Sunday, December 18, 2016

Half Baked Reflections


"Look around you. Everything changes. Everything on this earth is in a continuous state of evolving, refining, improving, adapting, enhancing and changing. You were not put on this earth to remain stagnant." -Steve Maraboli

I have not written a blog post for a year.

It means two things:

1) I have been very busy and did not sit down and make the time to write.

2) It has been a very challenging year for reflection.  Both personally and contextually there has been a tremendous amount of really crazy stuff going on this year and to figure out what to publish about it takes time.  And I did not sit down and make the time to reflect.

That's not entirely true.  I did do an awful lot of reflection, but I feel like it is all half baked reflection, reflection I am still not sure how to share.  However, writing sometimes helps.  

First, a quick update on what I have been up to this past year: I came back to Colombia in January to continue accompanying communities with the organization Sembrandopaz.  From 2014-2015 I was a community liaison, but this year I shifted gears and have been coordinating the accompaniment processes with women, youth, and psycho-social support work.  I was not only working with the one community, but now with four, very different, very beautiful, and, at moments, very challenging, communities.

Women Accompaniment 

Youth  Ecological Accompaniment 
Youth Nonviolence Accompaniment

Psycho-social support work: practicing mindfulness

Now, here are five half baked reflections about this passed year:

1) Friendship: I place a lot of importance on relationships.  In fact, I would say I evaluate how I am doing in life based on my relationships.  I judge how my work is developing based on how the relationships are developing.  This year there were several moments that made me completely question my work and life.  Was I practicing solidarity in the way that I carried out my work?  Was I developing healthy relationships with people?  And the hardest one, did I really have any friends?  As a therapist, I learned the importance of maintaining a healthy client/therapist relationship.  As a community worker, in a country and context different from my own, where all of my time is spent with people in the communities... that professional relationship is difficult (and for me, I would go so far as to say impossible) to maintain.  I need deeper, personal friendships.  And where else can I get them?  But, how do they see me?  Am I a friend?  Or am I a support person?  I have had to reflect on this a lot this year.  It has been very trying at times, but also rewarding.  I am becoming a better professional, learning to protect my heart sometimes, and developing some deep, beautiful, mutual friendships with people.

2) Self-care: I promote self-care wholeheartedly... with everyone else.  I am quite the hypocrite in this area.  This year, I did a really awful job in this area.  It is the first year that I can remember in which I have not run regularly.  I finished zero books for fun.  I drank way too much coffee (that's a hard one though; I love the taste and the act of drinking coffee so that is a point for good self-care, but I drink too much of it, so that is a point for bad self-care).  I really threw myself into working.  I LOVE going to the communities, I love being a part of the processes that I get to accompany, and I love interacting with people as much as I get to do.  However, limits and rest are still important no matter how much one loves what they do.  I did not do a good job at putting limits and at resting this year.  I got exhausted.  I got extra emotional.  My body did not want to continue on and my mind was pretty close behind.  There is this paradox, where you know you have to rest, but there is so much to do and so much need for hope, that you want to do everything, make some things actually happen, be someone who doesn't let them down, be someone who is more than a part of just another organization but rather a friend (see friend reflection)... So you just don't rest.  And then you end up failing anyway because you are exhausted.  This paradox kicks me in the butt every time.  But I am taking active steps to confront it this next year.

3) Justice: I have always "known" that people go hungry.  It is something that is drilled into our heads as children when we do not finish the food on our plates.  But I hadn't actually personally known people who didn't have enough food on a regular basis.  These last couple of years have been marked by severe drought, and since many of the communities that we accompany are farmers, that had grave consequences for their economy and personal consumption.  It was the first time I knew that people I personally loved were going to bed without having a satisfactory meal sometimes.  It is something that touches my heart which then pleads with my head to find an answer to this injustice.  I don't have one.  I can share my food and resources with a very limited amount of people.  I personally cannot feed an entire town, much less region.  My head knows that is not my direct responsibility to buy everyone food, but my heart wants to know that the people I love have their basic needs met, that everyone has their needs met.  Which is why I am here, attempting to accompany processes that defy injustices such as this.  However, there are so many realities that still break my heart.

