Potato Bombs: The Usual
This evening, I walked down to the Edificio Central (the Central Building) at UPTC to lead my Wednesday night Movie Club. As I went to enter the building, a student stopped me and told me the building was closed. I stood outside, confused, for a few minutes and then I decided to just fake an “I-don’t-understand-your-Spanish” face and walk in anyways. Because I am tall and pale with blue eyes (very obviously a foreigner here), it worked. Or perhaps it is because I was pushy and that’s not a part of Boyacense culture. As I went up to the floor where the Language Department is housed, I met a fellow teacher. She confirmed my suspicions. Students had decided to shut down the major buildings on campus due to student elections that will occur tomorrow. Classes in those buildings were cancelled. The predictions are that classes will also be cancelled tomorrow and Friday.
I went back home and made some chocolate dip. I also called my boss to determine what I should do about English Club and classes tomorrow. We decided that I’ll go tomorrow morning and see whether or not I can get into the building. UPTC has no way of notifying me (or anybody else for that matter) of campus closures, so I have to rely on the bombs I hear outside my window, phone calls and emails from professors, and what students tell me.
UPTC is infamous for its student protests that sometimes result in violent conflict with the local police. Public universities in Colombia are prone to student protests, but for some reason that I have yet to figure out, UPTC seems to have more than the average. Students and professors warned me at the beginning, if you hear six bombs or more, then you need to be worried. Less than six bombs is probably just some bored students. Six bombs signifies that there is probably a large-scale protest going on and the police will get involved. I got stuck on the idea of bombs, but students explained to me that the homemade potato bombs are not meant to cause damage. They are similar to glorified noisemakers. Students do not want to harm other students nor cause actual damage to the university. Instead, the purpose is to shut down the university, causing the infrastructure to lose money and be forced to listen to students’ requests, or perhaps you could say, demands.
Everyone reassured me that the potato bombs are not dangerous. Only one student has died from a malfunctioning bomb that he was trying to throw. On the contrary, the police are to be feared. A student died from being stabbed by an officer a few years back. The front gates of the university do not open because the police crashed a tank into them (or so I’ve heard, for all I know, these are rumors). The police have already entered campus once this semester and they used tear gas in the student restaurant as a response to protests that were happening outside (this event is confirmed).
Students throw bombs in protest or commemoration or simply out of boredom. In classes where we have discussed these things, students have explained that they feel that this is the only way that they can have a voice in what happens at UPTC. The general attitude is that university administration is unfair and does not consider the needs of students. Bombs and protests are seen as a solution (although not all agree that they are a legitimate solution). Honestly, this is probably the thing that is the most “foreign” to me here in Colombia. I cannot seem to wrap my mind around it. I was at UCF when a student made homemade bombs and bought guns in an attempt to kill other students. I associate bombs with violence and death, not political protest or social change. Also, the idea that the police are to be feared is one that I have never experienced as a white, middle class law-follower in the United States. I’m not a proponent of violent protests by any means, but in some ways, students’ determination to initiate change is admirable. In other ways, it’s very confusing to me. Why would one want to commemorate the death of a student who was trying to throw a potato bomb…by throwing more potato bombs?
I am growing accustomed to the sounds of small explosions, just as I learned to not worry about the gunshots I heard on a nightly basis in Bankhead, Atlanta. This is the first time that the school has been shut down at a time when I have to work. Previous events were more localized or random in nature. We will see what happens these next few days. For now, you don’t need to worry about me (I’m not particularly worried at the moment either). I’m going to hang out at home and just check in whenever I have classes scheduled to see if I should attend. Also, don’t expect me to get involved or anything. I plan on staying out of the way.