On May 23rd I moved to Pichilín, my new home for the next 2 years. On May 24th, I woke up in a completely new environment, context and culture with the sole task of ‘getting to know the community’. I remember waking up that day and really asking myself what getting to know the community means. In theory I knew it meant developing strong, trusting relationships with the people in the community, learning about the community processes and asking lots of questions. However, I did not know how to start this process.
I decided that the best way to get to know the community is to just dive in, say hi, introduce myself, and start asking questions. I thought it was a good idea to start with my neighbors. So I mustered up the courage to walk across the street and meet my first person in Pichilín. The first few minutes went well, I introduced myself, they introduced themselves and then there was just silence. This silence was caused by the fact that neither of us knew what to ask each other, and both of us were struggling with the language barrier. I personally felt like I didn’t know what was culturally appropriate or not to ask or talk about, and I felt such an uncomfortable difference in culture to the point that I felt at a loss for words. This was not the last time I sat in uncomfortable silence. After that first visit I went to several other houses and I encountered the same situation. After about a week of this I started shying away from visiting people.
But then something changed. A friend reminded me that as a foreigner and an outsider I come with some ‘intimidation’. She encouraged me to take the initiative and be the one to meet people. After some reflecting I knew I had to change my perspective. However, what really drove me to do this was the example the community members were showing me. The few neighbours I had met continued to visit me at my house even though it was uncomfortable at times. At times they simply just sat with me in my house and I found myself really appreciating these visits even though they were uncomfortable. I decided to change my perspective- to embrace being uncomfortable and to just have fun with it!
I visited every house in Pichilín, asked many questions (some silly and others serious), laughed at my bad Spanish, shared information about Canada and my life, drank a lot of Tinto and just pushed through the silences. This changed everything for me in Pichilín. First, I learned so much from each person. Not only did I get a chance to improve my Spanish when talking with the people but I learned about the culture, agriculture, the relationships, the customs…etc. Beyond this, each person openly shared what their hopes and dreams are for themselves and their families, and what they want to see accomplished in Pichilín. Each person taught me something valuable. Second, I started forming relationships with each person in Pichilín. As I am slowly starting to accompany more community processes these relationships are key. When people have trust in you they are more willing to share their opinions, ideas, doubts and to ask questions.
As a foreigner that arrived in Pichilín, I had to push myself to work through the uncomfortable situations and embrace them. The gains of embracing the uncomfortable situations were astronomical and changed everything for me. I now feel comfortable in my community, my home. I know everyone on a personal level in the community and they know me as well. We are able to learn from each other, laugh and share life together. I am sure some challenges are ahead but I am confident that the relationships I am forming are strong and will help me through any difficulties I may have. I look forward to continuing my journey here in Pichilin and strengthening my relationships here as I continue to get to know the community.