Sunday, November 30, 2014

Giving Thanks.

Well folks,  it's been over a year.  I should apologize, I might, but I also may justify.  I feel like this year has been the fastest in my life so far.  Work and life on Colombia's bold Caribbean Costa have been inspiring, challenging, and just plain FULL.  It has been a 2014 full of openings for me, and liberation, as I grow in consciousness of my place here in Colombia, my inner darkness and light, and the complexities of the world around me.  I know and feel more, and as the circle expands, so does the outside edge- of what I don't know, what I am uncertain about, and what remains to emerge.  I want to write a few reflections on that process to you, in the spirit of a profound thankfulness and a pregnant hope, in keeping with the rituals of november and december.  Here are a few things:

I forgot about Thanksgiving, and made my way to the central office after a tumultuous month of barely sleeping in my own bed, as I traipsed around the mountains working with the youth team that I help facilitate (more on that later).  I turned up exhausted, to hear the good news that a US friend had found time in her insane schedule to bake a pumpkin pie (!).  We showed our office mates how to squirt whipped cream from an aerosol can into their mouths, and we went to the late showing of the new Hunger Games movie.  As we rode home on the moto, we talked about the resistance- what does it mean to rise up, what are the risks, who are the people- not the intellectual or political elite, how do we keep things focused on the people and how do we keep your humanity in all of that.  Thank you for a team that cares for each other, where I always feel more like Larisa and rarely like a gringa.  Thank you for being part of the resistance, and keeping love as the center of that.  Thank you for the pueblo, the people.

I spent a week hiking on muddy, steep trails through the mountains to co-facilitate encounters with youth in the communities we accompany.  It's rainy season, so the only way in and out of many communities is on foot.  For a week, we daily walked for about 3 hours, and arrived exhausted and sweaty, only to steel our nerves (I co- facilitate with the youth leaders of the movement who are often facilitating their first meetings) and get ready to lead reflective activities, organize lunch (no small feat where there is no power or stores in the communities), and hike out again.  It was the coolest.  Thank you for communities that are thrilled to get visitors in the rainy season.  Thank you for cool streams to bathe in, for spring water, for massive plates of rice and chicken.  Thank you for joining our reflections about stereotypes of mountain people- backward, stupid, uneducated, unable to speak well, dirty- and flipping them positive- full of wonder, extremely competent, reflective, hardworking.  Thank you for producing food, farmers of the world.  Thank you for taking time out to accompany each other- to hike together.

Yesterday my housemate moved out, after a tense many months of sharing space.  Simply, it wasn't the best situation for either of us, and we are both grateful to have our own space.  On Saturday morning, I awoke and felt..  lonely and nervous despite relief.  My housemate owned most of the furniture we had used, and the house was literally empty- I feared it would stay that way.  I spent the day calling family and friends and getting back in touch after a long time out.  In the evening, four friends stopped by and we laughed and teased each other and shared a makeshift late dinner.  I woke up and was so profoundly happy to see five plastic chairs around a small table, which we had hurriedly set up the night before.  I had talked with someone about loneliness and she asked me to visualize the opposite- I had said, chairs set around a kitchen table.  Thank you for sharing space, for showing up.  Thank you for accountable relationships and dialogue.  Thank you for friends who love to shoot the breeze.

A friend was reflecting about the Hunger Games the other day- about the brief moment when they are hunting and stop by a stream to rest, and saying that that is how things should be, and we so often forget.  I have felt distant from the pain and rage that is crashing in waves across the US right now because of racial and economic violence.  I think sometimes that I used to feel more rage, and wonder if I am sleeping more- if I am less sensitive to what is going on around me.  I worry that I need to open my eyes, and yesterday I remembered the hundred or so times in the last few weeks that I had the chance to stop by a stream to rest- when I bent over double laughing with the kids I work with, when I jumped and screamed at my favorite futbol team in the local tournament, when I've danced to the serious beats of Caribbean music.  I remember when we hosted a delegation and were crossing a lake to travel to the airport, and one by one we launched ourselves off the boat and into the water.  Our clothes would dry later.  Thank you for kids and for spirit.  Thank you for, despite everything, spaces where laughter is the shared purpose.  Thank you for daily grounding moments- and for taking steps down from the cloud of darkness circling the world to the streams that run through it.  Thank you for a tough and mighty community in the US, that is standing up.  Thank you for the words STAY WOKE, and for wakefulness to joy, knowing that it is resistance.

