When they first told me that I was going to live in Chocó, I cried. All I had heard about Chocó seemed exotic and dangerous – jungle, rain, armed groups, remote communities, mining, mercury contamination. I couldn’t imagine myself living there and thriving.
I was wrong.
I didn’t know that I was going to live in the most interesting place in Colombia. I didn’t know that I would eat delicious food – salty smoked rib stew, fresh sour guava juice, fried fish, and amazing rice. I didn’t know that I would travel by river, surrounded by lush jungle, the breeze in my face. I didn’t know that I would buzz around in three-wheeled tuk-tuks. I didn’t know that when I would open the tap, out of my sink would run rainwater caught off the roof of my house.
I didn’t know that I would be surrounded by some of the kindest people, many of whom have colorful personalities. I didn’t know that I would meet so many people who have lived difficult circumstances – displacement, violence, loss of family and friends – and who continue on living with resilience and vibrancy, who have faced terror and fear and chosen love and life. I didn’t know that I would be interacting with inspirational figures who day to day make mistakes, get sick and feel frustrated. I didn’t know that they would love me, hug me and constantly tell me how fat I’m getting just after scolding me for not eating more rice and plantains.
I didn’t know that although I was entering a territory where there are armed groups, the ultimate power lies in accompaniment and trust, in listening to the people, in faith in God. I didn’t know that I would grow to feel safe here.
I didn’t know that I would observe firsthand the effects of my country’s policies in Colombia. I didn’t know that I would see how my tax dollars are linked to the violation of human rights, and that I would get to know those persons whose rights we are violating. I didn’t know that I would witness how my country’s economic and political decisions damage the livelihoods of small-scale farmers by indiscriminately spraying glyphosate over large tracts of rural areas, contaminating water sources and withering food crops. I didn’t know that I would feel so powerless and frustrated by the larger structures in which I participate, intentionally or unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously.
I didn’t know that I would start to feel Chocoana. I didn’t know that living here would eventually feel normal. I didn’t know that I would get used to three-hour church services. I didn’t know that I would be transformed by the experience of having lived in this place – that I would perceive the world from another side of the coin and observe life alongside those oppressed by the systems that I benefit from.
So much that I didn’t know, and so much that I still don’t. Now as I am preparing to leave, I find myself again in tears. Partly as a result of saying goodbye to the place that has been my home for two years; partly as a result of recognizing that my time here, this stage of life and work and transformation, is coming to a close. I don’t know how to properly thank everyone, but I know this: I am profoundly grateful for my two years in Chocó, for my Seed facilitators and fellow Seeders, for the ways Chocó has changed me, and above all, to the churches and people in Chocó who have made it meaningful.