Where and Who is My Community?, or Why Being a Perfectionist, Having a Philosophy Degree, and Not Speaking Spanish Might Be Problematic in Colombia

With Bogotá behind and the communities ahead,

Seeders have been scattered to different parts of Colombia

—myself to Chocó—

with a modest task at hand: get to know the community.


Simple, no?


Simply, no!


I mean, what even is a community?

Is it group of people who live together in a particular place?

Well, then, where and who is my community?

Is it a particular town and its people (or at least a portion thereof)?


my house is in Andagoya,

my two work offices are both in Istmina,

and I frequent the agricultural project’s farm in San Antonio.

And what’s more…

I’ve spent time in Bebedó, Dipurdú, El Tigre, San Miguel, and other places

with the agricultural project;

I’ve visited Las Animas, Primavera, and elsewhere

with the social ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Church;

and I’ve attended the churches in Andagoya, Istmina, Condoto, Iró, and Suruco

a list that will only grow in the upcoming weeks and months.


is one of these my community?

are all of them my community?

are some but not all my community?

are more than these my community?


Ah, my mind thinks, I have forgotten one key point:

it is where and with whom you live—

that is your community!

Surely remembering this will help narrow down the options…


Okay, but what does it actually mean to live somewhere with people?

Is it about where a person spends their nights?

Because in the six weeks since leaving Bogotá,

I slept in Istmina for my first week,

I have stayed in Bebedó for several nights,

and I have even camped out in Pereira for a near week,

and Pereira isn’t even in Chocó!

Is sharing a meal with people a crucial factor?

Because most times when I eat I am alone.

And although I have been generously blessed with many meals in Andagoya,

I have also shared many meals with people from Quibdó down to Condoto,

from Istmina to San Miguel.

Apparently I have even eaten lunch in Paimadó,

a town that I have absolutely no memory of ever visiting!

Perhaps the key is spending time with people, the sharing of life experience.

But how much time is needed?

And what about location?

For twice I have spent several days with different people from Basurú and Novita,

despite not yet having actually visited these places!

Where or who my community is,

and whether it is for me to be assigned, to choose, or to discover,

it must be confessed,

I simply do not know.


And yet, my ignorance is far from the only problem that hinders my assigned task,

for right at the time I am to be getting to know my community

—wherever and whoever it is—

my short-lived embracive demeanor has diminished.

I am so sick of sounding foolish, of not understanding people,

I now often find myself evading interactions that force me to use Spanish;

and yet I know that if I avoid using and hearing Spanish,

I may no longer sound foolish,

but would actually be a fool.

It is just so painfully clear that

I                                                                                                                                                   am an outsider;

that my community

—wherever and whoever it is—

is not really “my” community at all,

for if my pale complexion and blue eyes don’t immediately give it away,

my inability to comprehend the language doesn’t hide it for long.

This failure to communicate prevents me not only from knowing my community

—whoever and wherever it is—

but also from being known by them,

and my egocentric self struggles with this.


But is this how it needs to be?

Is this how it always will be?

Will I let my desire for perfection now prevent me from at least attaining mediocrity later?

Can I let my experiences in Chocó be dictated by humility and discipline rather than by pride and fear?

I simply do not know.


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