4) Peace: This year marked a huge (and complex) transition in Colombia from armed conflict to a signed peace deal.  It did not go as smoothly as most had hoped.  After four years of negotiations between the government and the armed group the FARC, a peace agreement was signed.  In October, they brought it to the people for an approval vote.  Everyone thought that the "yes vote" was going to win for sure.  Then the "no" won.  (Sounds like some other votes this year, huh?)  What broke my heart was that most parts of the country affected directly by the conflict voted "yes,"  whereas areas that don't directly live the violence, trauma, and fear voted "no."  There were manifestations and demands for peace by many groups (including the youth we accompany!) and the two sides renegotiated, addressing concerns brought to the table by people opposing the agreement.  The new agreement was signed and voted on again just two months later, this time by congress who approved it by a wide margin.  The current president of the country also won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his work towards creating a deal with the FARC.  (Ironically he won it just days after the "no vote" had won, but it is a good reminder that peace is not "signed."  It is something that is cultivated, takes time, has setbacks, and requires resilience).  All of that happened in a span of 3 months.  It was an intense roller coaster for everyone, but we enter the new year with renewed hope for the process and ready to face the challenges of supporting the communities in the actual implementation of the accords.  

5) Hope: Which leads me to hope... I think most people would say I am an optimistic and hopeful person.  I tend to see the good in people, point out positives in tough situations, and am willing to sit in uncomfortable and difficult moments because I feel assured that it will be okay somehow, sometime.  I have not lost that, but I will admit I have questioned it this year.  For example, when the first round of peace accords were signed, a huge ceremony was elaborated to celebrate.  Many people attended, including officials from other countries and Ban Ki-moon (a personal hero), and the nation watched via television. At that moment, I was at the wake of the brother of a friend, who had been shot in his community.  The death wasn't related to the FARC directly, but the fact is that people do not feel safe in their communities.  How do those two events exist in the same reality?  So many people sacrifice so much to work towards a country in peace, a world in peace... yet the road is so long.  Reminding myself of those that have lived their lives walking towards a dream they hope they can help make real for their children and grandchildren, cultivating peace as they go in their own hearts, their relationships, the community processes, and their ways of influencing policy... reminding myself of those who have gone before me, who I have the honor to work beside, and who will come after to continue the dream, is what keeps me going, what keeps me maintaining hope.

I welcome and appreciate any help on continuing these reflections.  Happy Christmas and Happy New Year to all!


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Never did I imagine...

Not that I want to be a god or a hero. Just to change into a tree, grow for ages, not hurt anyone. -Czeslaw Milosz

During the last couple of years in Colombia, I played a game with the SEEDers who were placed at the same organization as me.  We called it "Nunca me imaginé" (Never did I imagine).  Time and time again we found ourselves in situations that we never imagined we would witness or participate.  Here are 22 examples from this game that have stuck in my mind:

Never did I imagine...

1) Falling off of a mule in the dark into a dried up river.

2) Falling off of a motorcycle (practically at a stand still) with 20 pounds of fish.

3) Riding a motorcycle with 2 large cakes on my lap for 3 hours.

How the cake arrived...
4) Having to travel hanging onto the outside of a truck because the inside was too full of ñame.

5) Having a six year old ask me to borrow my machete to clean the weeds out of my yard. (No, I never did own a machete, but it was not a far fetched request since the weeds in my yard were more like a jungle.)


6) Gutting 200 raw chickens with my bare hands at midnight (see my blog post A Chicken Adventure for more information on this one: http://laniincolombia2.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-chicken-adventure.html)

7) Eating yuca three times a day.

Yuca and Mac 'n Cheese

8) Eating the innards of a cow... And liking it!

My friends cooking cow innards soup!  
9) Waking up regularly at 5:00 am to sweep my yard... And liking it!

10) Having to pause my phone conversation because the neighbor's donkey was making too much noise.



11) Having a group of adolescents in my house practicing social political raps that they wrote.

video


12) Having lice... twice.

