Friday, October 1, 2010
Delegation from Bluffton University
One highlight of my year was a trip with the delegation from Bluffton University to visit the Atlantic coast in Colombia. My dear friend and mentor from Mexico, Professor Paul Neufeld Weaver was leading the trip. Paul co-coordinated the study abroad program that I participated in as a college student. He lived in Mexico when his children were also young and learning Spanish. He witnessed me struggle with Spanish, fall in love with Aaron, and begin to understand global poverty and injustice. Bluffton University is in my home town, only a few short blocks from my parent's home where I lived for my entire childhood. When a friend asked my why this trip touched me so profoundly, this list started brewing in my mind, and it was not until recently that I could completely formulate what I wanted to say.
1. For months, I have been reading about cases of human rights violations, horrific stories of daily realities from people living in rural areas, many of which were close to the ones we visited. I have listened to displaced people describe their homes in this regions with longing and love. Reading about and listening to stories like this finally came alive for me once I was out of the city and in the environment where those stories came to being. The level of individual and communal trauma is incredibly pervasive in these places, but so is the commitment to justice and a better life. Emotions are REAL and RAW, and that is a place that I am drawn to. There was even a murder of a pastor in a neighboring city the night before we arrived, which was sobering and yet, made it all even more real for me. I was filled with respect for the people I now know who work in these situations on a daily basis, risking their lives for peace.
2. The beautiful, lush, green pastures of Sucre and Cordoba reminded me of home. We rolled through areas that looked just like the Flint Hills and some areas of Ohio, though with slightly different trees. There were fields of cattle and beautiful wildlife. Being back in a rural environment, far away from city noise and smells and distractions soothed me in a profound way.
3. It was the first time in our service term that I was traveling independently. I mean, I was not packing for children, worrying about their happiness and stability and how I was going to protect them and keep them entertained. Don't get me wrong, I love my children, but it was such a lovely break to leave with one toothbrush and not have to be in charge of anyone else.
4. I love college students. I miss college students. This is such an incredible time of questioning, analysis, new understandings, ripe conversations. For many of these students, this was their first direct experience understanding poverty or another culture. I know I witnessed life-changing conversations and experiences for them. This is sacred space. I know because I have been there.
5. For any young adults out there, I highly recommend the MCC program SEED. It is a two year intercultural program that combines service with intentional educational programming about global issues and international development. There is a SEED program in Colombia and they are routinely getting together, reading interesting political and cultural literature, listening to experts and each other, understanding Colombia on a deeper level. For those of us on regular, three year terms, we do not get the same kind of opportunities for intensive discourse and debate about socio-political and cultural factors. What we get, we pursue on our own. The ability to participate in conversations about Colombia with this delegation helped frame my broader understandings about what I am doing here.
6. No cooking, and no decisions about food. Again, I love to cook, but having some time where I was not in charge of food freed my mind and spirit to engage more in the realities around me.
7. Spirit of generosity and love. The little villages in the campo were filled with people who were very happy and patient with hosting so many foreigners. They fed us well, mostly food that came directly from their farms. They demonstrated with pride the way they grow the food, prepare it, cook it, and shared it with all of us. This happened even in situations where they did not have much of their own to eat. And we ate with gratitude whatever they had to offer.
8. Being outdoors. I was able to take a shower outside in the pouring rain. It was probably the most refreshing shower I have ever had. I was also able to sleep outdoors in a hammock, which was probably the best sleep I have had during my entire time in Colombia. We took some nice, slow, long walks in the countryside, visiting farms and talking with people. I felt my stress melt away.
9. Food. There are some different foods in the coastal regions of Colombia. I enjoyed locally made suero, which is a sour creamy-yogurt topping they eat with all kinds of foods. We also ate home-made cheeses, ñame, yucca, new fruits, plaintains in many forms, new kinds of arepas, fried fish, veggie slaws and black beans. There was definitely an African influence on many of these flavors.
10. Coming home. Sometimes, to appreciate your home and your family you just need a few days away. I was so happy to come home to a settled and happy family...which included Neil and Elizabeth, who were kindly helping us "sort-of-babysit" while Aaron was at a workshop.
Posted by Jennifer Chappell Deckert at 11:32 AM