I am excited for you to arrive this afternoon and to experience all of the chaos, challenges and community these two years will bring you! I am nervous of seeing the Anna of two years ago in your enthusiasm, excitement and perhaps belief that you can change the world. I would love to share some of my reflections from these past two years with you, not because I am old and wise, but because I am learning to value my own lived experiences as something worth contributing.
When I arrived at orientation in Nicaragua, I felt like I had come home. I had left a conservative university where each year I had felt more and more alone in my thinking and into the embrace of a space where we could talk about justice and peace and wrestle with the impact of our daily choices on this world. I came to Colombia for praxis and for my Master’s Degree of Real Life; love and solidarity in action to change political policy.
Fleshed out love and solidarity means real people and all of our complications. I learnt about the ripple effects good intentions can have living in Mampuján and it paralyzed me. The personal is political and our presence is not neutral. The reparations process in Mampuján turned the entire world upside down and forced me to go slow, to listen, and to observe. My lack of a defined job sometimes made me crazy, but I learnt to think critically about myself and my assumptions of value and the skills I thought I brought to a marginalized community. Instead of being really good at researching, I learnt how to be a faithful presence at community events.
With that in mind, learn self-kindness. I still struggle with this, especially with your imminent arrival. I am afraid you will be better Seeders than I was, that you will be closer friends, that you will build stronger relationships with your communities, and that you, in all your enthusiasm and desire for justice will actually save the world. But I am learning to have faith in my own small actions. I came and I will leave and the work will continue. I am not indispensible, but I am important. Therefore, I care for myself and try to live a life of compassionate courage. Practice being human by giving yourself grace for who you are.
Don’t think of this time as a two year interruption in your life, but rather, as your life. Think about the future, but live in the present. This moment is the only moment you have. Meditate however that looks like for you: sit in silence under your mosquito net, play soccer, talk to your neighbours. For the first year, I watched Grey’s Anatomy every day. It was the perfect escape from what seemed like the unreal chaos of my life and work. I am not ashamed of it, and eventually I started reading again, when I was mentally ready.
You will get scars, and like the majority of scars, you will not be able to choose how you obtain them. Mine came from motorcycle accidents and reparations processes. Being present helps with the healing process. Let your community teach you. There is something about living in a place where anything can happen, and does, that makes small things like going to the creek or catching the shade under a giant tree so much more vibrant and life so much more worth celebrating, scars and all.
I am not a fan of meta-narratives, but I do believe in my narrative. Believe in yours. Where you have come from will directly impact how you interact with the people around you, and what actions you chose to take. Those around you are also writing their narrative, based on where they have come from. What will the confluence of those two stories look like for you? Whatever it is, there will be a high component of the ridiculous. When chickens sleep under your bed and you can’t get home because transportation has stopped because of a soccer game, there are usually two choices. You can get angry or laugh. Neither really changes anything, but laughter is generally more enjoyable for everyone.
But even in the middle of the ridiculous, remember that those around you are dignified beings. There is so much you can learn from the brave people you will meet, even when you don’t think you will ever agree with anything they say. How you chose to interpret events is up to you, but it helps to err on the side of grace. Use the community around you, both your physical and MCC community, to help you reflect and process these moments. The goal of your time together is not to become a homogenous group, but rather to release each other to be who you truly are through the acceptance of your differences. That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone and you are not a failure if you are not.
Embrace complexity and enjoy the journey. You are braver than you know. Welcome home!
PS: One last helpful hint: when travelling by Avianca and the plane gets hit by lightening and has to turn around or you get stuck in an airport terminal for six hours, always take the fried chicken vouchers.