Nothing like a night time lice check.
13) Witnessing such blatant corruption in the political process.

14) Getting confused for a Cuban.

15) Attending so many funerals and wakes.  The whole town is invited to the funerals, and the wakes last for 9 nights and are community events.  In a town of 6000, people die fairly regularly.

16) Being close friends with a priest... Padre Joey really helped me get through some rough times these last couple of years!



17) Having so much interest in the region to learn and spread the sport of Ultimate Frisbee and then receiving so much support from the Ultimate community in the United States for continuing to playing in the Montes de Maria.



18) Sleeping just as comfortably in a hammock as I do in a bed.

Very asleep.

19) Reading more Colombian laws than US laws.

20) Being faced with the decision of if I want to use the last of my water supply to wash dishes, bathe, or flush the toilet.

21) Learning about the amazing strength and resilience of women in communities devastated by violence and how they have worked hard to move forward and do the best they can for their families and communities.


22) Being surrounded by people who give me so much love and support (and food!) yet barely know me.

Here's to looking forward to more new experiences and adventures!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cataracts, Christmas trees, and Crying

“I can see!  Look at the leaves! Did you know there are cracks in the ceiling?  What? There are wrinkles on my face! How did that happen?”  -My Uncle Gary on how he reacted after he had cataract surgery

I cried while putting the lights on the Christmas tree.

That was a new experience.  It made me angry.  Why am I crying?  I thought, Why can't I be enjoying this moment?  It has been two years since I decorated a Christmas tree, a tradition that I love, and I probably won't do again for two more years.  So why can't I just enjoy it?!

Is it because I am thinking about how I don't know when I'll get to do this again with my mom?  About how great all of this time is being with communities that love and support me, understand me and know me, and that I am going to leave again?  

Is it because of the consumerist culture that is the United States, especially flaunted in the season of Christmas?  Texting with my friends in Colombia who sometimes struggle to eat three meals a day while I wrap string after string of lights on a tree that we paid 30 bucks for... It's hard to make these realities come together in my head.

Is it because even though I am in Minnesota and happy to be with everyone here, I still miss everyone in Colombia?  That makes me feel guilty and confused.  When I am in Colombia, I miss everyone in the States, and when I am in the States, I miss everyone in Colombia.  Is it because I still can't figure out how to share what life is like in Colombia, the experiences I saw, the people I love with the people I love here?  And vice versa, I don't know how to share these experiences I am living now with the people I love in Colombia?

Is it because in this season that we talk so much of peace, I get so many emotions?  The term peace holds a new significance, a much more personal meaning, and conjures in my imagination the people I love deeply, sacrificing greatly in hopes of paving the way for peace.

Is it because on my road trip I opened my mind and heart to reflections that are complicated and painful?  People asked me great questions: What were the highlights?  What was the most challenging thing?  What is it exactly that you do?  Why doesn't the government just do their job?  What is it like working with people who have been victims?  How did the people treat you for being white?  How do you take care of yourself?  Do you have trauma?  Were you ever afraid?  Do you think there is hope?  What would peace look like there?

They are all good questions, and though I have reflected on most of them before, having so much time alone in the car to really get lost in my brain allowed me to open many doors deeper into these questions than I had before.  Just because I went deeper doesn't really mean I have any more answers, but I certainly feel like my uncle observing with his new eyes after surgery: Look at all of this everyone, he seems to yell, there are beautiful things and not so beautiful things, and changes that we didn't realize were happening over time. 

And that's exactly how I feel: there are so many beautiful things, horrific things, and transformations in me that I don't know how to share them or even understand them myself.

But that's the risk of reflection: one never knows what he/she will dig up.  It could be something beautiful or something one would rather not think about.  Either way, it is important.  And even when my thoughts arrive to those things that I'd rather not think about, it is good for me to stay in that uncomfortable space and figure out why I feel that way, what I can learn from it, how I can share it, and what I can do about it.  

So even though I'd rather decorate the tree while laughing, it's okay to cry a little, let my mom hug me, and eat enchiladas that my dad knew I wanted.  


