The past two months have been ones of transitions and new relationships: new relationships with MCC, with the Seed team, and with Colombia. Transitioning for me has been between life in Chicago and Puerto Rico to time in Bolivia and a new beginning in Bogotá.
We began our orientation at the Mennonite Central Committee country office in Santa Cruz, Bolivia where we met several key administrators of MCC who presented the vision, mission, models, and norms of the organization to our group. Beginning a new relationship with MCC and learning how we fit into the larger global vision of building peace and working for justice has been humbling. Having admired Mennonite Central Committee from afar for several years and now forming a part of that team, I’ve been realizing the ways in which many of my beliefs and values line up with this organization as well as detecting some differences in thoughts and beliefs that I hold.
Building a relationship with our Seed group has been a blessing and a stretching experience. Some of the positive experiences of our diverse ten-person group have been in sharing cultural foods and practices as well as histories and ways of understanding the world. Being a part of a group of ten has allowed us to care for each other socially and emotionally without being spread too thin. It has meant having an automatic group of friends and automatically belonging to a community. Some of the challenges of being in relationship with our diverse group have included: having very different postures on gender roles and the ways we interact with each other, different needs in terms of personal space and time alone vs. sharing as a group, differences in personalities, limits and preferences, and different ideas on how to act in response to the privilege and inequality that exists within our group due to our diversity in backgrounds, education, socio-economic status, and opportunities. These two months together have been a blessing, an adventure in getting to know our team and facilitators, and have also challenged me in the areas of conflict that we have experienced. Being a part of a diverse community has also helped me in some areas to sort out my individuality while maintaining a sense of belonging to the group.
Beginning a relationship with Colombia has been for me a process of transition, of both loss and new connections. Coming off of three years of living between Puerto Rico and Chicago, starting anew in Colombia has meant saying goodbye to life in San Juan. Moments of new beginnings, connections and joy in Colombia have been accompanied by moments of grief, confusion and comparison to life in Río Piedras, San Juan. The colloquial language is different. No longer do I take the guagua, drink café con leche, llamar pa’ atras, eat tostones or exclaim “brutal!”; I now take the Transmilenio or busetas, drink perico o tinto, devuelvo llamadas, eat patacones and exclaim “bacano!” Well, when I can remember to change my lexicon, that is. This video explains how I feel about navigating the differences in Spanish between different countries:
My relationship with the land and the city has changed. Instead of going to the beach to cool off from the sweltering heat and connect with nature, I can hike the mountain of Monserrate to warm up from Bogotá’s often chilly climate. Rather than visit Old San Juan and El Morro, I can visit La Candelaria and La Plaza de Simón Bolívar.
The language used to talk about various social, political and economic issues in this country is softer than what I am used to. For the moment, we have been talking about building peace from an Anabaptist perspective; whereas in my communities in Río Piedras, the language has been centered more on the social and spiritual necessity of strengthening the spirit of resistance and struggle in Puerto Rico. We have learned about the damaging effects of the United States’ policies in Colombia over the past decades, as well as the exploitation of the land and natural resources by various trans- and multi-national companies. The problem of neoliberalism is worldwide and its effects manifest in society in complex ways. Understanding how neoliberalism, U.S. policies in Colombia, and colonialism manifest in this country is a process I feel that we are just beginning. I am still trying to make connections between Puerto Rico’s colonial status and struggles and the similarities and differences in the macro forces at play in Colombia.
Other differences in the language and ways of thinking include understanding the different models of international development and that the Seed program’s goal is to function whenever possible based on a model of liberation. This is in contrast to ideas and discussion in Latin American ideologies that have taught me to question the idea of development to begin with. Are the countries that are considered by the dominant perspective to be underdeveloped actually underdeveloped or just different? The idea of international development in and of itself often carries with it a type of ethno-centrism that interprets different ways of living and being as inferior and in need of transformation in order to be more like our ways of living and being. The differences in the ways of thinking and language used between MCC and the communities I was a part of in Puerto Rico have caused me to reflect at times. I am encouraged that the Seed program encourages us to work from a model of liberation, human development, and supporting work and projects that are already functioning in Colombian communities and the Colombian Mennonite churches.
For me, the transition from Puerto Rico and Chicago to working with MCC in Colombia has brought with it loss of relationships and life in San Juan, but it has also brought with it new relationships and beginnings with MCC, the Seed team, and Colombia. In Puerto Rico I was able to observe the ways in which God worked in the church and in the people as they individually and collectively resisted colonization, neoliberalism, structural inequality, and oppression against women and the LGBTQ populations. I feel excited, nervous, and cautious as we now begin to join in the work that the people and church of Colombia are allowing us to enter into with them. I pray for greater understanding of the larger forces at play, wisdom for how to best respond, and a deepening relationship with and love for Colombia.