Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fifth/Sixth Month in Colombia

This will probably be my last "list post." While we are still learning so much, it has been harder to record the little things, like we did in the initial months spent here in Colombia. We will try to continue to share new understandings as they come to us, but not on a monthly basis. Here are a few from the last couple months.

It is perfectly acceptable for older people to cut in line.

Dance is absolutely integral, and is found at all parties and as an essential part of the school day.

It is more acceptable to come to a meeting late than to leave early.

The U.S. has had a profound affect on cultural norms here. In the coastal regions where the US Navy is very present, popular baby names were "onedollar" "barack" and "usnavy."

It is really rude to not offer to share food. You always share what you have.

The role of the "administrator" in a business or organization is much broader, and includes making key decisions and planning for the organization.

It is pretty normal to see little foot socks worn with sandals. Interesting.

We have witnessed a great deal of public affection between parents and children. Very common.

Colombians love metaphors, and use them often (which we like).

People eat a snack mid-morning, around 11. For that reason, it is called "Onces." The evening meal is often a light snack, and not until 8:00.

It is NOT common to work through lunch. In our offices, this is considered a very "gringo" thing to do. Almuerzo is a time to stop working, go somewhere, visit with friends, and take your time to eat.

Adults raise their hands to talk during meetings.

Organizations tend to have a more cooperative structure to them.

Someone told us to give Andy a teaspoon to gasoline to combat his car-sickness. They were very insistent that it worked.

Colombians have mandated paternity leave, and three months of paid maternity leave.

It is not generally acceptable to return something to a store. For that reason, before you leave, they take everything out of the package, check it in front of you, go over all the parts/materials, and make sure you see them do it. It took me an hour to buy a phone.

It is not common to wear a wedding ring.

It is very common to commit adultery.

When paying for something, you must put the money in the person's hand directly. Do not put money down on the counter for them to pick up. It is considered very rude.

School Update #2

Aaron and I had the privilege of attending parent-teacher conferences this last week. We enjoyed visiting with each of their teachers, and seeing how they have progressed after two bimesters at Liceo Boston.

Lydia is enjoying the 6th grade, and it seems to be a better match for her than the initial placement she had in 5th grade. He teachers are kind, and they say that she works hard and pays attention in class. They assure us that she is understanding a lot of Spanish, but she is not speaking much. We think she is like me, in that it is better for her to have a complete understanding of the technical parts of the language in order to feel more confident to speak. We are hoping to increase her time with one-on-one Spanish tutoring, which has been extremely limited up to this point. She continues to be a friendly, and positive influence on her peers at school, and enjoys gymnastics and the sciences. Her favorite thing so far is how much time they spend outdoors. Her biggest challenge is leaving for school at 5:15 in the morning, and intense homework schedule.

Abby has finally made some friends and is no longer sitting outside of class crying. Her teacher reports that she is chatting away in Spanish, and understands everything that she is told. Abby is involved with equitacion, which is "trick-riding" on horses. Her report card in this class said that she is cooperative, responsive to others, very brave, and willing to try new moves, even if they are challenging. Her class is a bit behind the U.S. curricularly, but she is working hard, reading in both English and Spanish. Her favorite class is P.E. and the hardest part for her is lunch, because sometimes she has to try things that she does not like.

Andy's teachers are very happy with his progress. They said that everyone wants to be his friend. He works hard, and is diligent with homework. The hardest part for him is math, and he really enjoys that some teachers play games outdoors and use active learning in the classroom. He lives for Fridays when he gets to do roller hockey. What we are learning about Andy is that he is quite shy, especially with speaking Spanish and when talking to other adults. They are hoping they can get him to speak up more in the next bimester, because they know he has good things to share.

"Oh, Sweet Peace"

"By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Luke 1: 78-79
(thank you, Eric)

For more than five decades, Colombia has struggled with a horrific, violent, and complicated war. Trying to make sense of how these conflicts began, what "sides" exist, whom is aligned with whom, what are the various territories and interests, and thinking about how one can possibly turn things around is a staggering task.

This is a life of contradictions. I can have a lovely time taking my children to soccer practice, and sitting in the sunshine with other happy, friendly, Colombian families. Within an hour I am reading a news release about a newly found mass grave, not far from Bogota. There were as many bodies in this grave as half of the residents in my hometown of Bluffton. All the bodies were buried together, unmarked, in one giant gulp of the earth. Arguments about the inhabitants of this grave vary, with some believing that the deceased are fallen guerillas, while others demanding verification for lost family members, union leaders, and advocates from local communities.