Thanks Mom and Dad for loving me when I'm complicated.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Reflections from the Road: Thoughts on Privilege

"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."-Theodore Roosevelt

In the past four years I have been in many spaces in which I have been able to reflect on privilege.  It was a huge focus of conversation and reflection in social work school and a main point of discussion in SEED.  

Living in Libertad it was very easy to identify privileges that I have: being white, from the United States, and having degrees from universities gave me default power with which I was often very uncomfortable.  I found myself in positions in which my opinion was sought after even though there were many others much more qualified to make the decision.  Living these situations, recognizing them, and working towards shifting power given me to people who truly should wield it has been an important experience and something that I am still learning and working on.

However, being in the United States I am learning about and reflecting on another privilege of mine that I have not ever thought about before: the privilege of experiencing life in a small, rural community in another country.

On this trip, many people have mentioned the sacrifice that I am making in order to live and work in rural Colombia.  With any decision one must make sacrifices, some more obvious or recognized than others, but we are all making sacrifices.  However, I do not view my life in rural Colombia as a sacrifice but rather as a privilege.

Returning to the United States after being abroad is always very difficult for me.  They call it "reverse culture shock."  Moving between cultures as often as I do I'm not sure which way is reverse, but I do know that I often struggle with returning and having difficulty identifying with many of the opinions, values, and customs in the United States.  Sometimes I get lonely because I don't feel like I can adequately share what I have seen and learned; sometimes I get angry because I see people focused on things that I no longer view as so important; sometimes I get depressed at the injustice of the ill-distribution of wealth and power in the world.

However, this time I am trying to focus on two points that have been really helpful in my returning process:

1) Having grace with myself

When I start feeling lonely, angry, or depressed, I let myself feel it, recognize it, and reflect on why and if there is anything I can do about it.  It's hard, but just letting myself feel and be okay with feeling has been a very helpful step.

2) Recognizing my life in Colombia as a privilege

Living in a rural town in another country is an experience that most people in the United States never have.  I have had the opportunity to live circumstances, meet people, ask questions about situations, hear opinions, learn about struggles, experience challenges, and reflect on ideas that would not often come up in the United States.  I know others would love to have the same opportunity that I am living but for different reasons cannot.  Living there and having these opportunities is a blessing and a privilege.

Recognizing this privilege is helpful because it helps me have patience and grace with others when I am in the United States.  The ideas and opinions that have formed in me about justice, nonviolence, living in community, and love may not jive with the opinions of the general public or my loved ones, but I hold those believes because I have had the privilege of living somewhere where leaders are committed to working nonviolently towards peace and justice in an unjust system, sacrificing and struggling for the good of their family, their neighbors, other communities, and their country.

An example of these leaders is the group of women from Mampujan.  (Here you can review my first reflections on working with the women from Mampujan: http://laniincolombia2.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-tapestries-of-mampujan.html)  Recently their work was recognized by Colombia with the National Peace Prize.  Being in spaces with these women, watching them share their experience and talents with other women, and being able to learn from them has been a huge honor and has undoubtedly influenced my formation.  (For more information on the women and the prize you can read a great reflection by my friend Anna: http://thellamadiaries.com/2015/11/20/what-is-a-peace-prize/)

I am grateful for the privilege of living in community, being challenged, and learning from so many amazing people that I get to call my friends.

Generations of leaders:






Monday, November 9, 2015

Reflections from the Road: Lessons in Forgiveness

""But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." Luke 6:27-28

Forgiveness is a big word.  It's a word thrown around a lot in the church, in peace building, in relationships, in life in general...  But boy is it complicated.

I have learned a lot about forgiveness in the last two years in Colombia, and I want to share two stories about forgiveness that have greatly impacted me personally.  The first is the story that inspires me to forgive and reminds me of the importance; the second is how I am actively trying to put it into practice.

