From April 5th to 13th almost every Seeder is being acompanied by one or more EMU student in their placement locations. While these EMU students are on their cross cultural and having their eyes opened to the realities of life in Guatemala and now Colombia, we Seeders are getting to share with fresh eyes the communities and realities we have come to call home in the last two years.
At 6:56am today Anna Voght woke me up with a phone call, her first words were “We´re marching! And it´s great!”. She and fellow Seeder Larisa Zher are currently helping coordinate a 5 day march of around 500 campesinos representing 30 rural communities in the Montes de Maria (the Carribean Coast of Colombia) demanding their rights as victims and displaced communities to integral reparations be guaranteed. These farmers, who are not at the center of Colombia´s development strategy but rather the victims thereof were on my mind as I got myself and my two EMU friends out the door later on at 9:30am.
We started by visiting an artisan´s market, after which a friend of mine gave us a two hour tour focusing on the change in architecture and economic activities in Medellin. The girls were troopers as we navigated Medellin´s busttling and overwhelming center, but I think they were glad when we met up with Oscar and sat down for lunch. That´s when Oscar starting telling them about his growing up in Medellin´s Comunas, the desire to join the M19 and then their demobilization, his rage at his brother´s murder, the war zone his neighborhood has been and the struggle to work for peace and justice while surrounded by armed actors and death threats…It was a good chance to cross reference a personal story with the timeline I had recently made (and will soon be posting!) about politics and the conflict in Medellin. We took the zigzaggy bus, standing in the aisle, the 30min to Oscar´s house next, and sat down in his modest living room to finish up the lifestory our fish lunches had interupted. He was telling us about leading a small group up in the abandoned slums where no one waned to go back in the day, and his reasons for studying law when his sister told him his friend since childhood had been killed.
It was too much of an object lesson in the currentness of the issues we were hearing about.
After calling the family, before going to the vigil, Oscar accompanied us to the library-park a few blocks away—part of the “Social Urbanism” focus a recent mayor had to develop public spaces in order to bring peace. There we looked over the city and the EMU students who grew up in small towns in the US got to hear about how US weapons end up in the hands of gangster kids, how our economic priorities become the economic priorities of our economic and military allies like Colombia, and subsequently condemn millions to disemployment and underemployment; they got to hear from a real person who has lived and is living real pain what that pain has to do with them, and how this city they had never heard about before coming is part of the fabric, also, of their lives. They asked ” When was the moment of most profound change in Colombia? “, he asked ” What do you think of the US´s policies towards Latin America?”
After all day walking around and the kind of emotional intensity it takes to encounter stories of pain (especially in a foreign language) I´m sure my EMU guests were ready to go home- but we had a prior engagement.
For the past few months I´ve had about 5 workshops with the youth group from a church nestled waaaaay up in the Comuna 1 of Medellin where we´ve been looking at the idea of peace and nonviolence and recently learning together about Theatre of the Oppressed as a peacebuilding tool.
The two scenes the group created were about a conflict between different soccer fans, and a domestic dispute. As I, running on pure adrenaline and leadership-energy, wheedled and raised my voice and made jokes to get folks to concentrate and take this seriously, these two young ladies struggled to understand these fast-talking teenagers and connected with youth not so different from themselves, joy-filled, Jesus-loving youth, who happened to live in a context worlds away from their own. At 9:30pm we finally caught a cab home and about 12h after leaving my cozy apartment, we walked back in….and crashed.
Two hours later than my usual bed-time, I find the different strands still wrapping themselves into knots in my head…the campesinos, Canadian and American marching for their rights, my dearly loved friend mourning a friend who chose a wrong path and got killed, the city which seeks to destroy its past and the youth who know the past is tied into their future…One thing I know is that the sharing is important. That where these worlds meet and can be transformed is holy ground. I don´t know yet how these ladies willl change because they were here. I don´t know how I will be different after my two years here, in a city I have never loved, surrounded by people I couldn´t help but love. I don´t know what it will mean to Oscar, to the youth group, to anyone that we met. But I believe it is good, it is hard, and it is a beginning.