A little over a month ago Larisa and I flew back from Colombia. For both of us it would be the first time in two years we would set foot on US territory. Larisa was leaving only to come back for another two years soon thereafter, but I was coming back not knowing exactly when I would be back in Colombia. I was a little sad, a little nervous, but ready.
Truth be told the past two years have not been easy; and though I have learned to love Colombia for its people, its “berraquera”, and for so many reasons, I have long known that if Colombia were a man, I would want to be friend with him, not marry him. But Colombia has taught me so much, and stirred up innumerable questions in me. Questions like: Where am I personally most effective in creating change? How do I evaluate my success when I’m no longer being graded and am so often working on long-term processes? Do I actually want to work at changing specific policies if I’m unsure I trust the system as a whole? And many many more.
I have learned that I am weaker and more prone to failure than I thought; I have learned that where there is poverty, money will always be an important factor in any equation, regardless of the topic. And I have learned that trust, love, and affection are necessary conditions for existing.
One of my fears in working in Latin America, after already being familiar with part of the Middle-East, Africa, Europe and the United States, was that by dedicating part of my life to this new region I would inevitably become aware and care about a whole new set of issues, people and peoples, feel even more the weight of structural evil in the world and be all the more geographically-torn in my relationships. This of course happened. For I now know far more than I did about the United States’ history in Latin America and Colombia specifically; I know more about drug-trafficking, gangs, urban conflict, and the effect of neoliberal capitalist economic models on community development than I did two years ago. Tragically, I do, and tragically few people care to hear what I have learned about these things. Returning service workers will always tell you this: People are surprisingly lacking in curiosity about your time of service abroad. I am grateful that several people, especially in Harrisonburg, have taken the time and energy to ask me some about Colombia, but the general statement has a lot of truth to it.
Up until a week or so ago everything felt pretty surreal. It was like watching my life as a movie. “Oh, now I’m leaving Medellin. Oh, now my relationship is truly over. Ok. Now I’m in Bogota. Now Seed is over. Hey, I’m seeing these people for the first time, how interesting…” and so on in a sort of detached-if-content-blur. It was too much. Perhaps it still is; yet I’m feeling that numbness thaw. Anyone who knows the feeling of frozen toes coming to life knows that thawing is definitely good, but it is also ever-so-slightly-painful. Painful to recognize and face that not all in Colombia ended as I would have wished; painful to see and know that my relationships there will change; difficult to face a new set of challenges and the knowledge that all these questions that have opened up for me do not have answers yet, and that much that I learned disturbs more than it comforts. Yet the thawing also allows me to truly feel and know the blessing of old-friends’ arms around me, to truly hear the wise words of mentors and friends, to truly be excited about renewing my relationship with my sister.
Thawing, I hope, means that soon I will be able to care about seek the answers to those questions I put on ice, and will be emotionally an intellectually capable of sharing about Colombia in an intelligible way. I hope so.
For now I have committed myself to do a three-month trial period with VOICE, an affiliate of the IAF. It means buying a car and working in the suburbs, but it also means being allowed to take leadership and help communities become aware of and harness their power for political change. It is an organization with equally strong yet fairly opposed self-understanding as MCC; an organization that emphasizes success and ends over process and means. It is quite the shift, but it feels like what I need to do right now.
For a while, I kept thinking to myself ”I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to work. My passion has run out.” I’m thankful I didn’t make myself feel guilty about that, or worry too much about it, because today my beautiful sister posted a poem that suddenly spoke to me (as Rumi often does). My favorite part were the last three stanzas:
“Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.
Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.”
This morning I went for a run. This week I did nothing impulsive or stupid (I think); that feels good. I think I’m ready to dig in, to not let the doubts and questions over-run the joy and hope I have seen in the past two years. I will need help along the way, but I’m excited to keep pushing, knocking, to keep seeking to drink from the source of light that lets us fight the darkness.
This isn’t a synthesis reflection, or a conclusion to two years of my life. How could it be? Colombia is now part of me, just as Palestine is, just as Harrisonburg is, and they will all keep teaching me lessons and working inside of me.