Saturday, July 24, 2010

Celebrating one year in Colombia

We are pilgrims on a journey; we are travelers on the road. We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Our family enjoyed time together during the last "Festivo" attending Alimentarte, which is a festival of restaurants in Bogota. We spent a lot of time and our own money enjoying the various International Tastes of the city and really cool free activities for children. We came home full of good food and happiness.

When I asked this man for a picture, I could not remember the name for this large utensil, so I simple asked if I could please take a picture of his gigantic "thing," which resulted in the tremendous giggling of all his co-workers.

A time to work

For the last three days, Justapaz has been working together as a team on their biannual planning and evaluation.

Each year, our organization has two periods of planning and evaluation time, two periods of workshop/inservice time, two retreats, and monthly team meetings. Needless-to-say, there are a lot of meetings. In many ways, I have appreciated this time. It is good to connect with others in the office, get to know their projects and how the align with other organizational goals, get a sense of the "big picture," and visit over some good snack and lunches together.

I am also astounded at the amount of paperwork and drawn-out processing that occurs within the organization. I am reminded of my days working in special education, with hours and hours and pages and pages spent detailing specific goals, objectives, responsibilities, timelines, etc. Only for us, this happens multiple times a year, involves more people, and much more written paperwork. For example, in our last workshop together there were 85 pages of written notes. The words spoken in our two days together were recorded almost verbatim.

And while there is an amazing amount of time spent detailing "planes de trabajo," there is also a good deal of time spent in sharing feelings, opinions, and time together in prayer.

My Colombian colleagues are very thorough. Emails are never just one sentence long. They usually have a formal style and are lengthy and descriptive. Salutations and goodbyes are usually mini-speeches, with long, detailed analysis and justifications for opinions. They are hard working. According to a 2006 report by the International Labor Organization, Colombians work harder than any other country after South Korea.* Saturday is even considered a work day. They are highly convicted, devoted, faith-driven people, who are committed to working for justice in the name of Christ. And, they continue to teach me things about the work world that I have never known before. For that, I am grateful.

*Statistic is from "A Gringa in Bogota: Living Colombia's Invisible War."

Monday, July 19, 2010


Here in Colombia, there are sub-cultural assumptions and stereotypes people make about different regions. I like to call them "Regional-isms." In some ways this is a global phenomenon. It is perfectly natural to identify ways in which we are similar and different from others. For example, some of my friends in the east coast think I lived on land in Kansas surrounded by cowboys and cattle. Here, these differences seem more exaggerated, and emphasized in many parts of society. I think that some of this comes from the old-fashioned notion of Haciendas, where "your people" and "their people" are separated in work, in daily activities, and in property/region. It also stems from the strain of clasism, war, and racism due to colonialism, which created all kinds of different groups of people vying for rights to land, wealth, and property. Our good friends believe there are geographical factors that contribute to these divisions, such as the mountainous terrain, and other natural, physical divisions between areas of Colombia.

I have found that here it is much more common and less "taboo" to throw out these assumptions and even stereotypes about people. Or, perhaps they are just more noticeable to an "extranjero" where the locals have just internalized and normalized them. One of our family's favorite telenovela shows depicts characters from some of these categories in an over-inflated and humorous way.

The following is a collection of the most common stereotypes we have heard. I must say that these come from our conversations with Colombians, who are admittedly biased based on their own background/region. Colombians are fiercely proud of "their land" and openly admit their pride and bias when discussing other parts of Colombia. Most of the information I am sharing comes from the perspective of people in Bogota. Please understand that these are not based in any kind of scientific research, and they are not meant to offend anyone from any particular region of Colombia. I only want to share them because of their colorful description of yet another layer of diversity in this beautiful country of Colombia. I would be very pleased to receive revisions/additions to these understandings. There is always more to learn.

In Boyaca, there tends to be cooler weather. It is made up of small farms, producing potatoes, panela, and other cool weather crops. Campesinos there wear the virgin wool "ruanas", or panchos. They are considered more closed, and in this region trust and loyalty is extremely important. In fact, they can be known to be aggressive, in defense of an amigo or family member. They are generally hard working, and because of this it is sometimes assumed that they are dirty. They drink beer as if it were water, during any time of the day, at any age. They often us formal language.

Paisas: Paisas come from the region of Medellin, Antioquia, and the coffee region of Colombia. They generally have very large families, and tend to be a closed community. They eat large meals (origin of the Bandeja Paisa), are the most indirect in a conflict, and are very good at selling things. They are considered hard working, tight with their money, and very proud of their accomplishments.

Santenderanos: In this region of Colombia, people are extremely open and direct, so much that people are scared to confront them. The women are very direct and "strong-talking." The people here are extremely animated and humorous.

Costenos: Costenos are from a very hot climate. They are known for wearing revealing clothing, being highly sexual, and enjoying nightlife and parties. They also are very warm and friendly, and quick to trust, but especially welcome other Costenos (it is hard to be trusted and be an "outsider.") The men tend to have one wife, but many lovers, and whiskey is the "normal" drink of choice, at any time of the day. They are considered very open, lazy (sleepy) and friendly. They have a laid back attitude, and there are no traffic rules. They are "pushy" and sometimes offensive.

