Paramos are Great Places to Think


March 2015 070 Mongui, Boyaca, is truly beautiful. This admission comes as no surprise to its residents. After all, they proudly proclaim, the town has been declared, year after year, as the most beautiful pueblo in the department. The streets and the cobblestone plaza are lined with colonial buildings painted in green and white and adorned with geraniums hanging in clay pots. The picturesque town is only made more lovely by the beauty of the surrounding countryside, filled with lush green fields and farmsteads. The people are calm and polite, friendly but still reserved. Everyone uses usted and Andean formality is expressed in every gesture and greeting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The best part, however, is the paramo three kilometres away. Where else can you wander around hundred year old plants above the treeline, drink from crystal clear streams, hear stories of cave dwelling elves, and make it back in time for trout dinner? With a lookout point that reaches 4000 metres, any shortness of breath can of course be blamed on the altitude, not physical fitness levels. March 2015 249

This weekend, I shared Mongui and the paramo with a visiting aunt, uncle and cousin. As always, conversations over empanadas whirled around life and experiences. What are our expectations for our lives? What does it mean to travel in another place, with those expectations? March 2015 402

As I reflect on my time in Colombia, the most important moments have been the encounters with the people I have had the privilege to meet and work with. From crazy in Mampujan to my office in Bogota, I know people’s stories in a way that a simple jumping from tourist destination to destination can never allow. These experiences have in turn shaped my expectations as to what it means to live somewhere else.

March 2015 306 In many ways, compared to Mampujan, Bogota feels like it could be any big city in Canada. Sure, we speak Spanish and eat more deep fried food on the street, but other than that, life seems normal. At first, everything was amazing. Privacy! Running water! Fresh fruit! Fast internet! Coffee shops! Regular work hours! Free time! Yet, somewhere along the line, I started feeling less than legitimate because everything seemed a little too easy compared to the expectations I formed because of Mampujan. March 2015 144

When I really reflect, however, the sharing of joys and sorrows that make up life anywhere are the elements that I want to matter. Whether attending a funeral in Bogota or laughing over lunch in the backyard at work, I am in a place where I can delve deeply into what it means to be human in a specific context and location.  I cannot overlook the beauty of where I am simply because it seems less than foreign. It is a good thing to get used to a context, to reach a point where that place is simply where I live.

March 2015 154 I have written extensively in the last year about the contrasts between Mampujan and Bogota. It is been a challenging transition, but I am so glad that I have had the privilege to intimately know life in both scenarios. Perhaps the way joy is expressed in Bogota, with its urban Andean culture, is different from the Caribbean Mampujan, but it is no less valid. It is part of my work of living here to learn to see the beautiful in what has become ordinary. A shared meal, a radio show, gestures of solidarity, laughter between cubicles, free concerts on the street, flowering trees on the Parkway, a neighbour feeding soup to a homeless man: these are only a few examples of the myriad ways life in the city also reflects what it means to be alive.

March 2015 197 Even though it is not as dramatically different, the beauty of Boyaca is no less than that of the Montes de Maria. Mongui is not Cartagena. To expect it to be the same is to shortchange both locations. Each place has its own distinctiveness, but sometimes finding it means looking deeper and changing my expectations. In Boyaca, it may mean hiking for seven hours to arrive at the summit of a paramo. In my office it may mean being intentionally present for the small, yet vital, moments of connection in the kitchen or between cubicles.

2 comments on “Paramos are Great Places to Think”

  1. Anna, this is such an honest post, and I’m so grateful you have shared your transitions and reflections through this blog. It has actually been healing, in a way, for me. Even though I only ever lived in Bogota, I often compared the comfort of my situation to others and wrestled through many of the same things. Ultimately I arrived at the same conclusion. “This place is no less valid.” and “It is a good thing to get used to a context, to reach a point where that place is simply where I live.” Thank you for sharing. (I am too self-conscious to post this on Facebook, so you get a blog comment!)

    1. Thanks for being honest as well Beth, and especially for putting up with all of us Seeders when we were living in communities. I think, in any situation, it is the time and willingness to be vulnerable that allows a place to be home. Bogota is showing me that in a way that Mampujan never could. I never get blog comments, so this is amazing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s