jueves, 31 de octubre de 2013

it's life and life only

My uncle once said that sailing the world made him dream of gardening. I have not stayed in once place for four weeks straight since February, and I am also dreaming of roots.

Huila. Em’s 32nd birthday bash is celebrated at the end of June between the central and eastern cordilleras at a small town folkloric festival in Huila. we dance vallenato and see beauty queens perform a folkloric dance so many times in a row that we ourselves should be competing. A blue agate wind chime hangs in the hotel lobby and I learn about how musica andina has a harp element. It strikes a chord with everything I know. We hike barefoot to a waterfall where a morpho butterfly finds us sitting by rushing water and sunlit pools in Huila’s midafternoon heat. In town, in the evening, boys run with heart shaped balloons flailing behind them and girls are all dressed up in frilly dresses.  We dance in sweaty rooftop bars. We celebrate with the whole town at a live vallenato concert in a dusty field, “ponchos arriba!” and Emily is older and wiser by the end of it all.

Guatemala. Then it is July and I am in Guatemala for the first time since moving away in 2010.  A peace corps van on the side of central park in Antigua and a gaggle of foreigners spinning poi in central park reminds me how many Americans are in Guatemala at any given time. (A shit ton.) In Guatemala, I feel at home. Lee marries Royer on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I marinate in the colors of the mountains, the beauty of the countryside, the familiar places simultaneously left behind and brought with me wherever I go, old friends- some of whom have known me a decade. The fruits and flowers and tropical foliage. The lake. And Xela. Zacapa. Friends. Walking streets and drinking coffee and juices with friend after run-into friend. Waves and hugs and chats about communes and gardens, new and old projects, life’s circles, how we can use our own capacities as we grow and learn. About art for social change. Travelling takes it out of you- all the normal and the cotidian. And a homecoming reminds you, of how anything can be normal. My ten days there are spent in the company of love. In Zacapa, Casey and I discuss the drug war and I think Teculutan could be San Jose and when a cevicheria next to her house is called, “Medellin” I decide definitively to move there when I return to Colombia. Guatemala reminds me what I know, what I don’t know, what I want to know… what I’m doing about it. Guatemala reminds me the appropriate question may not be obvious, and that the potential lies in the exquisite imagination. There is a striking conversation with a deported man in king and queen, the hugs on every street corner, the catch up with dear friends in every city, the running along melon fields in Zacapa, the throwing myself into lake Atitlan, the chicken bussing through the familiar every town and the way moving through space affects our mindset and connects us to where we are.

Bogota. In Bogota change is on the horizon outside and always onward inside as I work through my last few weeks of over packed scheduling and tasks at FOR. Professional wrap up is pumped with plans for purging my closet and shaking my soul, silent retreats, meditation and dance. African dance. Salsa dance. Séance Dance. All dance. Bendy says I am the mistress of change. I dress for the part. New music, new mindset, and how even though it’s been two months since I left San Jose, I still compare my every experience to there. I think in the morning how my Bogota acoustic sunrise compares to La Union’s vallenato accordion at dawn. And this sort of thing goes on all day. All night.  Come, speak of the future…

The red brick building I watched kick off in construction during the worst days of my post trauma psychosis is now being plastered over in my last days at FOR. Its red bricks are about to disappear into another grey building on the Bogota skyline in Chapinero. I can no longer see through the walls.  I think it must be like my mind-body-soul-heart’s trauma: plastered over with time and therapy, less visible to an outside eye. And yet, somehow part of the foundation to everything that will be built on top of it from here on out. From raw and red to a more blend-in-able grey.

July is closing out and rituals and promises. Sunny Bogota mornings, rainy afternoons. Rebuilding and retaking my sanity, love as the opposite of power, love as that which we fear. My favorite graffiti collective setting up show just downstairs from the FOR apartment. Art for social change.

And July is still an acknowledgement of trauma when nightmares have me awake long before dawn, stretching my lower back silently and slowly as the sun rises.  In the early Bogota morn, before the cars and the sun, you can hear the birds. The birds call to my trauma. They tell it to throw itself from the window. The birds tell me that babies are ready for trauma before they are born and that this is all part of the process. And my lower back relaxes into the stretch. And then I bake early morning pumpkin chai cupcakes and start to pack.

