Costeño Thanksgiving

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October 2014 028I caused a motorcycle accident last weekend. At that point, it felt pretty normal. I had been back on the coast for four days, officially to co-facilitate a workshop on documentation and political advocacy, and unofficially to remember what I had forgotten about life on the Caribbean.

I started to feel at home as soon as I stepped of the airplane into the humid, dense, tropical air of the coast last week. It was the hot dog scandal, however, that reminded me of how much I love and miss the exuberant emotions of this place and these people.  At the end of the first day, foil wrapped dry hot dogs were passed out for dinner. Unrest was immediate.  Participants, the majority from farming backgrounds are used to large rice-and-boiled root filled plates. “Hot dogs are appetizers, not main course!” After apologizes and assurances of arepas and juice in the plaza, things calmed down, but not until everyone had expressed exactly how they felt.

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Later that night, after the required arepas and juice, we visited the the Hombre Caiman statue, a local landmark celebrating the legend of a man accidentally turned forever into an alligator because of his desire to spy on women bathing in the creek. Everyone, especially those of us from far away, had to get our picture taken with the alligator man, “to show other Canadians our culture.”

Then, following the Costeño whirlwind, the next step on the integration activity list was karaoke. It started to rain in great falling sheets of water, but even when the power went out, nothing could stop up. We sang acapella style, with songs ranging for vallento to champeta to original compositions at the top of our lungs in the dark. Later, we walked arm in arm through the muddy dark night to our hotels and it was beautiful.

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The hot dog scandal was only fully redeemed, however, by our celebration breakfast on the last day of the workshop. At five am, organizers went to the local market to pick out the freshest fish, and then fried it over an open fire until crunchy golden. Served with yuca and suero (strong sour cream), and eaten with our hands off paper plates, we relished every bite taken between stories and laughters. When it was finally time to say goodbye, we exchanged long embraces and promised to come back.

By the last day of my trip when a motorcycle driver got so distracted by seeing two blondes speaking English loudly in El Carmen, that he ran into a meridian (he was fine), I was already re-used to the interest in anybody by everybody. On the Coast, all of the joys and sorrows of life are lived out to the fullest, accompanied by insatiable curiosity and lots of laughter. I often felt lonely in Mampujan, but I never felt alone.

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Back in Bogota, I attended a workshop on social media facilitated by IBM. I arrived to beautifully plated finger sandwiches of salmon, tuna, egg and cheese. Half the people in the room ate them, carefully, with their fingers, dabbing lips with cloth napkins. The other half used their forks to cut the bite size sandwiches into even smaller pieces. Through out the course of the day, we were served, by men in chef’s uniforms, grilled asparagus, fish fillets in a creamy seafood sauce, champagne flan with a red wine sauce, and cream puffs. The food was amazing, we were all passionate about the topic and our work, yet, at the end of the day, we all went home to our separate apartments throughout the city without hardly a goodby.

IMG_20141008_110718I was feeling homesick for the community of the coast, when, on my way home after the workshop, I stumbled upon a candlelit procession in honour of one of Mary’s feast days. Draped in lace shawls and singing acapella cants, women made their way down the Parkway in an act of soft celebration.Children ran ahead, racing to see who could hand out the most postcards explaining the day. I stopped and watched and then started home again, and for one brief instant, I was leading procession. And it was also beautiful.

During the course of writing this, I have made a pumpkin pie and have stuffing in the oven cooking for Thanksgiving dinner today. A few other MCCers are coming over for dinner. The smell of sage and nutmeg fill the house, comforting parts of my tradition. There will be no scandals, people will be kind and we will share stories of our homes.

I am thankful for this community and for people willing to share my traditions with me. I am thankful also for moments of connection and wonder in Bogota. I think, what I am most thankful for, however, is missing the coast so much it aches. Because we can only really miss what we have had a chance to truly love and know. Going back reminded me how much the Coast really was my home.  photo (9)

Be warned: I will probably try to cause some sort of scandal at work this week just because I miss the Coast. Or at least borrow this hat again.

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