It’s been over a year since I first hopped off the plane and arrived in Colombia, and although I’m writing now from Bogota, it’s the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó that was my base for almost that entire time. I can’t speak for everyone, but my time in the Peace Community certainly influenced me. I don’t know if I really have the words to explain how, so bear with me.
The backdrop of the Community is beautiful: tropical forests, green mountains, rushing rivers. If you are even a little bit of a nature lover like me, it is easy to get swept away in the surroundings. But in the back of my mind there was that little nagging voice to remind me, “this is a conflict zone. Hundreds of community members have died here.” And it gave me an eerie sensation.
Over the course of the year, I witnessed how the violence permeates their lives. Sometimes it is blatant, like the attack on German Graciano at the end of 2017. And other times, it is just so woven in that you almost miss it until you take a moment to reflect. This is especially true of children: how aware they are of the danger, the way they know how to respond to an armed man walking nearby, how they can make casual comments about things they have seen. This makes it all the more incredible to me that they are able to stay peaceful, when there are so many forces, blatant and subtle, that try to push them towards violence.
I am so grateful that I was able to spend a year with the Peace Community. When friends and family would ask what I do on the day-to-day, the honest answer was usually hang out and chat. There is something so beautiful to me about the small-town neighborly drop in–which included everything from farmers and children to farm animals that would often wander into our house–where everyone knows each other and are always together. For all that the Peace Community has been through, their love for each other and for their way of life is easily apparent. Their joy in who they are and what they stand for made me reflect often on what I consider important to my own happiness. I still can’t say how it will affect me long term, but I know that I owe them a great deal and am honored to see how they continue to build peace, day in and day out.
Kati Hinman is an international accompanier with FORPP. You can read more about her here.