On August 1st, I leave FOR. The same day, a dear friend of mine leaves earth: Fernando dies in a fiery plane crash in a cornfield of El Quiche. His plane is seeing falling out of the sky by farmers in bright traditional dress. And I find out in real time. And the news jolts my post trauma self into convulsions on the floor of my Bogota apartment. And when Emily comes home she sits with me while I cry and blabber on and then she says that life is precious.

Medellin. Days later, in a new city, my precious life becomes reading and dancing and a sunnier Medellin where the surroundings are less harsh. It’s not as hard to breathe in the lower altitude. It’s not as hard to get to a park in the sunshine. I arrive just in time for feria de las flores and get to hear all the reasons why Medellin is a shithole from my socialist anarchist friends and why feria de las flores is a farse. I also get to dance in the street in free concerts. I get to do all of these things because I want to. I get to do them all without process of consensus. I am back to controlling my own life and decision making process. It seems revolutionary.  I see my peace community kiddos that live in Medellin every Sunday when they come for dinner. And I dance a lot of salsa. I talk with new people. I walk to new places. I unpack. Regroup. Read. Write. Breathe.

La Union. The same first week of August, Gelita dies and  I am unexpectedly on my way to accompany another funeral- on my way to La Union for the first time since I moved away. I am at home in La Union, again. I am collecting seeds and hugging children, being present at the rainy velorio of my next door neighbor, eating and talking and lounging in neighbor’s homes, walking through the jungle of Uraba, sleeping in the first room I ever slept in... in the first room I couldn’t sleep in back in 2011, at the FOR house. I am witness to the sadness in slow, quiet crying and to the sadness in loud wailing. I see foggy rolling clouds and Martin, who appears as if an apparition on the front stoop of the house. I see what happens when people are heartbroken. I eat zapotes until I burst and the jungle breathes so much life into me with so many memories that flood back with the force strong enough to knock me down. I accept how so much of me is trapped in that space. I am bug bitten to hell in four days. Babies kick at me from their mother’s bellies. My god daughter laughs in my arms and I cry out with delight. For the first time I am in the Peace Community without a FOR shirt on and I am connecting with people as Gina and it feels so good. It feels like relationships with other human beings should be. And it seems like such a long time coming in this space that has had such an effect on the human being that I am.

Medellin. Back in Medellin Negro and I walk the park. I feel quieter after a trip to the jungle, after the deaths of August. I’m amazed at how old I look in photos after just one year. Moira comes and we read the human rights updates, which includes one “good” piece of news, however we laugh at the fact that it too has ‘massacre’ in the title. I resolve not to read any crisis updates for a month.

I have the distinct thought I did not die because I am still supposed to create.
Honey whole wheat bread and the job search in full swing; my life as a period piece.
No good and evil in war, only pain. Time as a currency.
I think there are many things I should write before I die.

USA. Home.
Writing and homecoming and a hot August in the Midwest.
Eat your way to ecstasy at the Clarion Pass Resort.
A garden to reap and letters to write.
Ginger ale. Homemade everything.
A trip to Ashland. A trip to Oregon: the great plains and the painted canyon, the sky so big, Rogue Elk and the Cascade’s pine forest. Skalkaoho pass and a small family on a farm: Amber, Adam, Ava.
Health nut western towns. The PCT. A dance studio. Walking after riding.
Eco-farms and other simple concepts that are lots of work. Life projects.
Elms, oaks, maples, pines.
Interviews and applications and the anxiety of the unknown. The anxiety within.
Sun tanning and a cousin’s video. A cousin’s wedding at Grumpy’s.
Colombia like an anchor in my heart.
Movements of the body that mirror a post traumatic mind.
Shimmering leaves and park green spaces. A dog to walk.
And where have you been, my darling young one?
Ravioli factory at dad’s. Pool time at mom’s. Oldest friends.
From fear strength. Home as an overgrown garden that must be cleaned out every time I return. 
Family and how, in the end, we are not alone in this.
A shower for a wedding in Aruba.
Interviews and rejections and applications entering a second round.
Six months since the boat crash: I cry silently on every airplane. I tense up in every car.
Firsts and lasts and spiraling and overlapping life experiences.
New kicks and haunted spaces. Our life’s “story” is just a narrative we tell to ourselves.

Cali. Back in Colombia, a festival in Cali calls and after a ten hour bus ride, we are dancing at Petronio Alvarez. Homemade liquor and homemade Afro-Pacific beats. The drums! The dresses! The dance circles! Picnics in the park and picnics by the river and nights shaking our asses in outdoor concert land.

