Living the Landscape

Dec 28, 2014 | News

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A post-arrival reflection from Julia Schutt, FOR Peace Presence’s newest team member in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. 

141221 JSAfter a whirlwind six weeks based in Bogotá, I have finally arrived at the place where I´ve known for six months I would arrive. Everything is new and different, but yet I have this strange feeling that it was all waiting for me.

Coming up the trail to La Unión my first time, overwhelmed by the beauty growing and flowing all around me, I felt like I had been dropped into something unreal… This landscape was the stuff of desktop backgrounds and hanging calendars – What was I doing there? It´s an impression I have not yet been able to shake. Every time we venture into the green hills around us, I feel like I am walking through somebody else´s picture (stumbling over rocks, slipping in mud, and panting all the while). And yet, there I am. Breathing the air, sweating in the heat, and reveling in the breeze. Something that just two weeks ago was intangible to me has now literally become the ground beneath my feet.

After some time taking it all in, I am realizing that it´s more than the landscape. Here in the Peace Community, living in La Unión, I am not only existing in a dramatic physical world, but in a social and historical one as well. Just like the wild colors of the countryside around me, the stories here feel familiar but foreign. Talking to my neighbors I have the feeling of having been dropped into a history book or news article. After studying the political and armed conflict in Colombia for almost three years, I am suddenly standing in the middle of it. The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó has suffered unspeakable sorrows in this war—often as a direct target of strategic persecution—and the history of violence that I boiled down into a few introductory paragraphs so many times is the reality in which people have lived their entire lives.

Maybe this is part of what accompaniment means: walking into the vivid illustrations and gripping text of a book that was written without you, and that will continue long after you are gone. Reconciling the surreal feeling of having been artificially implanted into an independent context with the very real feeling of someone´s palm against yours. It is a reality far from mine, but for now it is my home.