The first time I came to Istmina, Choco in April, 2016, for two weeks — I wondered how I was going to adapt and fit into this new community. At that time, I was experiencing many changes in my life – so I was a little intimidated by the thought of putting myself in this new awaiting community in Choco.
I have now lived here for two months serving, accompanying, and supporting Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)’s partners in Choco. Even though it is not much time I want to share about the beauty and challenges of learning to live in a new community; and many of these are a combination of qualities such as community values and particular things which have stood out for me while living in Istmina.
In this short amount of time I have learnt so much about Istmina and its neighboring communities (such as San Antonio and Bebedo) through the lens of community members. For example, I have learnt about Istmina through informal conversations with children playing on the streets, hard-working women on cocoa farms, business men and women in the central commercial center, old men and women in the local Mennonite Brethren churches, or young adults in neighboring schools.
Additionally, through formal and informal settings for sharing the community members’ space, delicious juice and food, I have been able to learn about the hospitality and beauty of Chocoanos. For rural communities such as Bebedo, I have simply observed and taken note of things that matter to the people such as spending more time in their farms, in the mining fields, or greeting one another by saying “Dios Te Bendiga” — meaning God Bless You!
I think the processes of learning about my community has provided me with both beautiful and challenging experiences. Firstly, I have seen the beauty of living in Istmina through the actions of its community members. For example, there have been times when my colleague and I lose water in our house and a neighbor does not hesitate to say, “Come and use my water if you need to brush your teeth,” or, “Take a shower.” Times like these have provided an opportunity for me to recognize the kindness and beauty of the people in Istmina.
Secondly, the beauty of Istmina lies in the busyness of its city traders both men and women — who are eager to improve their businesses by saying to me “You speak English, teach me English so that I can become a better business man!” This to me (as little as it sounds)implies that people believe in the betterment of their own lives, livelihoods, and their community at large.
Lastly, another beauty lies in meaningful experiences such as visiting FAGROTES aided agricultural farms along the San Juan River. These times have provided intentional opportunities to learn more about agricultural practices such as pruning and grafting cocoa plants. They have also provided an opportunity to practice my Spanish with the farmers.
However, the beauty of learning and living in my new communities has come with some challenges. One of the biggest is the language barrier. Due to my inadequate knowledge of Spanish, sometimes I have felt like I have lost my independence. This is because I have to at times rely on my colleagues to navigate and learn about my new community. I think that can be a blessing as well as a source of frustrations. But, I also recognize that the frustration is all part of community learning and integration processes.
I am slowly learning to turn those frustrating moments into beautiful ones by adopting a follower-ship approach of doing community development in which I am able to watch, listen to the voices of community members and MCC partners, and learn about what they are doing to transform their communities.
All in all, it has been a great journey so far and I believe all of these experiences with the people in the community have been a great source of purpose, joy, learning, and healing since I moved to Istmina. Below are some of the photos describing some of my experiences thus far in Choco.