Monday, August 29, 2011

School for Peace: Sahagún

Aaron has been working with the School for Peace now for 2 years. Primarily, this time has been spent with a group of devoted church leaders in the Carribean Coastal Region. Most of these folks do this training program on the weekends without extra pay, missing work or family obligations, and sometimes increasing their risk of being directly affected by political violence. But they do it because they are profoundly committed to furthering their understanding, training, and their work for a more peaceful reality in their regions.

The coordinator of this region asked if I would be willing to facilitate a class for them on "Healthy Groups." I agreed, and spent a considerable time planning for the weekend. This was my first course in Spanish. I know that it seems that was "why I was supposed to come" but for a variety of reasons, it has taken me a good amount of time to be ready for this kind of challenge. Since Aaron knows this group and had other work to do with them, I asked him to come along and help.

So for the weekend, this was my classroom.

Working with Aaron was interesting. After almost 18 years of marriage, I am very aware that we have different styles of approaching something like this. I had everything completely planned out, printed out, and practiced. I had extra materials of every kind, just in case, and every 5 minutes was accounted for in detail, including transitions and breaks. I laughed when we were setting up for the class and Aaron turned to me and said "Um, did you bring a pen?"

What Aaron had that I did not was charisma. He was charming and comfortable with this group. He was an enthusiastic, spontaneous, playful, and very competent facilitator, and these elements were definitely needed in order to complement my structure.

Immediately when we got off the plane, we were struck with the relaxed, friendly, and familiar part of this region that we miss so much of in the city. There was fresh air, beautiful green pastures with cattle grazing, someone selling eggplant at the airport, and an environment that just says "Let's relax, take our time, and have a conversation together." Pastor Manual picked us up at the airport and instead of rushing off to start the course, we sat and had drinks together in a shady tienda outside of the airport. Needless to say, this meant that we started class two hours late, but I "had planned for that" and knew to be flexible.

Pastor Manual is a very kind pastor, who literal does everything for this church, including cleaning and giving people rides on his moto. The church is small, and has been in existence for six years. The town of Sahagun is small and poor, but full of friendly, kind, and generous people. The church itself is situated near a "complicated" area of town where they have experienced paramilitary activity, problems with drug addiction, and prostitution. The only reason you would know that explicitly is that people would only whisper certain words, or not even say them out loud (injustice, paramilitary, political violence, displacement).

It was HOT. The air was still. We would work for several hours in class and then the nice kitchen helpers would bring around HOT coffee that was thick with sugar or warm bubble-gum flavored soda. For one day, the participants were so excited because we were having soup for lunch with ñame, rice, and suero (yummy fermented yogurt/cream). It was delicious, but very, very hot. We took full advantage of the short breaks we had.

Other food for the weekend included "Cat heads" which is a chunky, platano concoction with salty Costeño cheese and suero and "Fingers" which was fried cheese in a crusty pie dough for breakfast. These kind women volunteered to cook for us all weekend, and the food was very modest, but delicious.

Aaron and I stayed in the house of one of the church members. After the first day, we were transported there on two separate motorcycles. This is the main form of transportation there, and of course there are no helmets and very little road rules about riding. Children there start driving them when they are eight years old. It was my first ride on a motorcycle in the dark with a stranger. But the breeze was welcomed, and it was lovely to ride through the town and see people sitting on the sidewalks and porches visiting together. In Bogota, this is the time of night people generally return into their households and here in this small community, it was the time that people came out. It reminded me of cool summer evenings in Kansas, which aren't really cool, but just a little less heat and a little more tolerable.

This was our alarm clock.

And this was the view outside our bedroom window.

On our last day, there was a downpour of rain. It brought fresh energy, and during the downpour, two different groups (at the church) burst into singing spontaneously as loud as possible: the women in the kitchen and the youth who were out sweeping the new gathering space. They sang the Spanish version of "How Great Thou Art."

The folks in this class immediately became friends. From ages 13 to 70, they were so patient with me. When I stumbled on finding the right word, there was a chorus of suggestions from them. They were responsive to the content and had all prepared for their homework assignments. We shared a healthy amount of meaningful conversations, laughter, new understandings, and enthusiasm. I felt so much less pressure talking to them than I do talking with people in the office at Bogota.

The structure where we taught the class had just been constructed. It was so new, there was no electricity. We worked until it was too dark to work. It was so new, we had to take off our shoes to enter the classroom....yet another symbol to us that this work is sacred.