On Wednesdays, I participate in the Teusaquillo Mennonite Church's "Moment for Peace." Community members, displaced people, and church leaders gather in the church for a brief devotion, speaker of some kind, soup, prayer, and conversation. This last week was about the challenge of Global Warming. We read Genesis, watched a video, and had a discussion about what the world would look like in the next seventy years, and how we have a responsibility to help create change. A large part of this discussion was about water. The man next to me, who was displaced by the war, trying to survive in this new city with his family, while being "watched" by paramilitary groups. He turned to me and said,

"Our main concern about water involves the contamination of our rivers with dead bodies. It seems that every time we try to use the water, we have to think about dismembered body parts and decomposition that can lead to illness."

This is a kind of contamination that had never occurred to me.

I recently read an article about a woman who volunteered to pull bodies from a bend in the Cauca River in order to help families with identification and appropriate burial. What a job. Yet, she did it day after day, knowing the importance of the recovery of the dead, and trying to help with the healing process that was so desperately needed.

So in my cozy, comfortable conjunto, I am haunted by these images, and I pray for the "way of peace" Luke refers to. This land desperately needs a sweet peace that goes way beyond the absence of death. Colombians need the sweet peace that will fill them with hope and understanding that there is a better way.

by the Wailin' Jennys

Oh sweet peace, never have you fallen
Never have you fallen upon this town
Oh sweet peace, never have you fallen
Never have you fallen upon this town

The black crows are loaded
With the call of things discarded
The ribboned shard of battle
And everything burned
Have they forgotten we live here
Do they think that we gave up
Lay down and grew over
Weeds at every turn

Oh sweet peace, never have you fallen
Never have you fallen upon this town
Oh sweet peace, never have you fallen
Never have you fallen upon this town

I will not rest
Until this place is full of sunlight
Or at least until the darkness
Is quiet for a while
And we will not wait
For that murder to come calling
The night will simply fall
And the morning will rise

Oh sweet peace, never have you fallen
Never have you fallen upon this town
Oh sweet peace, when will you come calling
When will you come calling upon this town

Saturday, January 30, 2010

When in Colombia...

For the past decade, Aaron has worked hard with others in Newton to develop a training program for young children, incorporating an alternative philosophy of soccer. He longed to create an environment that was playful, developmentally appropriate, skill-enhancing, and fun. He was tired of interacting with coaches who used anger, threats, intimidation, and scare tactics. He familiarized himself with a model that emphasized individual player development, and with a four year old ready to play, he created the Newton Soccer Academy at the park next to our house. When we left this past Spring this organization joined with others interested in soccer in the creation of Newton United

When we decided to move to Bogota. Aaron asked around to see what was available in terms of a similar approach to soccer development. There are lots of programs in Bogota, including professional team trainings, but we our friends Oscar and Lilianna, and our friend Becky recommended a program offered by Compensar. Compensar is a federally-subsidized recreation center, which offers many opportunities for youth sports, but has a strong reputation for it's soccer school.

Lydia and Andy are both signed up for a year-round program in skill development. The cost of the classes are based on income, so it is quite affordable for our family, costing about $25 per month for both of them to participate. Each month has a different emphasis, with instruction in formation, forms of movement, driving/offense, passing, shooting, heading, ball control, principles of the game, and the integration of fundamental techniques.

Most of the coaches in this program have been professional players at some point in their lives. All of them have completed an extensive youth development training. They are kind, encouraging, yet have very high standards for their players, and want them to be overall good athletes, developing their overall coordination and stamina. At the end of each month, there is a fun tournament and "festival" for parents to witness how they have grown.
Most of the practices include interactive games, much like Aaron used in the Newton Soccer Academy. The kids get a rigorous workout, and enjoy the fun activities with new friends. (And they are doing all this completely in Spanish). At this point, Aaron is grateful to have "sideline time," as he has been their primary coach for their entire lives.

At this point, Abby is more interested in jump-roping on the sidelines, but she thinks she might want to try a class soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Our children have a whole slew of friends in Newton whom they miss terribly. How precious indeed that they were able to have two sleepovers recently. It was a tremendous gift to listen to them laugh, tell stories, jokes, and be goofy together with friends who could understand them completely.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

4th grade basketball champions

Jr High

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Above the plains and prairie
Through the woodlands and hill country
Across the depths of water's body
Undeterred by storm or winds' ravaging,
The birds of migration press on.
Seasons end, time shifts, landscapes ebb and flow
like memories.
But, life, oh that persistent life to endure,
to return, lives on eternally
For as long as the beat of heart soars on the wings of hope.

Dan Grotewohl

Laughter shall drown the rauccous shout;
And though these shelt'ring walls are thin,
May they be strong to keep hate out.
And hold love in.

Lois Untermeyer, "Prayer For This House"


Turn Around