For one, it's meant dealing with a huge lack of communication with the outside world. Also, the power has been going out almost daily, for a number of hours each time. It's started raining, so sometimes we are “mudded in” (like snowed in, only not as charming). The hardest part has been getting up every morning to the same old process. Movement feels like action, and staying still can feel like floundering. Traveling is an easy way of working, and hanging out in the community often feels like waiting for something to happen.
Nevertheless, these two months have given me the chance to watch some things unfold before me, instead of bouncing in and out of the action. Community building (the current words that feel like they apply to my job) is slow, and made up of hundreds of details that over time create a strong and flexible network of connection. Living here lets me participate in some of those details.
I hesitate to say that these things mean progress. After reading James Loewen's Lies my Teacher Told Me, I hesitate to use the word progress at all. He describes the U.S.ian myth that we are climbing a constant upward slope to perfection, and every change is positive and leads us out of the darkness of the past. I believe in working for just social change, true, but I don't believe that we are moving in a straight line toward perfect equality, reconciliation, peace, justice or anything. I believe that these things have existed in the past and continue to exist, and we must work to bring them into the light. We can work at change and transformation by reinforcing relationships and actions that help us to act in just and peaceful ways. So progress... hm. I prefer to say hopeful things that are happening.
Here are a few of those details that bring hope to my work:
In September, we started the long process of organizing a chicken project with some young women. Now, they've had both their first and second “sacrifices” (as they call them here), and I hear people all over the community exclaiming how healthy and delicious the chickens are. We've agreed that although we would rather people not eat chicken-house chicken, if they will anyway we want them to eat this, because it is raised here with good air and water, is fed no antibiotics, is kept clean and uncrowded, and eats only the processed feed, with no additional chemicals.
THERE ARE FINALLY FISH IN THE FISH POND. I will leave it at that because this process has been unbelievably slow and difficult, and that is enough of an accomplishment to be a huge triumph.
Our fifth community meeting since my arrival was the most well-attended yet, and many young men who had steered clear before came, mainly because of their interest in the collective land process we are working on. In Colombia, an Afro-descendent community has the affirmative right to organize into a Community Council (we have) and to own collective land. This is a small way the government has thought of to help compensate for centuries of abuse and discrimination. The community is finally becoming conscious of the enormous possibility of this right, and while older married couples have traditionally been those most involved in our work in this community, many young men are starting to pay attention, mainly because this could provide them work off rented or inherited or shared land.
Ricardo, the director of SembrandoPaz, successfully facilitated a negotiation about a piece of disputed land in a nearby community. In a situation where there could have easily been violent actions from both sides, people met, talked, and came out as neighbors with an agreement to split the land. This is a big deal, and is made up of a few treks into the mountains, a chance encounter at a car repair shop, many conversations as we waited for the trucks to pick up the avocadoes, plenty of battery-dying in the middle of important phone calls, and one nerve-racking 4 hour meeting.
As a result, I have had many more complex conversations about possible reconciliation or negotiation meetings with other people in seemingly-hopeless tangles over land. None is for certain, but the community is aware and excited about the possibility to talk in person and perhaps avoid years of legal battling.
In the aforementioned community meeting (which had been going so well), one of the community leaders accused another of intentionally cutting the power cables so that he, the only one with a generator, could steal the party from the rest of the town. This led to a fight, many people left the meeting in disgust, and the next day there were threats and accusations of all sorts being thrown around. Just to be clear, this was not positive, but the response of the same Commuity Council was, simply, awesome. Two days later, I sat amazed, listening as other community leaders worked their way through a reconciliation meeting with their two fellow leaders. Many have mediation training but had never put it into action before, and it was inspiring to watch them successfully mediate a situation that was on its way to the municipal police station. It would be a lie to say that I hadn't been instrumental in getting people to the table, but once there I honestly did nothing, just sat back and listened to the wise words shared. It was heartwarming and also a bit silly to watch the two community leaders apologize and give each other a “brotherly hug.”
With four different farmers, I've donned my boots to hike up into the hills to visit their fields and to check out the possibility of giving them a small loan to improve or make possible a certain planting. Many farmers have available land (often even seeds) but not quite enough capital to make a big investment. We look carefully at their ideas for a loan, visit the fields, eat mangoes with them, talk about percentages and payments, and eventually help plant as well. This is one of my favorite parts of my job. People light up when I make the time to visit their work, and talking about possibilities is so refreshing after over and over discussing, feeling, and living the obstacles.
And finally, the last two details that are signs of hope...
My fridge was fixed. (Although, after six months of room temperature water, I just can't drink it cold.)
And I got a puppy. Her name is Sacha and she loves to bite my toes, hard. And she is ridiculously cute, especially when she fights with my chickens.