I am so grateful for so much this weekend:

-the freshness of a cold showers
-the feeling of being welcomed wholeheartedly
-the feeling that I had something worthwhile to offer this community
-the ability to be creative in conversation
-the release from city noise and be able to listen with sincerity
-the inspiration of so many people who live with so much less than I do

Saturday night the church hosted a community concert and worship service. We sat outside and listened to praise music performed by the young people in the congregation, and the prayers of another pastor to "papacito lindo Dios." We were exhausted from the day, but we could relax, enjoy icey cold panela water with lime, and celebrate with this congregation. One of the songs they sang spoke so clearly to us in the moment:

"El Espíritu de Dios esta en este lugar
El Espíritu de Dios se mueve en este lugar
Esta aquí para consolar
Esta aquí para liberar
Esta aquí para guiar
El Espíritu de Dios esta aquí"

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And their off!

In June, our team grew by 10 members who came to participate in MCC's SEED program. For three months they were in Bogota with us, and just this week they started to disperse to different regions of Colombia where they will be living, studying, and working. We had a final goodbye picnic to send them off. (Notice the SEED wanna-be who jumped in the back of the photo). How cool to have such fresh energy and enthusiastic young people back on our team!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Let's go fly a kite!

I will always think of August in Bogota when I see a kite flying.

This year we celebrated the Assumption of Mary Festivo by going to the largest park in the city, Simon Bolivar. We were there with one million others (literally) flying kites, enjoying tasty park treats like cotton candy and roasted corn, and having a good time together.

Aaron and Lydia get tired of me snapping photos of them. Hmmm.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Because someone asked today...

5:00 AM Get up, find clothes for the kids, make them tea and something to eat, review and sign paperwork/homework to be sent to school

5:30 AM Take puppy to the park for a hard run, as it is likely the only exercise she or I will have that day

6:00 AM try to spend a little time connecting with my husband and a cup of coffee

6:30 AM wash dishes, fold and start laundry, take out trash or pick up the house, take a shower

7:00 AM wake up other kid, get breakfast, clothes, backpack again.

7:45 AM leave for work; commute takes between 60-90 minutes; sleep, study, or read on the way

9:00 AM start work: sometimes there are long interviews or meetings with victims, sometimes there is research to be done, sometimes preparation for a class or presentation somewhere

Eat lunch at my desk, keep working.

If possible, make dr appointments, call teachers/bus monitors/parents of friends to arrange playdates and projects. Leave work in order to make dr appointments, meet with teachers, and get all supplies necessary for projects.

4:00 PM leave work; commute home 60-90; spend time in commute thinking about how facilitate happiness and good cheer in our house.

5:15 PM: arrive home, sometimes run to the store to get some groceries or pay bills, help with homework, prepare supper, work on laundry, house chores, violin and piano practice, school meetings, transporting to swim practice, basketball, soccer, gymnastics; take the dog out again.

7:00 PM eat with family, continue with homework, laundry, house chores

8:00 PM put kids to bed: make sure snacks and clothes are organized for the next day, therapy for them about homesickness, school, social issues, fears; coach them into making it work; reading to the kids, cuddling with the kids.

9:00 PM more house clean-up, dishes, laundry, finding socks that will work; check work email and finish details from the day that did not get done; extra reading and maybe a comedy show with Aaron

10:00 PM sleep

Next day: do it all over again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Point of View

"From the point of view of the owl, the bat, the bohemian, and the thief, sunset is time for breakfast.

Rain is bad news for tourists and good news for farmers.

From the point of view of the natives, it's the tourists who are picturesque.

From the point of view of the Indians of the Carribbean islands, Christopher Colombus, with his plumed cap and red velvet cape, was the biggest parrot they had ever seen.

From the point of view of the South, summer in the North is winter.

From the point of view of a worm, a plate of spaghetti is an orgy.

Where Hindus see a sacred cow, others see an enormous hamburger.

From the point of view of Hippocrates, Galen, Maimonides, and Paracelsus, there was a disease called indigestion but none called hunger.

From the point of view of his neighbors in the town of Cadona, Toto Zaugg, who wore the same clothes in the summer and winter, was an admirable man. "Toto's never cold," they said.

He said nothing. He was cold, but had no coat.

From the point of view of statistics, if a person earns a thousand dollars and another earns nothing, each of them appears to earn five hundred dollars when one calculates per capita income.

