Orientation has been rich in learning. Our sessions have touched on many topics – history, political advocacy, development, safety considerations, peace building, Anabaptism, and land rights, among others. At the same time, we have learned much from each other in our informal, daily interactions – in sharing meals, in dancing, in discussing. We are a diverse group, and we represent many countries, cultures, background experiences, and professions. As I reflect on the past six weeks of learning, I feel full of information and unable to adequately summarize, encapsulate, or synthesize everything.
One experience that continues to occupy my thoughts, however, is theatrical in nature. On Friday, October 25, we attended a performance of Mi Cuerpo Es Mi Casa (My Body Is My House) at the Theatre Jorge Eliecer Gaitán in Bogotá. In the true spirit of Mennonite frugality, the production was free. It included a meshing of video, dance, and song in honor of the over 4.5 million displaced people in Colombia, particularly those who are women. Half of the cast were victims of displacement themselves.
Before the show began, while we were waiting in the increasingly crowded lobby, three female members of the cast sat on a small platform, each holding a large photograph. The photographs were of their sons, all who were victims of the “false positives” scandal. This scandal revolved around a corrupt military scheme: in order to receive monetary rewards for killing guerrillas, the Colombian military killed innocent people and turned their bodies in, falsely reporting them to be guerrillas.
Then the production began. The cast acted out what it was like to be suddenly evicted from their homes and land by armed groups. They acted out what it was like to have their animals and property taken away, their men killed, their women raped – and then to flee to rapidly expanding metropolitan areas, where they are largely marginalized and ignored by the urban culture and government. They sang a song at the end, which included in its chorus: “La vida en un poema, que viva la vida!” (Life is a poem, live life!) They were able to celebrate life in spite of the trauma and their incredible loss. The resilience this demonstrates continues to impact me.
The stories of these Colombians represent an ugly reality, a brutal truth. This is what is happening in our world, and not just in Colombia. As I watched these men and women who in real life have had everything taken away from them, who haven’t received justice, I realized part of why I am here.
“Why are we here?” is a challenge and question we have discussed as a group. I am here, not because I am doing anything heroic or brave, but because if I am not working with and alongside the poor, the powerless, the marginalized – then what am I doing with my life? If I am not using my immense privilege as a white North American to work towards tearing down structures of oppression, then am I not reinforcing them by default?
In our weeks of orientation, we have increased our intellectual understanding of the Colombian context. The task that lies ahead is to live for two years in a slice of that context and get to know and walk beside people who have lived this their entire lives, who will continue to live this after our departure. We may not be able to transform society, heal wounds, or bring justice to our communities; instead, what we will strive to do is to nurture small seeds of transformation, healing, and justice.