//Try and be a sheet of paper with nothing on it
Be a spot of ground where nothing is growing
where something might be planted
a seed, possibly, from the Absolute//
– Rumi, The Fragile Vile
The day I arrived to Medellin we ate fried chicken at “Frisby’s”, I met five leaders, and went to sleep under a pink Barbie blanket.
My apartment is on the fourth flour, my room has a wooden ceiling (with some holes that let some rain in sometimes) and a wooden floor (which will likely cause splinters but is a joy for me). The first few days I felt like the gerbil my mom once sent flying across a room in a plastic ball (bowling style): “this is the Oriental, La Playa, Los Bomberos, What is this church called? This is Jaime, Lillian, Louisa, Carlos Carlos.” Buy a bed, do I need new sheets? Buy a pan, a bookshelf, a small oven. Buy, buy, buy. Carry this box, this couch, this chair, down 3 flights, up 4. Down the stairs. Up, up, up, up. Carry my things (large but few) and Dira’s things (our entire downstairs furnishings), then to clean and set up. (Jes, one of our Seed facilitators, spent the first four days here, holding my hand, and being a champ.)
My room is 90% done now. I have a roommate I get along with very well even though we eat extremely differently. I have a general sense of where Calle Oriental is but am still not quite sure where it meets up with La Playa (so named because there is apparently a river running underneath it!)
Jes and I somehow walk in late to church. Singing has begun and there’s a large “Bienvenida!” sign and a heart-shaped balloon with my name on it stuck to the wall (it will then get unstuck, restruck, and unstuck again three times during the service.) The building is large but the congregation relatively small, relatively old, and entirely sweet. During the sharing of the peace everyone kisses me warmly and many say they’ve been waiting for me to come. I squirm and struggle between conviction and not wanting to offend on the first day as we sing “God of the armies” and “God is calling us to war”. I am deeply relieved when one of the leaders we have met whispers to Jes that that’s not right and should be changed. I again squirm and wonder if God will strike me down for spinelessness as I timidly raise my hand, as expected, to the question “Who considers themselves a slave of Christ?” And then the next days I am gladdened and again relieved when the topic of the lyrics is taken up with a group on a car-ride to La Ceja, and the pastor responds positively to me questioning of the use of “slavery” in relation to a liberating God in a world full of enslavement. Going back to the service, I am introduced and prayed for –“May Jessica be a blessing to this community and accomplish the work you have for her” Yes, Mother-Father-Spirit, heeelp!
IV. La Ceja
I am surprised, for some reason, at how beautiful La Ceja is. When you say “a pueblo outside of Medellin with many displaced people” you forget that doesn’t mean there isn’t a beautiful central square and fountain, little shops, beautiful streets and colors. “ I should have lived here” I tell Jes.
We walk into a room slowly filling with middle-aged and elderly men and women, victims of the conflict. Faustino introduces me and says I will be supporting and helping their efforts. Jes introduces me. I introduce myself (at which point I am advised to mention what I studied and how I think I can be helpful. Oh, man.) Any questions?
A woman, new to the group I am later told, raises her hand first and asks something along the lines of “My son was disappeared in 1994 and then I found out where he was but I couldn’t see him and it’s been years. Where can I go? What should I do?”
I look at Pastor Faustino, wide-eyed, “Holy shit” being the summation of my response to that question at this point. He jumps in, says something I barely hear about a lawyer or someone else who can maybe come do a workshop and we’ll have to talk more while I make a note to read the entirety of the new “Ley de Vicitimas y Reparaciones”. The next question is only a little easier “ How will you help us deal with trauma?” This time I answer, only slightly more confident than last time, “I think that’s something we’re going to have to see with the team. I need to look at what you’ve already done, and through home visits and hearing from you I think we’ll figure out what could be good. This might be in the form of a workshop or something else.”
(Side note: people here, it seems to me, are fascinated and deeply enamored with workshops and capacity-building. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but it really does seem like the answer to so many questions tends to be “We’ll do a workshop on ___” Probably more on this later.)
My office is a 20 minute walk downhill to city-center and then a 20 minute metro ride north. Acca is a prison ministry of a coalition of evangelical churches as well as a member of the ISP- sanctuary peace churches- which I am working with.
I share an office with two other ladies, both extremely sweet. The women in the office make deserts and sell them every Wednesday. They are very excited to learn how to make bread and peanut butter. My printer is probably going to be the source of much ire for me. A volunteer there on Tuesday (the only day I’ve been to the office so far) asked me if I’d gone to Liberty University. (Which is to tell you from what theological bend the organization is.) I go back on Friday.
VI. Day Out.
Wednesdays will usually be office days but yesterday was Leave the House Alone and Get Oriented day for me. Within the first 20 minutes I ran across the French cultural center. The plan was to ride the metro everywhere it goes and just see the city, get off and walk around at some point, and find the Botanical Garden. I didn’t make it everywhere, but I did take one cable car to its final destination and back, the cable car that gets you closest to Communes 13 (a deadly neighborhood, but don’t worry my pastor assured me the metro is extremely secure). I wrote a poem/reflection as I floated above the shifting landscape, there and back, which I’d like to share with you.
Views from a Medellin Metro Cablecar
You go up (terra cotta shingle roofs)
you keep ridding (metal sheets)
the laundry lies out like flowers along
the gray and green hills
And then you go down
(soccer can be played anywhere)
schools with slogans like “convivencia**” on
walls make me strain to remember that is not the same
as la “Convivir*”
the line between signs of hope and
signs of war nearly lost
River beds have always been
the home of the poor
Lithe brown boys and girls splashing.
the Good News scrawled on boulders
in bright white
along with warning about the
end. Stop Sinning Now, it says
to the brown boys and girls
but I’m the one who reads it
red bricks and yellow political signs hold down
gray rusty shelters
a trail of trash dirties nature’s cover
kisses a palm tree.
A metal Jesus, nailed to a cement cross,
I will not get off three hills later
I will not get off until it brings me back
to safe, known,
** A policy of legalizing armed self-defense groups from 1994-98 which de facto legalized paramilitary groups to unite and work legally
VII. Encounters and being Extroverted
Monday I spent all day at the bank and at the DAS (administrative headquarters) with Pastor Faustino. He couldn’t come in to the DAS with me so I ended up making two new friends—a Mexican lady recently married to a Colombian, and a Californian recent grad/hippy chick working for Colombia Reports while in Medellin.
Yesterday I had lunch with the Calofornian girl and had a fascinating glimps into the expat enclave when I visited her office (Aussie, Brits, Coloradan, etc).
I found the Botanical Gardens and ran into two Swiss dudes on a summer backpacking trip. We spoke in a mix of French and English, swapped national stereotypes, got coffee and then parted ways.
Then last night I met up with a friend of a friend and her friend and got dinner for a couple of hours. I’m most excited about these folks because they’re Colombian undergrad and grad students and will be here for a while.
I have been talking to the other transitioning Seeders quite a bit this week. I still do not have a solid grasp of what exactly my work is, how exactly the city is set up, how exactly my room should be set up, the language, my routine, where to shop, etc. But I have three appointments to speak with ISP churches, I’m going back to the Ceja on Saturday to support an upcoming peace action, I know there’s a free pool 20 minutes from my house, and I really like everyone I’ve met so far.
Solid start. Now, to work.
More on this later