 Mucho amor.  Lari

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Transitional Justice and Damage Control

The learning curve has been steep this last month in Colombia.  I have shaken the dust off vocabulary for self-protection, for legal process, for courteous letters to officials.  Once tricky names now roll off the tongue- for community leaders (former acquaintances, now fast friends), a host of government agencies and maximum security prisons.  I have pulled out countless names and stories from the two years I spent talking and living with folks in the mountains to piece together the story we are currently living.  I have remembered with them, and watched their faces as they wish they could forget so many things.  I have learned the deep, lasting value of the Colombian two-minute check-in phone call- the call you give when you get home at night, and to check in to see that a friend woke up in good spirits.

It has been so hard to walk with the community leaders through this.  On Sept. 3rd, written death threats for many of the nonviolent march leaders were distributed on public roads, in the towns where they live, in communities they trust.  Six days later, a dear friend- who we have called family for at least the past year of intense organization, reflection, accompaniment, struggle, and triumph, was arrested.  He is sleeping tonight on a bare cement floor in a maximum security prison.  I wish I could say it more gently, but one thing we have all learned is the blank feeling of helplessness that we often have when we think about him.  We can’t fly him a mattress, so we are reduced to using all the minutes on our phones and hours in our days calling into the wind, hoping that the competent authorities, wherever they are hiding, hear something. 

The onslaught of meetings, phone calls, negotiations, and lists haven’t stop.  I sat stunned through a meeting on Friday as I listened to the layers of pain and anger that this has brought to the surface for my friends, and again yesterday, as they steadied themselves for six hours of passionate, mature negotiation with government officials.  Too many days, I have sat down with them at the end of a meeting to update them on the case and watch them cry for a minute with exhaustion and worry, then set their faces, pull out their notebooks, and write a list of people to talk to or letters to send. 

The words “human rights defender” no longer invoke long documents, but faces and a gut-wrenching feeling of pride and outrage.  I see our friend’s wife, who had to tell their four year old daughter that her dad was in prison for the second time in her short life on false and fabricated charges of pertaining to a guerrilla group, speaking in righteous anger to over 600 of her own, who shelled out their own money to gather under rainy skies and remind us that they, as campesin@s, are not from the guerrilla, that they have been publically and transparently committed to nonviolence from the start, and that they are, under no circumstances, going to go home, shut their doors, and stop claiming their rights and dignity in a just and reasonable way.  I see my friend who consistently invites his enemies to sit down at the table because, as he said yesterday, enough violence is enough.  I see my friend who bent to wash my muddy foot, who reminded me that dignity is made up of that recognition of the spirit in one another.

We have all learned, for me it has not been many, but for others as many times as grains of sand, that the armed conflict is simply not over.  As delicately as the news can be written, it is distorted.  I wondered how hundreds of times in the last two years- how can a community so battered so little time ago exist so calmly?  I heard echoes of unresolved issues, but the Montes de Maria were completely safe, we were told.  Government officials were busy implementing the Entity for Attention to Victims, Committees of Transitional Justice, and reparations for victims of the armed conflict, which had since been resolved.  We are part of a Consolidated territory.

