When you start to “throw stones at the moon” your life has hit rock bottom. This was what Felipe Aguilar, an Afro-Colombian man from Nariño felt while describing how the “Rastrojos” massacred his wife and three children.
Covering Colombia as a foreign correspondent for more than a decade for prestigious publications such as The Economist, Guardian and Christian Science Monitor, Sibylla Brodzinsky had never come across a phrase so acute; and while interviewing this farmer, felt that it summed up so much of the anger and frustrations of being a displaced person within one’s own country.
The idea to document the oral histories and narratives of some of Colombia’s displaced started three years ago when Brodzinsky met Max Schoening, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. Having to cover the news and a reporter who has walked the front lines of the Colombia’s bloody conflict, Brodzinsky started gathering her first testimonies.
The interviews got longer and every displaced person she met recounted their own dramatic stories of loss and pain. From the small villages near the coast where paramilitaries would terrorize and systematically execute those they considered enemies, to the forced disappearances of trade unionists in Antioquia, the killing and displacement was widespread. With each violent act and senseless massacre, tens of thousands of families were uprooted from their farms and joined the ranks of the displaced.
Colombia’s humanitarian crisis is still considered among the worst in the world and attention to the issue has shifted. “We wanted to challenge the notion that the conflict is over,” said Brodzinky, as Throwing Stones at the Moon made its debut in Bogotá bookstores in December.
The stories documented by Brodzinsky and Schoening are harrowing. For two years, they divided their tasks returning to meet their subjects and listen as new details emerged in the testimonies of these victims. After more than 70 oral narratives were transcribed into English, Schoening and Brodzinsky chose 23 for a book which is the tenth in the Voice of Witness non-profit series.
Published by McSweeney’s Books of San Francisco, the series takes on social justice themes around the world. Throwing Stones at the Moon is the only book on the Colombian conflict in this series. Former FARC hostage and Presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt contributed to this work by writing the Foreward. “Ingrid has her own story to tell,” remarks Brodzinsky. “She told it beautifully in her own book. It was an honor to have her write for us.”
Throwing Stones at the Moon was presented over the summer in Universities across the United States. The authors were also invited to the Hay Festival in Cartagena to talk about the internal conflict and why the issue of displacement remains an important story to cover, despite the fact that it rarely makes headlines anymore. Brodzinsky and Schoening have written a book of journalistic integrity where the stories told are in the first person.
Every chapter is intensely personal and carefully edited as to respect the voices of their subjects. This book is not only a must for scholars of the Colombian conflict, but anyone who has ever been moved by the suffering of others.