I think I'm the cheapest MCCer on the Colombia budget this year. If we're only talking about the food budget, I'm sure. Last week I think I spent three to four dollars on food, and part of that was because I had visitors and I had to buy real things to eat. If it's up to me, more often than not I just eat an entire avocado and that's that. (It's avocado season, and there are thousands, literally, on trees and kitchen tables and the ground, in sacks and trucks and everywhere. The average size is four times the puny black ones you find in the States.)
The reason I spend no money, according to some of my male fellow seeders, is because I eat unfathomably small meals. The real reason, according to me, is the incredible generosity of my community members. I know that most folks who live with host families overseas have stories about the ridiculous amounts of food that are placed in front of them, and the moral dilemma of appreciating the gift but really not wanting to explode and/or gain absurd amounts of weight. I have enough of these stories, from Spain (paella!), Palestine (pita and labneh!), Sudan (posho!), and now, Colombia. One of my friends never, never fails to feed me lunch, no matter if I visit at 11am or 3pm. If there is food nearly ready, ready, or on the stove, I'll be handed a plate. Many evenings, I'll be cooking in my house and open the door to find the small neighbor boy with a Tupperware and a cup of juice. I hate it sometimes, because of my ruthless independent streak and need for control, but I love it too. If I don't eat all the rice, after all, I can just feed it to the chickens and eat the eggs later- win win! The best part is that this is not just true for me, as an outsider (although it might be a bit excessive), but is true in every house, for everyone. If food is served, it is served to everyone who is there, the second-cousins, the neighbor kids, the truck drivers, even if everyone knows that they are on their way to another meal in their own house. Two of my older women friends are used to cooking for a ton of kids and have just kept on cooking large pots of food, just in case someone shows up. I just love that.
This weekend I helped facilitate the first MCC delegation visit of my time here in the community, and once again, I helped coordinate the food. The cooks and I decided that we wanted to cook almost completely with food grown here, so the day before, I went looking for fresh yucca, ripe avocadoes, milk and eggs. A friend had already brought ñame the day before, and the garden is producing all the vegetables necessary except tomatoes, so we were doing well. I had some money and receipts in my bag. Two hours later, I staggered home with 15 pounds of yucca, ten platanos, about 15 almost-ripe avocadoes, a bag of fresh-picked cherries for juice, and all the money I'd left with. I just popped my head in doors, asking after ripe avocadoes, and people loaded me up. When I indirectly mentioned money, they brushed me off. Of course not.
That evening, four more avocadoes showed up. The next morning, people brought 10 more. I was so proud to tell the folks on the delegation that almost all the food they were eating was gifted, and even prouder to see friends of mine, two days after the delegation, walking home from church with a bunch of platanos. It's normal- everyday, with everyone- to gift food. We live in that abundance, and it's beautiful.
I think a lot about the strange nature of community here. As those of you who've been following my few-and-far-between blog posts know already, most of my job is fighting tooth and nail to get people to come to meetings, to work together, to put effort into a group initiative, and to swallow their pride for a minute and collaborate, admit that someone else may have a point, and try to reach agreement. I wonder if I just have the wrong framework in my brain for community- maybe meeting attendance actually doesn't matter, but we can measure community through something else...
What I see is that people here are magnificent. Powerful, surviving, proud, industrious, intelligent, and individualistic. Surviving in the past necessitated people like this- when the farms were miles apart and the market was farther, so families had to settle difficult land, grow all their own food, and haul their goods to market, all alone. And they thrived. They knew and know the land and are damn proud of it, and understand their wealth in terms of land and the food they grow. They survived, and they enjoyed the abundance together, but they managed and manage their lives fiercely and independently. This is what I feel when Dorka hands me a bowl of rice, chicken, and green beans- one of the million meals she's cooked with her feet squarely planted on this ground.
But I am still left with questions- today, we are seeing that the forces of change are too great for the good people to be islands. Today there are mining companies, highway construction, erosion, armed conflict, poor schools, free trade agreements, global warming.. We have to look for solutions together; we have to lock arms and hold each other up. Stubborn independence is lonely when everyone else has to sell out because the prices are dropping. How can we learn from the beautiful way that people share the abundance of food to build the abundance of community? How can we strengthen what is already here, and stand on it to face the future?