Documentary and Street Photographer Gabriel Rojas is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘Egypt, Guardian of History’. To see Gabriel’s body of work, click on any image.
The Egypt neighborhood is one of the oldest in Bogotá. It is located on the border between the rural part and the urban part of the city, in the middle east.
As a result of the construction of Circunvalar Avenue in the mid-twentieth century, the neighborhood became a corridor for smuggling, and with it the first criminal gangs began to emerge, which were made up of family clans, such as Los Pillos and Los Gasolinos. This, coupled with government neglect, has left the new generations adrift, without economic opportunities in the legal sectors of the economy. With time, the neighborhood has been socially and economically isolated from the city that looks far away from the top of the eastern hills.
Violence has been a constant in the history of the neighborhood. All members of the community have mourned a husband, friend, brother, or son. Mrs. Celina Gutiérrez can attest to this, who, at the age of 87, is part of the living memory of Egypt. In the neighborhood, they know her as “the hospital”, because she was the one who cared for them and cured the sick after the clashes between gangs, or between them with the Police or the victims of their robberies.
When he was in jail, Jaime Roncacio –alias “Calabazo”, one of the leaders of the gang from the tenth (referring to the tenth street, the main one in the neighborhood)- met some former gang members from Comuna 13 in Medellín, who told him about a tourist initiative full of urban art that they had in their neighborhood. At first, it seemed strange to Calabazo that the “paisas” brought tourists and foreigners to their neighborhood to walk through its streets instead of robbing them, but the idea of opening the neighborhood to tourism activities remained in his head.
When he got out of jail and returned to Egypt, Jaime began to socialize the idea of doing something similar to the initiative in Comuna 13 and along with his friends Andrés “Pato”, Juan “Monkey”, and Carmen “La Gorda”, among others, with, a lecturer from the Externado University of Colombia, a neighbor in La Candelaria, gave shape to the project of carrying out tourist tours through the streets and surroundings of Egypt. This is how “Breaking Borders” was born, an initiative to make the stories of violence and community renewal well known to national and foreign visitors.
The success of this project is that all visitors feel part of the community and contribute resources to give opportunities to its inhabitants. The tours have also helped change the stigma of gang members or criminals that the local community carried.
Despite this, today most of the people in the neighborhood are informal. There is still a large young population that needs better references and examples, but the collective desire is to abandon the crime and obtain forgiveness. This is what “Breaking Borders” is all about.
All images and text © Gabriel Rojas
By Gabriel Rojas
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