The amazing resilience of the campesin@s with whom I have the great privilege of working means several things- one, that they can laugh about just about anything, two, that they saw through the bullshit all along, and three, that they still have faith that things will get better.  They knew that Consolidated was the neat U.S. government word for “bulldozed with a military offensive” that stews together legal and illegal armed groups, rips up some illegal armed groups at the surface, leaves the roots and carries a huge amount of innocents in its wake.  They knew that they were born to open their mouths to defend their communities and their rights, and that at some point that meant they were going to face the powers that lurk below the surface, but hopefully this time with greater inner strength and more friends standing beside them.  They know that they are innocent, and that, as our jailed friend wrote: in life you often have to suffer, especially if you are poor like me.  And they keep on.  Our friend says: above all, do not let the process fail.  I have faith in heaven and earth that they won’t stop fighting for their beloved mountains, for their right to walk and laugh freely, for life over death.
Today they laughed at the idea of transitional justice.  They said- we are living in the middle of an armed conflict.  We cannot ignore that, as we sit down to negotiate with the government, the same is holding our friend captive.  The government Entity for Attention to Victims has championed this process, and now has to fight to free one of the leaders.  We have had to do too much damage control in the last month, in a scenario we had hoped was ready for healing.  How do you propose reparations for victims and then continue to arrest them?   How do you open spaces for dialogue and truth telling, as people are accused of pertaining to one armed groups or another based on what they say?  How do you move on when the government’s plan for protection are bodyguards and bulletproof vests, not challenging impunity?  How do you have negotiations, when people won’t speak because of who is in the room?

We have learned much of what is out there, and we know that we are not yet in a space of transitional justice.  There is still not much breathing room.  This is a time for active resistance.  It is time to network, love each other, laugh when we can, cry when we can’t, send care packages and letters, and stare all this down.  It is time to accompany, to shoulder the load, to steel ourselves against the reality, and to have faith.  We will keep walking, nonviolently, like my friends have done their whole lives, and we will not let the great work of justice fall.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Las Americas

I woke up this morning with notes of pots and pans echoing in my ears…  and I’m not even in Colombia yet.  If any of you haven’t been reading the news, Colombia is rocking with thousands of its population on the streets, marching, shouting, blocking highways, and pounding on kitchen implements as a nationwide strike almost reaches two weeks.  It is first and foremost a farmers’ strike, but new groups take to the streets everyday- truck drivers, university students, potato/onion/rice growers associations, oil workers, health care workers.  Colombia is continuing (over the last 60 years and counting) to undergo a massive rural-urban shift, as a lack of rural development policy, violence, multinational corporate interests and land issues make campesino life increasingly difficult, and protests like this speak to the seriousness of the issues.  Negotiations are underway but on very shaky ground, and the sense of indignation and injustice is running high. 

Colombians are awake and acting courageously.  After over 60 years of armed conflict, centuries of rural oppression, violent reprisals against community organization and protest, and lack of political options, they are still taking to the streets.  They are demanding that their dignified demands as citizens and lovers of their land be answered.  One video of the protests played Latinoamerica by Calle 13 (if you haven’t heard it, listen!) which has become an anthem of people power and pride in Latin America, and today, in Colombia. 

The song says, among many profound things, mi tierra no se vende / my land cannot be sold; quien no quiere a su patria, no quiere a su madre/ whoever doesn’t love their country, doesn’t love their mother; and ¡qué vivan las américas! / long live the Americas!

Today, writing from the U.S., I want to say YES.  Long live the Americas, but ALL the Americas.  I want to say goodbye to my country, where I have spent the last two months, in the spirit of another country, in which I have the joy and privilege to live. I want to stand on the roof and beat my chest and yell WAKE UP!  Let’s LOVE this place, and treat it like we love it!

These two months have been tragic.  I came home to read about Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman acquittal; I am leaving as our president- for whom I voted!- is pursuing a unilateral military strike against Syria.  I know that if you are reading this, I don’t need to yell about GMO crops, irrigation from the Colorado River in the desert, parking lots, Starbucks and McDonalds, consumption culture, and the free trade agreements we insist on signing with countries like Colombia, forcing small farmers worldwide to throw away their seeds, sell out, and move on.  I know that you know.  But I’m still trying to figure out my relationship with my country (even calling it that is uncomfortable), and I want it to be based on love, not tragedy.

