Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bienvenida a la comunidad!

Well. This is the town I'm going to live in for the next almost two years. I've been grappeling with this realization for the last week, which has been full of many strange and beautiful encounters with Caño Berruguita. I feel inept at presenting an in-depth view with my few observations, but I do think I can sketch some things out. I think I'll just make a list- bear with the disjointedness, please.

Most of you probably picked up on my frustration as my arrival here was delayed a week. There are a few obvious truths about this place- one is that the road is simply terrible. As it was raining everyday the week I tried to leave, I waited and waited but couldn't leave. I finally put my foot down and picked a date to leave. Although it didn't rain the day before, on the way up the trucks in front of us repeatedly got stuck and had to haul each other out of the river/mud/road ruts. My truck didn't get stuck, because my driver is awesome at lurching around on this track. Luckily, we arrived, although I couldn't move any of my things. I have been sleeping in a hammock, living out of a backpack, and eating at the neighbors' this last week. Rain willing, I will move the rest of my things (think kitchen, bed, fan, books) next week.

I live in a small, comfortable house with a tin roof and lizards crawling on the walls. I have a bathroom with running water that isn't connected yet, so I've been hauling water. Moving in has been a small view of how different time and schedules are here. People are excellent at saying that things have to be done (for those of you who speak Spanish, that means a lot of “hay que...” and “claro”), and less good at follow-through. For instance, people kept agreeing that we had to move out the stove, washing machine, bags of compost, and various other things stored in my house, but five days after coming, they were still there. I enlisted the various children around (who are my new and dear friends) to help me move stuff out, after which we threw buckets of soapy water around my house to clean it, using the mop handles as microphones to sing the bits we could remember of Costeñan (from the coast of Colombia) love songs. So many people stopped by and apologetically said that they had meant to do this for me, but ran out of time. I shrugged and made a mental note that it might be hard to get things done quickly here.

My house is built on the land of an excellent family- the matriarch is Dorca, son is Ivan, grandson is Merkin, and nephew is Tingito. What I should really say is that I live in the town of an excellent family- Dorca is one of 12 or so siblings and has 12 children herself, as do most of her siblings. One of her brothers has nineteen kids. As such, EVERYONE is related to Dorca. Most everyone addresses her as Aunt Dorca, which could be understood as a nickname, except that it's 99% true. Anyway, they and Anyi, an 11-year-old neighbor girl, have been my guides, family, conversation partners, and explainers of how things work here. Anyi hung her hammock in my house so I didn't have to sleep alone the first week, and loves to hear me read out loud in English. Merkin likes telling ghost stories and today fetched water on a donkey. Ivan eats more at dinner than I thought was humanly possible, but then again he spends all day pulling up ñame (more on this later) or sowing corn in the hot sun. Dorca is totally in control of the family (often this means the community, as before noted), and spends all day cooking, explaining how life works, and generally being a steady and stalwert lady. Tingito is also a most interesting character. He lost his left arm and part of his left foot about 6 years ago, but still continues to farm. Incidentally, the coast calls its own variation of Spanish Costeño, and it's generally much faster- and people don't pronouce many of the letters. Tingito is the hardest to understand of anyone I've met so far, and by the way, the person who has taken it upon himself to show me around the whole town! After a week of hanging out, I understand about 65% of what he says.

Another wonderful part of this week has been eating with the aforementioned family. Wonderful because I get to spend very comfortable, natural time with them. Tricky because they somehow think I should eat as much as Ivan, who, as I said before, works all day farming. I work all day visiting. I do not need to eat a mixing bowl of rice. Also, the most common foods are ñame, yuca, and plantains, all slightly different types of white starch- the first two are giant white roots. Breakfast is a plate of one of these things, usually with a chunk of cheese and some sweet, sweet coffee. Lunch is a plate of a different one, probably with meat. Dinner is rice with a salad of vegetables or more meat. It's been an overwhelming amount of the same thing, but now that I'm in Sincelejo cooking vegetarian with my fellow SEEDers, I actually miss my plates of boiled white roots.

As most of you are probably wondering why I'm fooling around having adventures and not working, I'll fill you in on that a bit too. My main work will be working with the Consejo Comunitario (community council) on projects that empower and reinforce community and help work to overcome the devastation of the desplacement. This will probably mean various agricultural projects related to accessing materials, technology, and knowledge and organizing growing cooperatives and collective projects like vegetable gardens. It may also mean things as wide-ranged as seed saving, a women's group, computer lessons, and documenting stories. For now, the critical work is getting to know the community. I can't work with them or advocate for them until I know them. This has meant chopping plantains, sowing sesame seeds, hiking through steep fields and talking about diseases that attack the avocado, swimming in the river, hearing stories about the displacement, calling two meetings of the Consejo, and taking care of babies. It's varied and exciting, but difficult also to wrap my head around the fact that my job is to accompany this community in the process of empowerment and resilience. What on earth will that look like for the next two years?

I'll leave you with that. Sorry this is so rushed, but I am trying to take advantage of the internet in myriad ways this weekend, so I still have a lot to do. For those of you who don't know, I have an internet device that works only with cell signal- and the only place in the community with signal is on top of a high hill behind the neighbor's house. It's beautiful but not exactly convenient, so I'm likely going to be out of contact for the next month. I hope to catch up with those of you I can for now, but also ask for patience as I sort this out. I am so grateful for the support from home in this crazy time of adjustment, and hope I can keep you all updated as much as possible.