When Isaac came from Bogotá for a week to work with us and visit his old stomping grounds of La Union, our normal routine changed. We talked about things happening far away from the peace community on the hill and we spent time hanging out in houses we rarely visit. We talked about how accompaniment is a delicate beast and how living in the community while simultaneously keeping a professional distance from the inhabitants makes for some fuzzy relationship lines. One evening as the rain fell softly outside, Isaac blew our minds with magic card tricks on the hard wood floor of a neighbor’s house.
The U.S. government announced the intention to release more military funding to Colombia. We sat in smokey wood-stove kitchens with mold hanging from the ceiling and had macro political conversations with famous human rights defenders who were visiting the community in the wake of the news.
I had three days off which I spent (mostly sleeping) in Apartadó. One evening at the PBI house we discussed a new local film produced in Urabá. It’s called Banaman and about a banana worker who has magical powers. Urabá could use a superhero.
Girl in windowSeptember is the month of “love and friendship” in Colombia and the community plays a game called “amigo secreto,” where everyone picks the name of another and then sends them candy throughout the month. While gossip is pretty normal in this small town, during amigo secreto mum is the word. The idea is that everyone, through their own devices, figures out who has them. Sounds innocent enough. There is one catch: everyone has three guesses to figure out who has them and if you don’t guess correctly, you “pay the price” which is some embarrasing thing the community gives you to do. I have, of course, had to face the music. I had to sing in front of the whole community. I got over this quickly, however, while dancing the night away at one of the only community parties of the year.
Emily and I made a new bench. We keep telling everyone our carpentry skills are some of the greatest assets we bring to the community. Since many of our neighbors are unclear on exactly what it is we do, they are equally unsure of whether or not this is a joke. The bench is made from two used paint cans and a piece of wood delicately set on top of them. Sometimes the paint cans disappear. Sometimes kids run down the street with rainbow colored hands.
I sat in the shade of the cacao grove during the heat of the day, helping a neighbor slide the slippery seeds from the large yellow shells in the first step of what will eventually become chocolate.
The deaf girl comes to talk to me and show me her newest bruises. We sit on the new bench and I smile and nod and guess what she is saying while she enthusiastically nods yes or no. A neighbor leans against a rock and watches us without me noticing. After a minute he says, disbelieving, “Do you really understand her that well?” I say, “Clearly. She is speaking in English.” All three of us laugh.
A neighbor asks how I can handle living so far away from my family. He “misses his mom when he goes to work.” I laugh because his mom lives, literally, across the street. “I take her everywhere I go in my heart,” he says. I say, “That’s what I do too.” I suppose we will always miss the people we love, whether they are across the street or across the continent.
When everyone is busy, they pass me the baby. I take the baby on strolls through the street and talk at him. Everyone expects his first word will be: hello.
My life here is so many things. It’s adventures with friends:
A friend hiking me high into a guava tree and instructing me as to which branches I need to “shake with all my might” so that we can make guava popsicles.
Two friends laughing as they throw rocks high into the branches of an orange tree, trying to get the fruit to fall, then walking toward me through the knee high grass of the orange grove, tossing peels as they go.
Hiking through the jungle mud and across another river to buy cheese. Collecting river smoothed rocks and driftwood to decorate my room. Sitting and watching the rapids and feeling the movement of the water outside my boots.
My life here is vallenato music:
I dance vallenato in the kitchen. I belt out vallenato hits on the back of the jeep on the way down to town. When the electricity is out, I listen to neighbors sing vallento.
My life here is harvests:
Squash! The largest I have ever seen, was harvested from our garden. Guava! It’s guava season. Guava juice and guava bolis and guava dreams. I do love guava. One day my lunch consisted of mixing four separate gifts: buñuelo, and an arepa covered in cheese and honey, all ingredients made with the loving hands of my neighbors. So delicious.
My life here is survival of the fittest:
I hear Sapa crunching the bones of mice and bats and lizards in the middle of the night.
The heat so hot that we escape to the posa for an hour to climb on mossy rocks and swim in the cool shaded water. The heat so hot we can not go on without bolis popsicles. The heat so hot I dip my head in the water tank to cool off.
My life here is admiration:
My 70 year old neighbor chopping wood with a machete. When someone asks her the favor of returning a horse to its owner, she replies: “As long as one is able, one should be of some use.” She stops the work she is doing and and she leads the horse up the hill.
A neighbor makes us a new garden fence from tree branches he expertly removes from his own backyard.
Her third baby missed her 20th birthday by two days. When she went into labor she didn’t mention it to anybody. She just sat quietly. When I heard people walking the streets and whispering at 4AM, I know she was giving birth. A couple hours later, Em and I went to visit her. She passed us her new baby. I asked her all about the experience. I asked her when she knew she was in labor: “Yesterday afternoon, when we were sitting talking outside Angela’s house.” I asked her why she didn’t tell anyone: “And how would that help the process?” I asked her if it hurt: “Obviously.” I asked her if she screamed: “What good would that do?” I asked her if she punched her husband so he felt some of the pain: “Only a crazy woman would do that.” She is probably one of the cutest women alive.
My life here is so many things:
Chamomile tea and chameleons in my shower and popcorn with hot chocolate and thunder rolling down the mountain. Soldiers on the march and fighter planes buzzing overhead and Sapa curling herself up on my lap.
My life here is reflection on the beautiful:
The electricity goes out at midnight after a rainstorm, leaving the full moon to light up the sky. The rain is long gone, but the thunder still roars and the sky is so bright and the moon is so full of energy that I can not sleep. I sit in the moonlight flooding through my window and think of you.
This article will appear in a longer version in the upcoming special issue of Fellowship Magazinededicated to protective accompaniment. Submissions for the magazine can be made until November 7, toEthan Vesely-Flad.