I want to live like I care about this country enough to yell at the newspaper every morning.  I want to follow the lead of Colombians as they protest positively by buying 770- the beginning digits of the barcode which show that the good is Colombia made or grown.  I want to sing about the colors of my flag, cook up the national soup, rabidly cheer our soccer team into the world cup, and wear clothing that shows my love for this place, like Colombians.  I want to remember that the soil here is sacred, the water and air, and feel like it is part of my community, like many Colombians I know.  I want to be able to honestly say, without irony, that I love my country and my land, not as the superpower police state that can ram its economic policies through at the expense of everyone else, but as a place that deserves to receive and needs to show honest love and respect.

As Colombia is made up of campesino/as, we are made up of campesino/as.  In these two months I have seen just how vast and varied this land and its peoples truly are.  Urban food growers in Pittsburgh, quiet progressives in Akron, biking families in Harrisonburg, desert water-savers, border crossers and protectors in Arizona, safe spaces in San Francisco, alternative thinkers in DC, prison activists in Baltimore.  We are.

I want to love my country, and believe in it enough to fight for it, not just shake it off as the great evil empire that resists change.  So that we feel that there really is a place for us here, and we are welcomed.  So that our vast diversity and dignity are expressed as the norm, not the alternative.  So that we begin to live into our whole identity and demand that our government honors that.  So that the people that live on the margins are recognized as what they really are- the majority- and begin to exert their power.  So that we recognize that we will gain so much more if we take a few steps down and collaborate with our neighbors.  So that we, too, take to the streets.

I want to be able to yell, along with Colombia and all of Latin America, ¡qué vivan las Américas!  And mean up and down the whole continent.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Aquí estamos (después de caminar).

I still feel stunned.  Six months of planning and analysis, diplomatic conversations with NGOs and the departmental government, hundreds of phone minutes and hours of dangerous Jeep rides to communities in the middle of nowhere… and three hard, bittersweet days that were the March.  There is no closure.  We are, if anything, reeling after taking a big step forward- not the first nor the last, but a big and beautiful step.
We are grateful and proud, and honored to know such good people.  If you look through pictures, know that every face in every picture gave it their all, and each one contributed so much.  To get to the biweekly planning meetings- from October to March- most leaders paid out of pocket.  Many times I would show up to a meeting on a moto, and realize that many others had walked for two or three hours to get to the truck that brought them there.  At one point during the march, we had to cut up a cow into pieces to cook, and had 15 volunteers within minutes.  People cleaned bathrooms, ran security in shifts through the night, cooked massive meals, and carried sacks of food from the trucks to the kitchens over and over.  For one of the meals, 22 cans of sardines (on rice) fed 700 people.  I heard no complaints.  For those of you that are lucky enough to have visited the Montes de Maria, you know what it means for 700 people to mobilize from their homes down the mountain, and for them to donate over 200 100-lb. sacks of food.  This mobilization means preparation, good communication and leadership, and collaboration from truck drivers and the people that stayed home.  It means faith that every other community is doing the same, and hope enough to show up.  It means power.  I wish you had been there to watch the trucks come down the mountain, each crowned by twenty or thirty men and women, ready to take calm, passionate, non-violent action to make things better.

We are calm and ready.  I am glad that the government pushed the dialogues forward, and that there are clear next steps.  The leaders were able to see that the next level of the movement is not forcing the people to walk four more days to Cartagena (although people would have, no doubt) but to take the conversation to the next level.  We will wait until the President comes with his ministers to lead a “Prosperity Agreement” process for the region in May, and we will prepare ourselves.  We have learned that we must have a united front to negotiate, and we have seen our weaknesses.  The communities have almost no experience negotiating, and we now know that.  We now know that there is no shame in taking time to talk out decisions, and that the communities will not sit quietly if we do not always speak with- not for- them.  We know that we must see ourselves as powerful and human enough to stand up to anyone, governor or not, president or not, about our rights and dignity.  We are ready to don our green and white T-shirts again, and march if we are not taken seriously. 