Medellin. Reorganization and creation and a discombobulating wind. A starving child in the curtains of my dreams. A lifetime will not be enough to study all I’d like to learn. Job search and starting to work here in Medellin part time, to volunteer, to read the news again. Photo album and jewelry making. Habit building and habit breaking. Mango trees and honey bees and dreams of visions and sincerity. And how I need to protect myself. Reading more, writing more, time for breathing, ciclovia. The image of a mature tree, full of character and beauty. Debasing the soul. Rue the day or seize it. Salsa and Waking the Tiger.Does what you’re doing create anything or perform a service?

I wake up one morning in September with the song which was playing when the combat broke out in my head and my heart is racing. I am sweating. Then I am stretching and asking myself, “How are you connecting to the earth today?”

In the darkness of night, on my way to meet Shaka, I feel threatened by nobody and then look up and remember that the moon will protect me.

In the park the trees in bow the wind. Cristian and Ander come for Sunday dinner. Family dinner.
Palms like quiet castonettes in the breeze. How we learn things. Skill sharing and skill building and doves on my window sill. Sunset is a nice time to be in the park. Trips to the market. No rush. Standing at the sink my thoughts drift to LU. I dance salsa at dives where people dance like they dance in the Barrio. I dance in the barrio. I dance in clubs where they dance like it were cuba circa 1950. Salon. Ballroom. I take a trip to Santa Elena and hippy dippy land where there is an international artisit’s retreat. There are artists from around the world and cows and I gladly trade the woes of the world for talking about clay. Kilns. I compare this retreat to the harsh paramilitary culture pulsating in the city below and its cultural crackdown on anything alternative. A day trip to Guatape’s drown town for a pretty view and the dam has me half manic enjoying the relief paintings on the walls of the homes and half indignant with the reality that the “lake”/ dam is now where the town used to be. That the steeple of the church can be seen below a boat.

Bogota. Bogota for a visa run. The FOR apartment: Jamie and Emily working overtime and me cleaning out my final things. The move is official. My visa is approved. A slumber party at Liza and Mika’s. Bogota’s harsher in environment, Medellin’s is perhaps rawer. I journal in the morning while Liza practices her guitar: metronome journaling while Mika moves sprigs. Wine induced pasta lunch at Jeanine’s and feeling like there is something about life that should be slow and deliberate. We four do not work full time at the moment and it seems like the pace is how it should be. And there are dreams of farm. And fear is part of it. I buy street art. I carry on my lavender plant from the Bogota urban garden and walk the streets of Medellin like Natalie Portman at the end of the Professional. And lavender kicks off the urban garden in Medellin and I know my thoughts are not so different from the little lavender in a bag.

Carmen. Back in Antioquia I attend a protest against the privatization of water sources in a small town outside of Medellin. I protest multi-nationals reaping the territory, harvesting money and leaving behind starvation and death. I hate that I am associated with those companies for the simple act of being foreign, for being from the world-dominating USA.

Medellin. With all of my possessions in Medellin, I feel settled. As October closes I plant an urban garden. I amp my craft box for Art as therapy. I attend political conferences and protests and confront issues of racism and resolve for fearless honesty.  I work on my scrap book. As October ends I fill out  more applications, have more interviews, more visions of contradicting and completely different futures. I re-enter the world after an August of reclusion, a September of hibernation.

There is a night of fireworks and vallenatos and urban gun fighting and I have sleepless night full of nightmares and tears and then I resolve to wake at 4am. I make coffee and reflect on dreams of young boys in hammocks, dead after combats in jungles. Of funerals and vigils. Of how kids are killed in the city too, but I will never have to see them bleed. I watch the sun rise outside my window, watch the sky turn from black to deep blue while gun shots fire downtown. The night was for mourning, but the dawn would not be broken; the fighting ended with the daylight.

While mopping the floor one day, I dislodge the water tube from the laundry machine. When Negro does laundry, our floor floods. We are on all fours with towels, ringing two inches of water from the tiles, telling stories of every other flood we’ve ever lived through.
I have no foreign friends in Medellin. There will be no Halloween costumes. I see a colorful kite out the window and think of Supango, of Halloweens and All Saints Days of my past.  And in the Peace Community, the oldest man goes missing. There are search parties and rumors of foul play. 

