award-winning ice cream shop that sells frozen mango “pastellas” you dip in salted lime juice. The feeling is playful and deliberate, a place of pride and hope.

Break dancers performed on the street.

Carol and Dani enjoy a coffee and some art work in the local coffee house.

Dani and the artist.

Painted village dog

Comuna 13 is living proof that art and music, combined with a little leadership, can transform a community.


Medellin’s Courageous Transformation

 Not long ago, Medellin, Colombia was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The whole country suffered for decades in a four-way fight for power and money and justice. A right wing militia, a left wing militia, drug cartels and corrupt politicians wreaked havoc, leaving thousands dead and many thousands more homeless, injured, terrified. Medellin was the center of the violence and of the drug empire of mafia boss, Pablo Escobar.

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The Angels in the Details

Sculpture in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

I love taking photographs when I travel, but I am selective about it because cameras can make you an outsider, an observer instead of a participant. One thing I like about having a camera is that, even if I don’t use it, I pay a little more attention to the details.

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Ox Carts, Artifacts and Amistoso in San Jose, Costa Rica

No one seems to think very highly of Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, even though everyone seems to agree that the rest of the country is full of wonders. My own first impression is that San Jose is gritty and lacking in charm, and I haven’t found anything that seems distinctively Costa Rican. But, like everywhere else I have visited, San Jose has its attractions.

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Home Sweet Wherever It Is

My “real” home in California

In traditional cultures, where you live is a big part of who you are.  Many Americans, on the other hand, tend to view our communities as way stations to somewhere else. Most of us leave home at an early age and don’t return to raise our kids in the communities where we grew up.  As we age, many of us move again for economic reasons or to be with the grandchildren our children are raising  somewhere else.        Continue reading

The Souls of All Folk

Like most parents of active boys, I got a few phone calls from school over the years. Remembering them, I usually laugh. He stole a potato chip from Emily!  But one of them still turns my stomach.  When I was at work one day, the principal of Gabe’s school called to say Gabe had been “acting up” all week whenever his teacher read aloud to the class.  This wasn’t Gabe’s usual venue for mischief so after a few minutes on the phone I asked what book the teacher was reading.

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Voodoo Child

Voodoo paraphernalia

Meet Robi.  He looks like a normal 25-year-old with a creative presentation and a healthy dose of self-confidence. Long dreds, faded jeans, a self-deprecating sense of humor with a second sense about how to tell a good story. It would probably take you a long time to guess that Robi is a Haitian High Priest in the voodoo tradition.   Continue reading