We are angry and disappointed.  The structures of power do not favor the campesino and less the campesina.  They do not favor the authentic language and experience of the pueblo- that comes from hard work with bodies and hands, and memories of displacement, loss and violence.  We do not yet have the tools to differentiate between insulting and respectfully disagreeing with people in office.  We weren’t able to hold a steady footing in front of political manipulation, and allowed debate to create rifts in our own movement.  It is unjust how much power a title, an education, a political rank, a skin color, or a language can give one person over another.  I am confused at my role and influence as a white North American woman, and anguish over my interactions and impact through the whole process.  It is so hard how best to facilitate, how to be in the background and not a protagonist, when and how to speak up and when to not.  We are frustrated at the clarity we have in hindsight.  We are disappointed that we didn’t put our feet down and keep walking when the national officials didn’t come to the meeting.

We are glad to see paint going up on the health clinic in Macayepo.  One of the leaders is in a meeting about avocado projects today, another in a meeting about the reparations process, another hopefully finally signing the teaching contracts for her school.  All these are direct agreements we reached in the dialogue tables on Sunday.  We have had an impact!  We are angry- of course- that these things, if they are now so easy, were not done years ago, but we are proud that we pushed some things forward. 

This is a step on the long path before and after us to awakening, to bonds of friendship and hard shared work, to realizing that many people walking patiently, peacefully and with conviction, can make the government shake.  When the mountain moves, our hearts move, and the world begins to listen.  ¡Que se mueva la montaña!

Monday, March 11, 2013

So we will march... (this is what I'm working on these days)

If violence were the solution to all of our problems, say the leaders of the campesino movement now forming in the Montes de Maria, Colombia, our problems would have been solved thirty years ago.  A coalition of leaders representing almost 30 communities have decided to join together in a nonviolent collective effort to draw together an effort to rebuild their region.  

The Montes de Maria are famous both for the fertility of the soil and the ferocity of the violence in the last fifteen years.  Unorganized criminal groups, the guerrilla groups the FARC and ELN, and paramilitary groups fought for territory in the region, catching the farming communities in the middle.  The violence came to a peak in October 2000, with the well-known massacre of Macayepo leaving 35 victims.  To stand up for their rights as victims, people must publically denounce the guilty groups and makes people targets of these still-active, still-powerful armed groups.  Furthermore, community organizers work in a context where communities have been divided and made distrustful by false promises of protection from illegal armed groups and from the government.  The march has helped the communities begin to break down some of the stigmas surrounding the region. 

The campesino of the region are used to farming its steep hills by hand, but have sustained themselves for the last 30 years from the avocado harvests.  Not only were the communities devastated by massive sackings, burnings, murders, and displacement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but since they have returned to recuperate their farms, their principal crop has fallen to disease.  Almost all of the massive acreage of avocado farms has died in the last few years.  In the face of such obstacles, they have realized that a unified, dignified and nonviolent march is the best way to highlight both the generosity of spirit and hardworking nature of the people in the mountains, and to ask for an integrated governmental response to their plight as victims of the armed conflict and of crop disease. 

The communities say that the government’s policy on reparations is not enough to meet their needs.  The Victims’ Law #1448 of 2011, establishes a ten year plan for reparations, starting in targeted communities like Macayepo, where the violence is better known.  The leaders argue that their needs are greater than mere targeted collective reparations.  They seek integrated, transformative reparations in the whole region, not just select communities.  They also recognize that without the avocado, there may well be a second displacement, this time because of economic violence.  

They seek two integrated strategies for the region- a return with dignity and institutional accompaniment that fulfills their socio-economic rights and develops strategies to recover from the loss of the avocado, and an integrated, transformative, and regional reparations strategy.

In October of 2012, several community leaders began voicing a common idea: a nonviolent collective action.  Made up of practicing Evangelicals, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Catholics and secular community members, they are a diverse group in religious beliefs, ethnicities, and life experiences.  In October, they began to plan a march from their municipal center, El Carmen de Bolivar, to the departmental capital, Cartagena.  On April 6, 2013, over a thousand campesinos will gather to march for 5 days to a dialogue with local, departmental, and national members of the government and members of various non-governmental organizations.

