It’s been a little over one full year since I left the United States and moved to Colombia to work with FOR Peace Presence. I’ve been thinking a lot about where the time has gone, what’s changed, and what hasn’t.
This year, I learned about isolation and connection. How to stay close to the people I love, even if they are far away. I learned about just how difficult it can be to connect to people from a vastly different experience than me, and that maybe I’m not as open hearted as I’d like to think I am. I saw first-hand the effects of an economic system that privileges the Global North and tyrannizes the Global South.
I saw again and again how anonymized greed works to dismantle the inherent dignity of human life. I gained a newfound understanding of the desire to mobilize armed resistance in the face of this kind of tyranny, and questioned more than ever before my dedication to pacifism. Nevertheless, I am still here, and I still believe in organized, active, non-violent resistance.
I think one of the things that was most moving to me after living in the Peace Community for eight months was the realization that this idea—that peace can be achieved through an egalitarian distribution of wealth and resources, through collective work and harvest, that it can be done in community, independent of the state—this idea could be so natural and organic to humankind that it can occur to people who have known only the mountains their entire lives, known the rivers and the cries of mulas and marranos, but never studied philosophy or economics or sociology, never even learned to read, in some cases. There is something completely organic and natural about wanting to come together and share resources.
I realized that I have been taught lies. That this natural feeling was suppressed in so much of the culture I grew up in. The human tendency to seek companionship, to seek help and support and communion, is squandered in an unchecked culture and economy of competition. I did not grow up with a strong understanding of how my individual actions shape a whole, or how a whole shapes me. And not only that, but when I finally did come to understand that concept, I understood it as just that—a concept. A theory to be honored and debated and tried, to be read in books and written about in 1,000 word essays, but not a truth. For the people I spoke with in the Peace Community, individual responsibility for the collective is a truth. It is fundamental. And somehow, I find that uplifting: if we can unteach the fear that drives greed, we can get to the root of ourselves. To summarize, I learned that the desire and the drive to share resources, to live in community, and to fight for sustainable economic equality is not a desire that can only be learned in books or in ivory towers; it is actually fundamental to the experience of being alive.
I danced with strangers, and swam in the sea. I climbed mountains, rode horses through jungles thick with fog and mud. I wrote and produced some things I wanted to write and produce, I failed to write and produce other things. I slept in hammocks and bunk beds, read books, listened to podcasts, played with children. I watched the killing of animals—cows, chickens, armadillos—that I later consumed. I navigated a foreign healthcare system, and took 20-hour bus rides along winding cliffsides.
There are plenty of people back home that I still love and miss, and of course from time to time I wonder where I’d be today if I had chosen to stay. Nevertheless, I am proud of myself for leaving, and am grateful for this time. I’ve decided to extend my tenure at FORPP until at least this summer, and hope to continue to do human rights and economic justice work long after leaving. With excitement, humility, and courage, I look forward to these next 6 months!
FORPP Accompanier Pendle Marshall-Hallmark has been in Colombia since January of 2017. You can read more about her here.