I wonder, though, if it isn’t more a situation of him turning into a black cat the week of Halloween, and wandering off to die alone.

martes, 25 de junio de 2013

the beauty in the breakdown, the infinite potential in change, and the spiral of recovery

April, come she will
If April was all about trauma, then May and June were the start of recovery- both automatically brought about by time and intentionally focused on as the time goes on.

May, she will stay
The first week in May saw Liza and Emily return to Bogota and the office. I am definitely happy to have them back after a very traumatic three weeks- from the time of being caught in combat and then uprooted from the Peace Community in a snowballing mess of decision making which left me alone in Bogota during a critical post-trauma time.  Now that we are three again, it is back into political work mode around said combat. It is retelling the events of April 9th time and time again, recounting irregular army practices and irresponsible actions. It is meeting after meeting in nice, clean, government buildings that make the kiosks of  La Union seem like a dreamland far away, even though I know the combat was less than a month before in the same country. Everything becomes relative to that traumatic event and how it is dealt with. Everything I had been and was now somehow linked back first to those few moments, and then to the extended time in my mind, alone with my thoughts, in the weeks afterward.

May is transition, again, out of La Union. It is recognizing my physical presence in the capital, but sensing my mind and soul and heart really still pumping in the jungle of La Union. It is a visit from Jon Patberg, a coworker that initially trained me upon my joining of FOR in 2011, and feeling the power of old friends in healing after such a rough couple months.

May is a continued concerted effort to not lose track of myself, but feeling like I am sitting in limbo, even at home. It is recognition that I am no longer sleeping and noticing my body in high-alert mode nearly all the time. It is not being able to relax and watching my mind play out its own version of time conquers all. May 9th marks one month since the combat. May is watching hard-hat workers out my bedroom window, and the red brick building that rises up around them in their efforts. They make me think about building things. May is being utterly unphased after a robbery on the street leaves me without cash or wallet and then makes me wonder- does surviving make us more fearless or more fearful?

May is an anarchist farm with a home built 100% of recycled materials where we can get homemade yogurt and where chocolate toasting on the stove smells delicious on a Sunday afternoon. It is an unemployed permanent resident on the farm who says, “there are many ways to think about the concept of work and building things.” She says this while my mind jumps from how my freehand writing looks like shit to US soldiers veteran suicide rate to the trauma of war to the rain outside the window to the muddy paws of a dog and how the new furrow in my brow might be permanent if I don’t relax soon and on and on and on… and I just feel so exhausted. I fall asleep sitting up while the conversation carries on around me.

May is shaking it out to live drums at an African dance class, sunny mornings with strong coffee in the direct sunlight of my bedroom, a flourishing lavender plant in my urban garden, and visions of writing- novels, poetry, love. May is reflection on life that seemed to flash before my eyes- everyone, everywhere, every space and place and thought that came rushing at once. And how connected we are all. And how at the base of life there is only love… really, nothing else matters.

There is a full FOR Colombia team trip to Cachipay and all things work related- work plans and work in the future and analysis and security and mental health. While there I get a call from an old neighbor in the Peace Community who tells me that Soila has stolen my old window curtains and made herself a black cape; she said that La Union needed a super hero since my departure.

Straight out of the work retreat, I buss, taxi, fly, metro, my way to D.C. to represent FOR in meetings at Congress, Senate and the State Department. A lot of hours of travel and then I am sitting in a plaza at the Courthouse Stop in Arlington, VA, reading my book and waiting on Jeanine on a sunny Spring day. She arrives and says,  “we are so awesome… this is how people had to do it in the olden days without cell phones- you plan to meet and then you show up.” And then Jeanine and I are walking the cleanly swept streets of Arlington, VA as though we had never lived in Colombia. As though this were normal.

D.C. seems more colorful than I remember. Worms in my stomach have me additionally exhausted and sleepy. Sleepiness and summer clothes in the U.S. capitol. We  brown bag delicious home-made sandwich lunches on capitol hill as we trek from the senate to congress and back again, to the department of state, then to Arlington and back again. There are trees. Things are clean. Air quality seems better. We take a long run along the canal, to the Lincoln Memorial. We talk about human rights in Colombia, about how the US state department should not certify military aid to Colombia based on human rights violations. We talk about the recent Auto in favor of the Peace Community and irregular army practices in Uraba. We talk about the peace negotiations and land restitution and we talk about the responsibility of the US government in all of these issues. One aide says, “I really admire you guys for what you do in Colombia, working for human rights. It seems so much more important than what we do in Congress…” And then Jeanine says, “It’s all connected, you know, U.S. Congress and human rights in Colombia.”