They invite the national and international community to participate, publicize, and support the communities of the mountain in their nonviolent, collective effort to reclaim their rights and dignity. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013


On Sunday morning, we woke up in Bogota and headed for one of the city’s best markets, Paloquemao.  I burned my tongue on hot café con leche as we ate almojabanas, cheesy pastries, on small stools at the entrance.  We browsed the tightly packed stalls for dry fruit, nuts, and whole wheat flour to take back to the Coast and stared at the tall stacks of fresh fruit and vegetables.  You can buy almost anything at Paloquemao (bean sprouts, beef tongue, organic coffee, a blend of herbs to treat any illness), and almost all of it is grown in some region of Colombia or another.  We laughed at the extremely courteous Bogotano accent, as compared to the brusque, tangled Coastal one. 

We had enough time to walk back, and a block down the road, came to the security guards and automatic glass doors of a shiny new monstrosity of a shopping mall.  It seemed dropped from the sky- millions of dollars of panes of glass, colorful Adidas shoes, North American fast food and the newest releases in the movie theater.  It was clean, uniform, and perfect.  There was not a single piece of clutter in the spacious hallways.

We stumbled out into the light and kept walking.  Soon we started the long walk along a gray wall that stretches an entire city block.  A friend remembered that it was the outside of Bogota’s largest mega-church and convinced us to step inside.  There was space in the sanctuary for 10.000, and from the back, over the swaying hands of several thousand, the worship leaders looked like ants.  There was a steak house and a gym, as well as a radio station and a large scale map of Colombia and all of its new mega-churches: fruits of recent missions.  As we walked past the streams of Bogotanos heading into the service, we remembered some of our friends who were meeting in a house church only a half hour walk away.

That evening, after the plane ride and on the way to Sincelejo, I watched scenes of the Coast move across the taxi’s windows.  Thatch roofs, motorcyclists with no helmets, broken concrete, stalks of yucca wilting with the lack of rain.   It is extraordinary what things co-exist in this world.  On Saturday, we had been privileged to listen to a professor-activist, one of the leaders against a huge hydroelectric dam project in the department of Huila, El Quimbo.  He described the strategy of development that is taking root in Colombia and most of Latin America.  Massive multinational corporations (in this case, Italian) propose huge, lucrative projects to the government, based largely on extracting or exploiting natural resources.  The governments jump at the chance to use the competitive advantage of their regions- the water, gold, lumber, or other natural resources- and bend to the companies, allowing them extreme amounts of power in the agreements.  The government effectively steps out from between and lets the corporation interact with the people in the region, without taking any regulatory measures.  Because the corporation acts in its own interests, it takes almost all the profits, leaving the national government with little, and the people of the region with nothing except ruined farmland, few jobs, and a lack of future options.  There is too much to write here, but through rigorous research, the professor and his team have been able to prove that the damages caused currently and the projected loss of resources over the fifty years of the dam’s lifetime are significantly less than the profits accrued by the project, and the profits do not even stay in the country.

The strategy is maddeningly successful.  By turning the world into a neoliberal comparative advantage model, diverse ecosystems are replaced by huge reservoirs.  Electricity produced in Panama can travel to Argentina, but doesn’t get to rural towns in Panama.  The free trade agreements now signed in Colombia, Peru, Chile, and a number of other countries allow choice export markets to grow, at the expense of the farmers that have sustained their countries for millennia.  Malls and supermarkets take the place of the chaotic, diverse networks of local markets in which money spent stays in the community.  The church is part of the same strategy.  A uniform faith takes the place of geographical communities.  Differences are ironed out under the goal of contributing financially to God’s mission on earth, be it through building new mega-churches or funding mission trips across the world.  If you pay, you receive more blessings.

We become valued not because of our cultural heritage, our grounding or love of place, our songs and food and literature.  Our activities no longer require relationship of specificity, but shopping, entertainment, church, and travel can all be accomplished without talking to another human being.  We can watch the same TV, eat the same food, and shop in the same stores in Colombia as in Japan, Sweden or South Africa.  We become flattened, the subjects of a market instead of a nation or a culture.  We are valued for our purchasing power or how much we produce.  It is the model of efficiency, the model of economic growth, the model of profit.  But what do we value?  At what cost?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Campesinos y Campesinas

Here I am in Berruguita, loving it more day by day.

