When I first came into Colombia, the warm breeze of the people’s smiles at the airport gave me comfort and a sense of welcoming. The graffiti on the street walls rolled out a grand red carpet welcoming me into Bogotá; the creativity was fascinating. Most of the images had messages of peace, and one could not resist the enticing beauty of the art. Though I wasn’t able to join the rest of the Seed group in Bolivia, I had the privilege of getting a head-start orientation of Bogotá.
Felipe, a friend from the nearby town of Cachipay, invited me to go on a tour of the birth-ground of the Mennonite Church in Colombia. The vestiges of the first orphanage and the beautiful, antique church were still there at the mission grounds in Cachipay. The breathtaking scenes of the countryside and aroma of the flours were refreshing, but that was nothing compared to the kindness of the community. Despite the language barrier – and with the assistance of my pocket dictionary, Google translate, and Felipe – we were able to have various conversations. They had so much interest in Africa and were inquisitive, so I tried to answer all the questions about Africa, but I seemed not to be able to quench the thirst of the curiosity of the children and elders. They had all kinds of questions about politics, religion, philosophy, African animals, weather, and so much more.
The following week, I finally got to meet the rest of the Seed group, and together we went through an intense eight-week orientation. Though I had visited a couple of communities, and spent time with MCC staff members, I still had much more to learn about the Colombian culture and history. During the eight weeks, I discovered new things about myself and about Colombia.
What I discovered about myself….
During the eight weeks, I discovered my favorite fruit. I can hereby justify it as my first real obsession. Initially, Felipe introduced me to maracuyá, or passionfruit; later on, I found myself trying yogurts, juice, ice cream, sweets, sherbets, cereal and cake in that fruit flavor. Recently, I discovered that there is a passionfruit showering gel, but I doubt if my obsession has reached that level. Colombia has over a hundred different types of fruit, so maybe I am yet to discover another favorite.
One of my favorite orientation sessions was with Tere, an MCC service worker from Cali. She intentionally designed her three-day session to help us understand how the body and our senses function. The theatrical gestures and philosophy of popular education were really intriguing. I became aware of how much my own cultural background had influence over my decisions and subconscious behavior. The concept of popular education was fairly new to me, and through Tere, I have a new definition of education that allows common people to define what education is and how this could be used to construct feasible peace and development.
What I leaned about Colombia…
Before I came to Colombia, I had no Idea that fútbol (soccer) was really important and popular in the country. One would think of it as an obvious fact, but I had no idea. Our orientation happened to be commencing simultaneously with the Colombian national team’s qualifying match for the FIFA World Cup tournament. The game stirred so many emotions, united people, and the national team didn’t disappoint – they qualified for the 2014 World Cup.
During one of the sessions, we received a history lecture from the director of CEPALC (Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación). The history of Colombia is long and so much has to be understood in order to comprehend the current problems in the country. The cultural and racial diversity is widespread. Colombia has different ethnicities: Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples, mestizos, and Colombians of European descent.
Additionally, I also had not imagined Colombia as having places that were safe. Yet I felt safe and could go almost anywhere in Bogotá without having to worry much. Sadly my views of the country had obviously been cloaked by media renditions.
Finally, the most important part of orientation was getting to know the MCC team and the rest of the Seeders. Although we are all from different backgrounds and countries, we grew to know each other and became a family with similar values. We helped prepare each other for the oncoming two-year journey. The farewells at the end of the orientation as we parted to our communities were really emotional and heartfelt. When we arrived in Bogotá in October, we were mere partners, but at the end of orientation, we left as brothers and sisters. I am glad I am part of the Seed family and Colombia.