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"


  1. Thank you! This is wonderful.

  2. i'm not sure why, but this post makes me close to weeping.

    it's beautiful.

    and i really want to have coffee with bubble gum flavored soda in it.

    and fried cheese.

  3. no, no, no the coffee was only with sugar. The warm bubble gum flavored soda was a separate drink. Oops. You could try it anyway, I suppose...

  4. I thought the bubble gum soda was in the coffee, too, but it did not sound appealing to me!

  5. Jen, I am soooo impressed. You rock!