Yesterday, I woke up at 5:30 to cut rice.  I am tired of living in a farming community and getting blisters because my hands are “computer soft,” as a friend from Jubilee Partners told me one time, when I visited after going back to college.  I’m going to work. 

We got to the field at 6:30ish, and cut stalk after stalk until 1:30, pausing to wipe sweat from our faces and drink from a shaded spring nearby.  My friends sang vallenato and Mexican rancheros as they worked, and they railed me with questions about Madonna (recently gave a concert in Colombia) and what giraffes were really like (after they found out I’d seen one alive) and if you could cross breed giraffes and donkeys (like true farmers).  We laughed at how red my face got and they complemented by rice-cutting speed. 
I jumped in the river afterward to cool down and visited with my neighbor friend, who was sitting in the water, washing cooking pots, and then headed up town to sit with some friends for the cool-afternoon-chat-time.  On the way there, I passed twenty or so young men walk-running down the road, some carrying a hammock on their shoulders, others waiting for their turn.  A pale older woman lay in the hammock, her son running beside her, stroking her hand.  They were carrying her out until they reached a car that could take her to the hospital.  Later, I ran into a friend who commented that his trip to the city had reached no conclusions, as his child’s health insurance was still not sorted out.  His son was born with heart and intestinal problems and has had two operations and needs another, but bureaucracy has kept his insurance tied up.  They are waiting.

As the sun set, I sat with some dear friends, talking about rice cutting techniques and natural remedies for stomach sickness (the señora prides herself in having had cured about everyone in the community at one time or another).  They recommended that I blend some green bananas, peel and all, when I have an upset stomach.  At one point, the señora turned to me and said, “How great is God.  Look at our lime tree.  Everyone picks from it, and there are still dozens of limes ripe and ready, all year round.  And right next to the kitchen.  God takes good care of us.”  As I left, they showed me the sacks of rice that they’ll store to eat this year.  The sunset was beautiful.

How blessed I am to get the chance to live here and experience how life smells, feels, hurts, and thrives in this village.  I’m reading the book about Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, right now.  I had resisted picking it up for several years, not knowing what I would think about his outlook on the answer to the problem of unequal distribution of wealth, resources, and especially medicine between the rich and poor.  His answer is Robin Hood- take what you can, when you can, and always prefer the poor.  He is bold and angry.

I don’t know how I would stand up in a conversation with Farmer.  I feel boldly angry, but in my work I often find myself following MCC’s cautious approach, pushing for accompaniment and sustainability.  I’m not creating a pilot project out of nothing, run on my persistence and will, but trying to help create a healthy community that responds to its own needs.  Sometimes it feels almost futile.

Farmer hates the “they are poor but they are happy” thought, seeing it as an excuse for writing off the deep and intentional inequalities in the world and excusing inaction.  After yesterday, I find myself agreeing.  My heart hurts to see my sharp, honest, joyful friends manually picking rice for extremely low prices, with few other options for work.  I was brought to tears as my friend called out to me as he ran past, waiting for his turn to carry the hammock, with joy to be helping someone, but such bitterness that the road is so bad that shoulders are the only way to get sick people out.  I lament with my friends as they reminisce about the houses full of rice they used to have, before the displacement and before people left and didn’t come back. 

My community finds joy in their days.  But it is joy in spite of, not because.  It is joy in spite of years of trampling and being pushed down.  It is the love that emerges for each other, for the land, and for good work, in spite of the grinding reality of poverty.  There is no “poor but happy” excuse to not fight for better roads, a doctor in the health clinic, better wages.  I want so badly for some relief in the struggle that people live here.  There will always be difficulties, but I want there to be fewer.  I want them to enjoy their lime trees and be proud of their rice, not in spite of, but because.  Because farming is good work, because they love each other, because they are skilled and intelligent and proud and deserving.  I want the world to see them with dignity, not as poor people who are stuck in the mountains, but as the fabric that holds us all together.