Living in Chocó is a constant exchange. I am continually observing and negotiating new practices, ways of thinking, and cultural norms while sharing myself with those around me. Here are three snapshots of these exchanges in my daily life.
Before arriving in Colombia, I had never really made juice or considered it to be a part of daily life. Aside from some breakfast OJ, adults in the U.S. generally do not consume juice on a regular basis; in Colombia, however, natural, homemade juice is an essential part of the lunchtime ritual. I had little clue of how to eat fruits such as sour guava, passion fruit, and tree tomato, much less how to transform them with the whirl of my blender into tasty juices. I seized the opportunity of working in an office with many experienced juice-makers by bringing in a new fruit each week, along with sugar and purified water. Each co-worker took a turn being my teacher, and then I would share the juice with everyone who happened to be around, including the construction workers who were renovating downstairs, sheepishly offering them a glass and explaining that it was my first attempt.
Overall, my juices have received mixed reviews. Though generally positive and gentle in their comments, my co-workers have also commented that the juice was “so sour it would give me a heart attack” or that it “was lacking a pinch of salt.”
Through this exchange, I have learned much more than how to make juice, and as a bonus, we can now enjoy natural juices at home.
I have always said that I would be a terrible waitress, given my propensity for clumsy accidents and stress around groups of people crammed into a given room. I have recently had the opportunity to try on the role, however, by helping out my Tia Lila on occasion. Lila has a small restaurant around the corner that serves up delicious plates of fish, beef, chicken, or pork, accompanied by soup, rice, plantains, lentils, beans, and salads, and of course, natural juice. We have become regulars there and enjoy chatting with her about life while dining on Chocoano cuisine.
Sometimes when we arrive in the middle of a busy spell at the restaurant, I’ll offer to help out by serving juices and delivering plates to tables. It is an interesting social experiment. Diners generally give me looks of bewilderment, wondering what this redheaded waitress is all about, but are generally too polite to verbalize their confusion and instead will ask me to bring some salt and more limes.
The exchange of waitressing at Lila’s restaurant helps me to experience life in the community in a simple way and serve others in a place where many times I am being served.
This year, Giles and I decided to hold Thanksgiving dinner at our house. After inviting over two families and planning days in advance how to make all the necessary dishes using our tiny oven, we managed to turn out a turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry salad, green beans, and pumpkin pie. We also practiced with our guests the tradition of sharing what we were thankful for in the past year and explained the national customs of watching the parade and football.
I often feel embarrassed about aspects of my U.S. identity. My country’s policies in Colombia have directly contributed to farmer’s legitimate crops being aerially fumigated in Chocó; U.S. mining corporations have done serious damage to local communities and to the environment; and the culture of overconsumption and big houses and cars often shames me in light of so many people lacking resources for the basic necessities in life. A U.S. identity, however, is not a single narrative, and being able to host Thanksgiving was an exchange that allowed me to share other life giving aspects of the culture given me.