Tomorrow will be the end of our first work-week here in Bogota. I’m sort of blown away by how unreal and distant the US feels and how normal being here already is.
After standing in the customs line for 2 hours Sunday night, we all arrived safe and sound to begin our SEED orientation and educational component at 8:30am on Monday. (Please imagine a bunch of gringas squishing giant suitcases and a guitar on top of themselves inside a tiny taxi in order to get a feel for this.) Our first introduction was to a) Bonnie Klassen, MCC Colombia country director and b) “El Greco”, our giant SEED coffee maker, given to us because the last SEED group destroyed the Colombia office coffee maker. Both very important.
This week’s all about ubiquarnos, that is, orienting ourselves. So, before I get into any real reflection, let me set the scene for you. Bogota is a huge city. Huge. It is always drawn with the East (“el oriente”) at the top since that is where Moncerrate, the major mountain range is; this is the focal point by which all other directions are given. There are two kinds of streets, carreras (North to South) and calles (East to West). These are sometimes also diagonals and transverals or avenues, but let’s not go there. They are all numbered (it resembles DC in some ways) except that certain numbers end wherever they want, and there is often a 87a, 87b, etc. So it’s sortof easy, and sortof not at all. In terms of transportation we’re encouraged to walk or (if you live 40-60 minutes away by bus like I do) take public transport. The “Transmilenio” is a sortof above-ground metro/bus system I’ve mostly understood but the often faster way of traveling is by “buseta”, small buses, which are a huge mystery to me still. My total failure at taking on today can attest to that.
So, physically, there you go.
The structure of our days this week, and for the next six weeks, is essentially: Meet at 8:30 or 9am until noon in the MCC office for a guest speaker or presentation (this week’s theme was the SEED program and MCC in Colombia in general but we will have weeks to cover history, politics, economics, advocacy, etc.) Then we’re free 12-2 for lunch after which many of us have an hour of Spanish classes in small groups and then a required 1h conversation with alternating SEEDers to either help the Latinos with English or the gringos with Spanish. So far the discussion times have been a great way of getting to know people better one on one and getting to work on speaking. In the evenings we do what we want which, so far, hasn’t included doing my laundry and has included going out for crepes and having another jam session. Let’s hope that can continue!
This is an interesting time, I think, because as a group we’re still very much getting to know each other (although we already have inside jokes and are all very clear that we really like each other and are friends). For the non-Colombians we’re still very much getting to know the context of Colombia and becoming acquainted with its physical and metaphorical landscape, whereas as individual SEEDers we’re all highly aware of the challenge and difference of our imminent placements and work and yet it’s still so far away that most of the energy is going into the group. And yet we’re hitting nerves, too. I can feel the foretaste of many a bitter reality I will soon have to give much more thought to.
For now my experience of Colombia is waking up at 6am with Eli and Carolina, my hosts, to go running and teach them some English and then have chocolate with some kind of flour in it and cake for breakfast. It’s standing for an hour and seeing traffic and faces fly by on the Transmilenio. It’s the cozy prison-like confines of the MCC meeting room and smell of coffee, it’s Juan constantly correcting my Spanish, Carolina telling me yet another “chiste”, it’s the panederia down the street…but today we met with an MCCer who told us about families seeking asylum in Canada because they were being actively pursued by the FARC. She told us about a man shot 6 times in the street last week when he was found, and the courage of the church that provided for him and his family while he was in the hospital. This is also Colombia. It’s easy right now to feel like my frustration at not being fluent in Spanish, at being lost AGAIN getting off the bus, the hassle of gluing every receipt to a piece of paper to record spending and these kinds of things are the challenges I will be facing. But they’re not.
In many ways I feel like we’re going from easiest to hardest. Group bonding in a vacation-like setting in Nicaragua, group bonding and education in a university-esque setting in Bogota, and then…and then I’m going to have to figure out how to navigate working in an evangelical context on issues of drugs and gang violence and any number of challenges I currently have not the least clue how to surmount. Except it’s a “we”. Because we’re all going to be trying to navigate different things. That is the reason we’ll be able to do it, somehow. SEED is a new MCC program. It has a different model in terms of having people from the context be part of the group, in terms of providing a lot of reflection time, in terms of being a solid group– so far, it’s a model I would advocate strongly for.
Until next time, friends, que Dios vos bendigan.