First is the story of a friend from one of the communities in which I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time.  The community was displaced by paramilitary members 15 years ago.  Obviously the experience was horrific and left the community with trauma, homeless, blamed as members of guerrilla groups, struggling in poverty to regain their land, homes, dignity, and rights.  Through the official sentence that was given by the judge in front of this case, the community leaders had the opportunity to confront the people who ordered their displacement and put the community through this tragedy.  However my friend, when facing the men who turned his life upside down and took away everything, told them that he forgave them.  Bible in hand, he spoke of God's forgiveness and will for us to forgive.  Not only was this something that must have been emotionally difficult, but it was also an incredibly brave act; his community could have turned against him for choosing forgiveness, but he was adamant that this was the right decision. Every time I hear him speak of how we need to forgive in order to move on and rebuild our communities, I get chills.  Here is a man who has internalized God's love and forgiveness so much that he has been able to apply it to the people who hurt him and his entire community in a way that most people will never experience.

I had the opportunity to practice forgiveness as well, although in a very different situation.  Until now, I have not been in too many challenging positions in my life in which it was difficult to forgive.  I have not had many difficult relationships, it is easy for me to get along with most people and I put a lot of effort into my relationships when I feel like something is not right between the other person and myself.

In town I had the opportunity to really experience a challenging relationship.  It began as an intimate friendship and work partnership but very quickly it became clear that this was a very complicated and jealous person.  She began spreading rumors about me, ignoring me, and treating me very poorly to my face.  I was distraught and really beat myself up about it.  I recognize that I was doing somethings that she did not agree with, interacting with people she did not want me to interact with, and not always following her advice; I am sure that was very frustrating for her.  However, I tried to always greet her with a smile and a hug, treat her with respect, consciously spend time with her and her family, and never once spread any of the rumors that came to me about her.

One day, when I was really upset about some of the things she was saying about me, my friend sat me down and basically told me to get over it.  He was completely right.  She was not going to change; I was not going to follow all of her advice; our relationship was not going to change.  However, I wanted to remain committed to showing her love.  I consciously gave myself the challenge of not letting her words and actions get to me while at the same time not changing my attitude towards her.  I cannot control her actions or attitude, but I can control my own and I want mine to be ones of love.  It is the first time that I have really had to put into practice Jesus' words, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." 

Forgiveness is a huge part of this decision.  I have to forgive her in order to truly continue loving her.

I use the present tense here because I am still in the process.  I thought that I had forgiven her, but there are thoughts and memories that still pass through my head that make my stomach lurch with frustration, hurt, and anger... Apparently I am still working through it, but I am committed to getting there and I am grateful for the experience.  It is something that I want to learn and a pain I want to go through in order to be able to love people better.

I think of my friend who found it in himself to forgive the people who displaced his community and I am inspired to be a forgiver as well.  Like he says, forgiveness is the only way to move forward and build up our lives through love.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Reflections from the Road

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” – Babs Hoffman

I am in the US.  I have been here for almost three weeks now and it has been fantastic.

I spent the first week or so in Pennsylvania, surrounded by Mennonites, getting the low-down on the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and adjusting to being surrounded by English speakers, bread, frost, and being on time.  I met amazing people from all over the world involved in all different aspects of MCC- thrift stores, administration, finance, exchanges, country representatives, and staff from national offices. It really helped me understand how MCC works worldwide and how necessary every person is in the organization.  While it was hard to leave my community in Colombia and not go directly to my community in the United States, it was worth the time and energy.



After my stint there I had the absolutely beautiful and fabulous reunion with my parents and Honey Bunches of Oats (obviously I have a different kind of love for each, but both were emotional experiences).  

However, I was only home for two days before I took off on the Great Western United States Road Trip of November 2015.  The purpose of this road trip is two-fold:

1) See many people I love that I haven't seen for two years and probably won't see for two more years.

2) Spend quality time reflecting over the last two years and preparing myself for the work to come.

A road trip is perfect for both of these things. My plan is to do a mini-series in my blog of Reflections from the Road.  I have a lot of catching up to do with my writing and I have already received several complaints that I have abandoned the blog a bit in the last year (which is completely true).

So keep your eyes open!  Reflections to come!

Many thanks to my Mom for lending me her car for a whole month!  You rock Mom!  And to both my parents for agreeing to let me spend a month of my time in the country away from them.  You are both very good to me.  I love you!