D.C. is pigeons and pretty little black birds. It is having to respond to the question: What is a peace community? D.C. is playing Clue on suede couches with Jeanine, Austin and Jeanine’s brother. It is a long run from Arlington to the Lincoln Memorial. It is tennis shoes and three piece suits, sunshine and feeling safe- the city is so much less in your face than Bogota, so much less raw. It is cheddar cheese and delicious enchiladas. It is bread. I meet Jorge Molano there, in the halls of Congress, the third time I had seen him in a short couple month period- first in Bogota, then in the Peace Community, then in DC. He speaks about being a human rights lawyer in Colombia. And while I felt safe in Arlington, he has had a death threat on his life the same morning we share a meeting space. D.C. is Jeanine, Walker and I running around like mad from meeting to meeting, a combined FOR and Witness for Peace effort to take D.C. by storm. It is a whirlwind of political work, aides, meetings, explanations and asks. It is me leaving them at a metro stop after a state department meeting as I hopped a plane for mental health leave exactly 6 weeks after the combat in La Union.

And then I land in Denver, picked up by Monica and Joey and driven to their downtown- another capitol hill- neighborhood. While they work I write letters and lay face down in the grass in a city park. I enjoy the sun, then the shade, the wind, the green space of north country urban parks- no concrete plaza in sight. I watch tightrope walkers and listen to Wilco and let the wind blow my hair in my face. I write a report from my D.C. extravaganza and then try to take leave of all things Colombia and human rights. On May 29th, while I am in Denver, the Colombian government officially apologizes to the Peace Community for slandering their good name and calling them FARC members. I miss the public retraction in Bogota while sitting in a park in downtown Denver. I miss the disappointment of CdP leaders who consider the retraction to be another attack on their community. (More here for Spanish speakers: http://www.contravia.tv/espanol/capitulos/2013/article/san-jose-de-apartado-ejemplo-de)  I write letters to my family and friends while the girls on the blanket next to me talk about moving home to Minneapolis. Mom comes in town and we go to the botanical gardens where lilacs and tiger lilies are in bloom. Dad comes in town and we go to Boulder where memories come flooding back while we eat at the Tea House and stroll Pearl. There is lots of crying and next to zero sleeping. I have, once again, quit smoking. There is new music and delicious food, and quality time with the family. We talk of farms and communes, of madness and connection to something greater, of poetry and dance, work, love and the secret vaults of heaven. We take a trip to Silverthorne and walk in pine forests to waterfalls, crossing streams where people are fly fishing. We watch Arrested Development and cook tofu. I meet Moni for a lunch date downtown, and hear pleas from the family to move home for the first time in many years.  I make the choice to have another homecoming in Guatemala in July, and purchase plane tickets to make that happen.  I think of the A.T. and skill shares and sustainability and the spaces we move in. I think of Big Sur. I sit under old elm trees and their sap drips. The wind through the trees sounds different here, more like a river than rain. I read new magazines and True Tales of American Life. I eat delicious cheese. Then there is a day alone with Monica and Joey where we spin poi and bbq, have a laughter-filled photoshoot in the park and a teary-eyed drop off at the airport. I leave for Miami on a red eye flight, alone and sad and definitvely thinking I should read Siddhartha again.

June, she’ll change her tune
June 2nd I am back in Colombia and back at work. I make the decision to leave FOR after 2.5 years, and put in my notice for the end of July- a choice that seems incomplete somehow… I have put so much love and energy into the project over the past two and a half years and I feel unfinished or unsettled with the decision to leave, but also like the time has presented itself for me to move on. This one decision, once made, creates the necessity to make a lot more- all of a sudden I have no idea what will become of me by the end of summer. I am working on CVs and cover letters and applying for jobs for the first time in years. I am organizing life for the chaos of change because at the end of July I will abruptly be out of work, housing and a Colombian work visa. Holy shit, overwhelming. In the meantime there are more people to train and a never-ending list of things to do for our Bogota team as FOR goes through multiple team transitions at once.

Back in Bogota, I finally make it to the doctor and get rid of the worms, cysts, parasites and amoebas that have plagued my stomach for the last long time. The medication brings on a fever and I spend three days puking up bile in the various bugs’ last attempts to stay alive inside my tummy.

