This has probably been the strangest and most un-December like December of my life. Combined with the heat and the fact that Mampuján doesn’t really celebrate the 25th, it feels like Christmas never really happened, yet I know from facebook status, phone calls, calendars and attempts to dance salsa in the streets that there really was a 25th of December this year.
Despite the lack of traditional Christmas feelings, if I look back over this month, I can see many moments where I experienced the unexpected, seeing grace in the unlikeliest of places, which to me is pure Christmas. The birth of a tiny baby to enact reversals is what Christmas is all about. As Mary sang,
“He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.”
So, in spite of the sometimes sadness of being far away from family and friends this season, I know that that miracle of Christmas is something that is taking place here and that I have had the joy to participate with.
One of the biggest events of the month was our march to Cartagena. The people in my community only live in Colombia because of the slave trade, which brought thousands of people from Africa to farm and work in the mines. The Caribbean city of Cartagena was the centre of the slave trade, and it was very emotional to see Mampujaneros peacefully marching with dignity and pride through the site of the former slave market to demand their rights for reparations. The community spoke powerful words of truth to the government that is supposed to be representing them and was able to gain incredible press coverage.
Throughout the process, the community also remembered the original act of displacement, when they were forced to leave their homes, only taking with them what they could carry as they fled on foot. Many people told me that the act of leaving to march at four in the morning, burdened with backpacks and cooking pots, made them remember being displaced, but with a difference. This time, it was their choice to leave, something that they were doing to better their community and their families. Instead of only being victims, they are learning to see themselves as people with agency and the capability to stand up for a better future. Over and over, they repeated the fact that they were walking in peace, shattering any illusion that may have remained in the country that they were associated with guerrilla groups, the reason that the paramilitaries gave when they displaced the community in 2000. The entire march was both an enactment and a reversal of history.
(To find out more about why we marched, read this article. To read about the sheer exhaustion of the event, read my friend and fellow Seeder Larisa’s play-by-play description, to find out more about follow up, click here. To see pictures, click here)
On Christmas Day, I went to La Pista, the site of an indigenous community of Zenu, for their yearend assembly. They shared their vision and mission for the New Year, complete with plans to gain land title and work on recovering culture heritage. Despite the heat and language difference, I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Colombia, not in Canada, hearing the same things from Canadian Aboriginal groups. However, it was very encouraging to see a community that has not had a lot of international or national help moving forward and seeking change. Hearing the pride in which they spoke about their community and their processes was incredible.
Speaking personally, feeling more and more accepted in the community and a part of life here has probably been the biggest gift I could have received. There are still many days when I actively wonder what in the world I am doing here and how I will ever fit into the community. Then there are other days when people tell me that they are glad I am here and that they are proud to have me living in the community. There are days when I very lonely and just want to speak English to a close friend, and then there are days when people come to visit me and we talk about life and I feel at home. All in all, life is not easy here, but I also don’t know where I would rather be.
I hope you all had a blessed Christmas, and all the best in this New Year! May we all look for the unexpected in 2012!