Indios are largely indigenous people, who have amazing artisan creativity, are separated from the "civilized" parts of the country, and stay to themselves. Conflicts are handled in a very indirect way. They are considered uneducated, and people consider them "child-like" and take pity on them. There is an assumption that they cannot function in society, even though some groups have beautiful and productive communities largely untouched by outsiders. They live in small groups and enjoy a simple life.

Chocuanos: The population in Choco is almost completely Afro-Colombian. There are a lot of connections to African cultural norms and music. They are sometimes considered lazy and unorganized. They are known for various herbal and spiritual remedies for illnesses. They are warm, very loud, friendly, and embracing.

Cachacos come from the Bogota area. They are very polite, careful, and use formal manners. They tend to be more distant and it is harder to get to know them. They are organized and sometimes uptight. They are generally well educated. They can be considered cold and unkind, snobby and dangerous.

Llanos is the plains region of Colombia where the true Colombian Cowboy lives. They have a strong personality, are hardworking, timid with new people, and they tend to have large, sprawling farms, so they do not know their neighbors. They keep to themselves.


Saturday, July 10, 2010


I have always had very sensitive ears. I can find pitches very easily, whether it be for the purposes of harmony or unity. I am quick to notice in a performance, casual or formal when there is a problem with intonation. I do not like it when the radio is playing and the television is on, even in another room, and it is very difficult for me when there is music playing (especially with words) along with a lively conversation in which I am engaged. I find myself physically irritated when in a small space, like an elevator or hallway and there is loud background music. When I have memories, they are almost always associated with sound, good and bad. I often attribute "theme songs" to certain periods of my life, almost like an audio scrapbook. I know my brother and sisters do this too.

When I was a child, my parents raised me in their version of a faith-based hippie commune called "Quaker Earth" and in Bluffton, Ohio, a small town of about 3000 people. Quaker Earth was a beautiful natural refuge, on the northern part of Appalachia, with nothing but the sounds of the running ravine, birds, dogs, music, children playing make-believe, and grown ups having deep and meaningful conversations. In Bluffton, I remember the distant hum of Highway 75, the band practicing at Bluffton College, and neighbors talking (yes, you could hear your neighbors). When I was an adult, I moved to Newton, Kansas, where I was embraced by the sounds of the train coming through town, the Mennonite church bells ringing familiar hymns twice a day, cicadas, and the occasional college track meet.

For the most part, I have been audibly protected from the sounds of city traffic, sirens, car alarms, low-flying helicopters and airplanes, loud booms that resemble gunshots, or large-scale construction. Until now.

As much as sound has affected me aesthetically, it has also affected me spiritually. During my formative years, I participated in Friends Meeting with my parents. While our meeting unconventionally opened the time for worship with some singing together, the rest of the Meeting for Worship was spent in silent meditation. So, as a very young child I learned the importance and the comfort of complete silence. And that is where I found the most significant and compelling connection to God. So much, in fact, that I recently spent a good amount of time working with two spiritual companions, learning how to pray with words.

There are so many things I am learning about Colombia, about myself, and about being culturally aware. Colombia, as I know it thus far, is not quiet. There is, of course the "urban music" mentioned previously, but I would also argue that there is a cultural value here on loudness, unlike anything I have experienced thus far.

This is manifested in loud church services (an MCC friend of mine even confessed to turning down the amplifier at church when she went), loud birthday parties, loud meetings, loud music in restaurants, coffee shops, stores, loud(er) amplification at concerts, parks, etc. It is simply loud here.

This has provided general discomfort in most public situations, but it has most profoundly disrupted my ability to feel connected to a community of faith. It is not uncommon for my children to be covering their ears during the singing part of church. The music is louder than most concerts I have been to, so much so it is difficult to even hear your neighbor say something to you, even when they are yelling. Another cultural norm is that while one person is praying aloud into a microphone, many others around you are also praying aloud their own petitions and reinforcements on top the the first. At first I found this to be a pleasant, prayer-rumble of sound, but that was before I understood any Spanish. Now that I can actually understand what the lead prayer is saying, I find it audibly dizzying, at the least.

So, not unlike many of the difficult times I have had this year, I have to ask...what is the purpose of this for me? What is the lesson? Is there something about me that can be stretched by embracing the loudness around me? Is it meant to make me value the silence more?

Meanwhile, I listen. I try to understand the sounds around me, the volume that is in some way so important to my Colombian neighbors. Maybe this is just the soundtrack of the times that is meant to be part of my life here. And while it is so deeply uncomfortable, it is also unavoidable. I will continue to pray in silence and in whispers, not because I feel like that way is better than the rest, but because it feeds my spirit in the fullest way, and brings a peace that is otherwise so very hard to find.

Monday, July 5, 2010


today we were all eating supper. the whole time there were funny things going on. but the funniest part was when my dad said...

"all the dishes are i mean like all of them... ya know the stuff you put food on..."

Saturday, July 3, 2010


"Let your faces be more radiant with hope and heavenly determination to serve the Cause of God, to spread the pure fragrances of the divine rose garden of unity, to awaken spiritual susceptibilities in the hearts of humankind, to kindle anew the spirit of humanity with divine fires and to reflect the glory of heaven to this gloomy world of materialism. When you possess these divine susceptibilities, you will be able to awaken and develop them in others." - Abdu'l-Baha"