After Emily leaves for vacation in the states, I decide a weekend trip to Medellin to see some queridos from the CdP is better for me than being alone in the capitol. So I go to see my old next door neighbor and “grandma” in the CdP, Gelita. She has been living with a daughter in Medellin for the better part of the year since her health has been on the decline. I arrive on Friday afternoon to the arms of my dear Gelita, Ramon (her husband), Cristian and Ander (two kiddos from the CdP now studying in Medellin) and their extended family in the city. Friday at midnight Gelita suffers a heart attack and we spend the rest of the weekend back and forth from the hospital. I once again find myself accompanying the CdP in time of extreme stress and trauma. I spend the weekend just trying to help out. I cook with Ander and watch these kids that once ran up grass streets and lassoed cows now backflipping on railings over concrete walkways. I open my eyes to the rain on a metal roof in early morning to see Cristian sleeping like an angel next to me after a long night at the hospital. In this barrio the vallenato and salsa blare and neighbors can high five out their windows.  Medellin is in Antioquia, just like San Jose de Apartado, and so combats there still make the local news. The neighbors ask me what I know about recent combats in their old stomping grounds. Kites fly over the barrio. Soccer games play on TV. This barrio, full of people displaced from Uraba seems to be a prime example of the tropicalization of urban spaces- jungle flowers are potted, parrots are kept in kitchens. Dotted between ER visits, hospital beds and medical exams are slumbering babes next to me- eight of us in two beds- and how they make me feel safe, like a little puppy pile.

June is dancing at sweaty salsa clubs and cooking chai spiced cupcakes. June is Ander,

wide-eyed in bed when I come home from the hospital at 3am, waiting to hear word about his grandma. June is running the ciclovia in Bogota and stress manifesting in various ways in my mind and body. It is strange dreams and people checking in on me. June is Janice and John Lindsay Poland descending on Bogota and doubling my social circle. June is the beauty in the breakdown, the beauty in the transition, the beauty of love. June is news that the avocado tree in our garden in La Union died- a neighbor there said it was because I broke its heart by leaving: ‘you know, Gina, that avocado tree only gave fruit the two seasons you were here. It dried up and died after you left.’ June is dreaming of people in La Union. It is reconnecting with friends and family. It is an image on trauma recovery from my friend Claire who says that recovery is a spiral, not a line, and that some days the trauma will seem closer than others, but that doesn’t mean the process isn’t moving forward. June is the end of my journal, the last pages filled with thoughts on transition. The journal holds two years of thoughts- it’s watermarked from being waterlogged in the Amazon, it has a doodle from Soila on the front from one day when I watched her wide-eyed thinking she may take off running with my journal, and it smells of mold from two years of wear and tear in the jungles of Uraba. June marks two months since the combat, and has me feeling thankful for the people who helped me in the most critical of time and who continue to do so as time spirals forward. June is Emily and I both deciding to leave FOR and simultaneously overspending our soon to be non-existent budgets on extravagant plans for her 32nd birthday. Oh, how her 30s have taken Colombia by storm: we have come a long way from that birthday bash in La Union two years ago this month... dancing with children in a sober rural peace community village. This weekend we are off to a festival in Huila, to dance in the streets and celebrate her life.

domingo, 12 de mayo de 2013

April Showers...

The first week of April is my last in the Peace Community. It is an internal council member inviting our team to an overnight stay at his house before I leave. We hike to a place I have never been- a farm house with an avocado tree outside, overlooking the jungle with a river rushing outside from which on a clear day you can see the ocean. It is he passing us over the various deep river crossings on the back of his horse and his wife cooking us delicious (vegetarian!) meals. It is a beautiful goodbye, since neither of them would be attending my going away party in La Union.

April is celebrating Michaela’s birthday with campo chocolate chip pancakes, it is Noelia jumping like a tree frog from wall to wall of the mosquito net, killing all of the bugs that made it inside before laying down to go to bed. April is a fallen guama tree and the heyday of fruit removal that the children participate in, now that the branches are within reach. It is formal goodbyes to the internal council, and an informal goodbye to La Union with- a dance! April is dancing until four in the morning in the kiosk, eating soup and bunuelos and celebrating my near-two years in La Union.