From the point of view of the struggle against inflation, adjustment policies are a good remedy. From the point of view of those who suffer such policies, they spread cholera, typhus, tuberculosis, and other damnations."

Eduardo Galeano

I was with my Spanish tutor yesterday preparing for a presentation and she said to me "Don't use the word individuals. It sounds so cold, stale, and impersonal. Use the word persons instead. Needless to say, I had used that word a lot. To me, it signified uniqueness, specialness, and distinct-ness from others.

When we came here, we thought we would be joining a welcoming, warm, community of people who would become our friends. After all, northerners are more "cold" than southerners, right? Besides the one family we have really connected with, we have never received any invitations from any of our Colombian work colleagues or friends to come to their houses. Our country representative told us, "Don't expect to be invited over to people's houses...they don't really initiate that kind of interaction." But we did anyway. And some times, that feels so very lonely, coming from a tight-knit, Mennonite community where the norm on a weekend was to eat with friends.

When we allow the kids to play outside with chalk art, water, skateboards, and balls, we see it as nurturing creative play, fostering relationships with other kids, and giving them fresh air. Our neighbors see it as irresponsible, dangerous to the children (if they get cold, they will be sick...thus bad parenting), insensitive to the others in our community (because it might break something or create a mess).

When someone cuts in front of us to get a taxi, we see it as rude and obnoxious. They see it as getting ahead, and getting to work on time.

The PE teacher says that wearing shoes with velcro is dangerous for the chidrens' feet. We see velcro tennies as a quick way to get out the door for school.

We could continue this list forever. I learned early in my mediation training to recognize Point of View and understand it well. Living in this setting has given us a different kind of challenge as we learn to understand our place as strangers.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bogota es Futbol

The thrill of soccer is in the air here in Colombia. Colombia is hosting the under-20 World Cup in 8 cities across the country.

We were grateful to get tickets to a game. When we bought them, we did not know that we would get to see Colombia, but as it turns out, we did (almost all of us).

At the last minute, Abby had a fever, so I stayed home with her and we shared out tickets with our friends, Juan and Juan Diego.

It was a thrill.

Below is a video clip that Lydia took at the game, where you can hear one of the goals. I think it expresses some of the energy of the game.

Liceo Boston, round 3

My children are growing.




Note: See how dark it is outside? They leave for school now at 5:40 AM!

Weekend vacation: Melgar

Our family wanted to get away for a long weekend. We decided to make our very own "summer reading program." We counted all the pages we read, with the goal of making it collectively to 4000. And we made it.

It was hard to wait until the end of the summer to get away. Lydia had a visit to the US (blog post pending), but the rest of us were all here doing the same old thing. And I can honestly say that for the last 10 summers we have spent most days in the water. So this felt like a long wait for what we normally get as our summer joy.

We only went a couple hours outside of Bogota to our favorite water park. We enjoyed a day there and then found a ride to the nearby town of Melgar. (Well, we got a partial ride, then we were asked to get out of the car, which was stopped still in traffic around construction and walk a mile into town with all of our things).

We were refreshed by cool water, warm sunshine on our skins, laughter, freedom from toxic exhaust fumes, and loving each other.

Normally at a pool or waterpark, I am lugged down by sunblock, goggles, towels, shoes, snacks, water, and all the other things a Mom is supposed to carry around. For the first time in our family I heard, "Hey, let's put all this stuff in a locker so we can all ride the rides together." So we did. All five of us left everything (even the camera for part of the day) and took off together to an abundance of laughter and thrills. Joy.

We spent the rest of the weekend at a nice hotel sleeping long hours, playing unlimited mini golf, trying out medium-size golf (pitch-n-put), taking afternoon walks, swimming hard, and lounging by the pool.

We recesitated our good friend Lorenzo, enjoyed a slow and stress-free zip-line, and more water slides (like this one that the kids call the MCC slide because of their memory of the Hutchinson MCC sale.)

While we were gone for this lovely weekend away, our Colombian friends and colleagues, Jenny Neme and Ricardo Pinzon lost their own beloved 13 year old daughter to leukemia. When we left, we knew she was sick, but we did not know she had died. They had only learned of her illness one short week before she died. This shocked us all, and felt strange to come home and learn that most of our colleagues had been together over the weekend to honor her life. Another reminder of the fragility we live in every day.