I made yogurt yesterday. I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. After a Monday long with meetings and trying to both write and speak coherent sentences, I was done with living in my head. Instead, I boiled milk, let it cool, added a starter, and put it on top of the fridge to ferment. This morning, I woke up to a thermos full of creamy yogurt, the most productive thing I have accomplished in weeks.
April has been a slough. Somehow, the exuberance of becoming a Colombian resident has transformed into days spent at my desk, staring at a blank screen. I am attempting to write about migration and the words are heavy. Sentences refuse to form. Each phrase demands to be definitive, and in defiance, I put nothing down. I read half of one report and a quarter of another, distracting myself with emails and office gossip. I have, simultaneously, an over abundance and a scarcity of information. I am the so-called expert, and yet, I know nothing worth typing.
For Holy Week, a friend and I head to a farm in Boyaca. Instead of hiking, I devour mystery novels and learn about state terror during the rubber trade in Putumayo. These are not good choices. Despite the fat chickens that follow me everywhere, I don’t know how to turn my brain off.
I lead a team meeting and talk about Michael Sharp, the work of the Congolese church in encouraging demobilization, and his violent death. I share about the work of drinking coffee and engaging in conversation about daily life, hopes, and fears with members of armed groups. My point is not to turn him into a solitary hero, but to reflect on the courage and value to be found in everyday peacemaking, whether in Colombia or the Congo: in walking together, eating together, believing in each other. I quote the Washington Post “that Sharp, 34, was “standard deviations above the norm” when it came to integrity and compassion.” I tell the Justapaz team that I am proud to work in a world, in a team, so filled with people above the norm in integrity and compassion, that they have become my norm. I don’t know MJ personally, but I feel the pain radiating from our mutual friends. I spend a Monday crying at my desk over his loss, the loss of those with him, because their efforts feel like all of us.
For the very first time, I visit the USA Embassy. The meeting is filled with the hearty chuckles and informal friendliness that shout estadounidense just like the security checks at the front gate. Nobody’s hair is perfect, nobody’s nails are painted. There are the usual questions from our student group about human rights violations, and the passionate defence of Plan Colombia from the staffer panel. One senior member, on her second tour in Colombia, states her love for the country like a flag planted in the Andes. That sense of familiarity, friendliness and the claims of affection for a place, yet that culminate in the fumigations of the rice crops of farmers I have eaten with, impact me more than I realize in the moment. Does my own claim of belonging cover up a multitude of wrong?
I am, in my own way, grieving. This is normal. Plan Colombia, migrants disappeared, and the loss of almost colleagues are not to be taken lightly. It is human to be impacted by tragedy. I care for myself within a broader context that includes moments of sorrow. I feel privileged to be able to use my voice as part of a broader conversation around these themes. What I am missing, however, are the everyday actions: the coffee, the conversations, and the connections that must lie somewhere beyond my desk. I buy flowers, go to the gym, try to connect my body with my brain, but nothing seems to budge.
The measuring out of ingredients, turning on the stove, that first bite of anticipation and the bringing of a project from start to finish feels like an embodied miracle in the moment. This is the hope of fermentation, that the bacteria in a yogurt culture will multiply in warm milk. In just over eight hours of rest and gentle dreaming, something new is being formed out of the ordinary. I am writing, one word at a time.