Bogotá quarantine: Engativá stories

By Jessy Edwards May 1, 2020

In Engativá, busier streets and roadways indicate people are itching for things to go back to normal. But local businesses say the economic fallout will continue well past May 11. 

Bogotá quarantine in Engativá
Selling vegetables from a truck in Engativá. Photo: Jessy Edwards

Two weeks ago you could walk down Engativá’s Carrera 102 to the Central Comercial Portal 80 mall and not see a single car. On Thursday, that same Carrera was busy with traffic and pedestrians, both male and female, despite the gender rules. It’s as though residents are already anticipating the end of lockdown on May 11. 

Quarantine in this suburban barrio has been a fluid beast. When the rules first went into effect, soldiers were deployed to help the local supermarket enforce social distancing in its line outside. Men with guns would carefully pace out one big step, one little step, to ensure shoppers were maintaining a six-foot distance. At the door, only a few were let in at a time by an employee also tasked with spritzing everyone’s hands with sanitiser. Some days the line would end up stretching more than half a kilometre down Calle 80 and around the corner. Other times, the mall was empty, the only people in sight groups of Rappi delivery drivers waiting to pick up orders.

“When girls come out we sell a lot, but when guys go out we don’t really sell that much”

Olga Jánez, arepa seller

Since then, people appear to have learned the rules and have been self-monitoring and adapting. In the wide-open green of Engativá’s Bochica, where rivers run through lush parks and fragrant trees are in full bloom, even solitary dog walkers wear masks and keep their distance. 

At the local tiendas, businesses are feeling the pressure of lockdown. Olga Jánez, a retired teacher from Venezuela, has been selling arepas at a stand in Bochica to keep busy and make money. She says quarantine has affected the owner of the business, especially on the days only men are allowed out. “When girls come out we sell a lot, but when guys go out we don’t really sell that much,” she said. “But we keep working, we can’t stop.”

Olga Jánez

Jánez arrived in Colombia on February 15 and got stuck in the country when quarantine was announced. Luckily she’s been able to stay with a friend nearby while she waits for her daughter and grandson to arrive from Chile so they can make their way home to Venezuela. Jánez says while she thinks lockdown is likely to come to an end soon, people still need to take care. “I see around here there are a lot of irresponsible people [not wearing masks and gloves]. Many people are not really seeing how intense this has been and how complicated it has been for everyone. There are no exceptions to the virus, right now no one is less or more, socially everyone is on the same line.” 

Gustavo Enciso

Gustavo Enciso, 67, has run his internet cafe Angel Virtual in Bochica for three years, and says he is doing only 30% of the business he did before the quarantine. He says financially he is OK, as he is retired, but quarantine also takes a toll socially. “The fact that I’m locked down and besides that my wife died recently, so I don’t have a partner, it’s just me.”

While he believes Engativá is a barrio of people who are cultured and “conscious” of the novel coronavirus situation, he fears for neighbours who have unstable forms of income. “I don’t think that this is going to be done by May 11,” he said. “This is a pandemic, a terrible pandemic, and I’m one of those who believes that this is going to take a year. I hope not, but it’s going to be complicated.” 

Felipe Bohórquez, 31, lives in an Engativá apartment his parents have owned for 22 years, and says he feels grateful to have a job at a call centre, working from home. “I think I was one of the lucky ones who was able to get a job in the middle of this thing,” he says. “There are people who I grew up with who are musicians, and of course for them, shows have been cancelled, they won’t be able to work for months.” Bohórquez also points to local neighbourhood businesses like gyms that may now have to close down.

However, he’s grateful to live in a neighbourhood with a strong sense of community, like Engativá. He’s seen people in his apartment complex start small businesses and residents supporting them with what they have. His dad, a hairdresser, has been cutting the hair of neighbours. Near the TransMilenio, enterprising people have been selling masks and other homemade goods. “I feel people around here have that sense of community and support those small initiatives,” he said.

He used the example of a person he knows who’d been forced to move from an expensive neighbourhood to a more modest one where she found more support from her neighbours. “You never know when you will need help from someone and you’re not so isolated,” Bohórquez says. “That’s how I feel this neighbourhood is — people wanting to help each other.”