Later in the afternoon we visited a woman who I will call Grace. Her home was about ten blocks from the church. It had started raining when we left so we were prepared with umbrellas. Many of the homes in this area are made with concrete block walls and corrugated metal roofs. Grace's home is still incomplete with some wood walls and metal roof covering parts of the inhabited space. The entire neighborhood is made up of immigrants who either legally or illegally took up residency here after fleeing their homes in other towns occupied by one of many violent groups supporting themselves through land grabbing. Grace's home is on the very edge of this neighborhood looking out into what is currently a swamp.
Grace has known the pastor for many years, long before she was married or had children. Since her husband was killed some time in the 1990's, she spent many years being homeless until finally her husband's aunt gave her this property that had no permanent structure. She graduated from adult education classes equivalent to fifth grade in 2008 and has since been working for the administration of a banana plantation but because of swelling in her legs, she can no longer work there full time. Her sons sell bananas locally to get by.
She has tried to become registered as displaced with the government many times, but she has never gotten any response. The new land restitution law provides rights to displaced people to regain their property. Some are able to receive new property in an unwanted area in exchange for their displacement. For Grace, there has been nothing. No recognition of her loss, no government support for her new financial burdens and no justice for the loss of her loving husband. No justice for twenty years, but she has not given up.
This is her story - translated by Lora Burge.
"When I tell this story it is like living it again. This is why I try to forget. When people ask me about it, I tell them it is really hard. It is hard to see them take your husband and murder him.
I remember the night that they took him. They came to the house. They surrounded the house and all of the doors. They tried to cover their faces with handkerchiefs but I could see who they were. They were men I had grown up with.
They said they would burn the house if we did not come out. They could see that I was holding my baby so they just forced my husband to come out. When he did they tied him up and blindfolded him and took him away. Three days later some men told his father and brother where his body was.
The men I saw behind the handkerchiefs were then drinking coffee with me at the funeral and were joking about how they did not want him to be buried in the cemetery."
This is when Grace became homeless. Her oldest son was eighteen months old at the time and she was pregnant with the second.
This is when it started raining again. We prayed with Grace as tears came and the rain flooded the prayer with the noise of thousands of drops hitting the metal roof. It rained so hard that the street became a river. It rained so hard that we could not continue our journey.