My sister came to take me from Victoria to her home up island. Before we left, we had to make a slight detour, she told me. We needed to pick up some pigs for her farm. Yet even as Bonnie informed me our plans, she looked dubious. I would have to help with loading, and she was unsure of my abilities to be near animals, let alone handle them. I was dubious myself. The last time I transported pigs, I had carried twenty pounds of raw pork in a bucket on public transit from Mampujan to Sincelejo. This time, the six squealing, squirming piglets were very much alive. I surprised myself, and my sister, however, with my abilities to lower and raise the back seat of the car, as Bonnie tunnelled the pigs through the small space into the trunk of her car. Every time we stopped for a traffic light, we heard rustling and frantic oinks, as the piglets tried to settle into their new space. Finally, we arrived and released the animals to their new pen on the farm.When I think of going home, back to Canada, the possibility of transporting piglets in the trunk of a car is never the first image that crosses my mind. I think about sushi and Tim Hortons, yet realistically, my background and family traditions are more based on farming than on going out for donuts. I remember childhood Saturdays, gathered in the kitchen frying dough and smearing the fresh, homemade donuts with chocolate icing. Why buy something that you could make yourself? Why not transport pigs in car?I also wasn’t expecting to attend a memorial service on my trip to British Columbia. A friend and colleague’s father had passed away, and all of us at the MCC BC office went to express support. I was surprised by how moving it was to hear the life story of a man I had never met, a bookend to my time on my sister’s farm. The last names in the eulogy and the stories of migration, from Russia to around the world, and the words of strong faith, echoed my own family’s past. We sang hymns in German from the old hymnals in the pews and ate bread, deli meat and cheese downstairs for the reception.
In many ways, I felt like I had stepped into a parallel universe. What if I had grown up in the midst of this community and not in the Yukon? Would I be able to fully sing the German songs instead of just following along the words in the heavy blue book? I come from a history and tradition of growing, of seeking new life in lands of safety and in rich, black soil. If I had not come to Colombia, would I too be working the soil? Canning in the fall and pouring over seed catalogues in the winter, waiting for spring? These rhythms of hope and faithfulness do not necessarily evoke a dogma, but continue to exist as a way of being, rooted in a Russian Mennonite past. The imperative to tread lightly on this earth translates into muddy footprints in the kitchen from time spent in a backyard garden, a field of goats, and collecting eggs every morning.
My first Sunday on the Island, I spoke at a small church, sharing about some of the peace building initiatives that MCC supports in Colombia. My aunt accompanied me and stopped to get coffee while I went inside to set up. She came back with two cups and told me with excitement that the bistro around the corner serves farmer sausage and borscht. Then, as we settled in for the service, she whispered about how the words of benediction and blessing hadn’t changed since she was living at home, piling into the station wagon with her siblings for weekly services at the MB church in their small Mennonite community. Twenty, thirty, forty years later and the flavours of childhood and the words of faith still have the power to evoke a feeling of home, good and bad.
I fully believe that life sprouts from the ground and that change is built from the grassroots up, yet I spend so much of my time above, peering at the mountains and lurching down plane asiles to tiny bathrooms. I worry that my work does not offset my carbon footprint or justify the distance that has grown between myself and the people I love. I feel very far from roots, yet as we left the church that very first Sunday, a woman I had never seen before stopped me in the parking lot. “Are you the author of that blog, the Llama Diaries? I read it everyone and a while, when I get a chance. Tell me, how is Jorge doing?”
I may not bask in northern summer sunshine as often as I like and all of my houseplants are dying, but I am still present. My words and my work help span the distance between a perfect day orca sighting with the baby and walking through traffic to my Bogota office. I see my family inside of me, in a gesture or a love of learning. I carry our traditions in my DNA, a mix of trauma, colonization, and a desire to make the world a better place. With each sentence and each presentation, I am trying to bring my worlds closer to each other, creating faith in our ability to care about those outside our communities. In my best moments, I like to believe that I too am tending soil.