In my goodbye to my neighbors at their weekly meeting in La Union, I said, among other things, “Remember that whenever you want you can stop and watch the hummingbirds. You can stomp in puddles and jump like a baby sheep on the football field. You can climb trees and hang like monkeys and listen to the wind through the sugarcane. Whenever you want you can tell children that you love them. You can do whatever it is that makes you the happiest, because we only get one life and despite all odds, we have to do our best to enjoy it”- I chose these particular examples because whenever I did them, people said I was crazy. And whenever I did them, I felt better.

On April 9th (the same day millions of Colombians march for Peace in the capital), after finishing my last reports and preparing to have a relaxing 72 hours to say goodbye to my neighbors before moving to Bogota, I was lying in a hammock with a particularly busy neighbor of mine. Every few months we make a “date” and go hang in my favorite kiosk in La Union, overlooking town. She said to me, “Stop working for an hour and let’s go hang out before you leave” and so we did. We were talking about how hard it is for the community to say goodbye to FOR volunteers, and how hard it is for us to leave. She said, “You should leave La Union just like you came into town, Gina- laughing.”

By four o’clock four of us were up on this hill, taking in the late afternoon sun and talking about life, when combat broke out between the FARC and the military on the opposite side of town and we were caught in the middle of army crossfire. Yes. I was, three weeks after almost dying in a boat crash, caught in the crossfire of the Colombian conflict. After it all, after the shower of whistling bullets and the diving to the ground, after running the ridgeline searching for cover and adults throwing random children in the nearest houses and locking themselves in windowless rooms and enacting our emergency response and writing up reports, after the biggest surge of adrenaline of my life (aside from, arguably, three weeks before in the Amazon) and the nervous energy to follow and the tornado of work that came out of such an emergency, after recounting with my neighbors how this happened and where they were and what they did and how scary whistling bullets are, after  one neighbor saying to me, “Your going away dance on Saturday was way better than the going away the army gave you” and another saying, “I brought you up there to say goodbye- it was almost the final goodbye to both of us!”… after all that, 72 hours later, I was uprooted from La Union to Bogota.

Without any pretty imagery to go along with it, I will say that this initiated three of the most difficult weeks of my life. Not just three of the most difficult weeks since coming to Latin America, or since working in human rights or since living in the war zone but three of the darkest weeks of my entire life.

Once able, I focused my post-traumatic self through an entire gamut of mental health services from talk therapy to acupuncture to esoteric healing to energy massage and I am thankful to be in Colombia where the approach to mental health is not based in pill-popping and where trauma is understood in general society and in the medical community at a level only a country at war could aspire to. And where trauma is taken seriously, in all its forms. I try and take my own advice from my goodbye in La Union and remind myself that whenever I want to I can _______.

In Bogota, April is an African dance class with a live drum circle that has me shaking it all out three hours a week. It is the People’s Peace Congress where I participate at a table for international protective accompaniment and then the International Day of Dance where Jeanine and I take in a salsa concert in an outdoor park and a tango show in a fancy theatre. April is reconnecting with friends and family near and far and running the Sunday ciclovia. It is a complete lack of bug bites to itch, and feeling like there is so much extra time on my hands since all of a sudden I don’t have to dedicate as much of my time to getting daily things like house cleaning and hand-washing.  In Bogota, April is live music: singing along to Systema Solar in a neighborhood bar and seeing Liza perform at the Blues and Jazz fest. It is sunny mornings and rainy afternoons. It is people, everywhere, so many of them doing everything people do in a city and feeling overwhelmed by all of this. April is a trip to a farm outside of Bogota to buy homemade yogurt and run through portreros where the cows live and breathe fresh air and get out of the city. It is preparing myself for May political work both in Bogota and in the United States.

April is the spaces we move in- physically, mentally, spiritually. And April is the trauma of war.

P.S. If you have not yet taken political action around the combat that I was caught in, and would be willing to contact the US Embassy in Bogota with your concern about the Colombian army's opening fire in a civilian populated peace community, please follow this link: 

miércoles, 1 de mayo de 2013

The show’s greatest theme is not politics, but the artist’s life- not justice, but beauty.

The title of my blog was a caption, pulled from a review of a long since forgotten (in my mind) off-broadway play. For some reason it rang so true in my life in February and March (even before the boat crash) that it’s re-written in three separate entries in my journal. I guess it makes sense that it caught my attention. I came to Colombia for work in large part due to my understanding of politics and justice, but recently everything has returned to me and my life- a set of experiences and situations paired with my responses and choices that melt into me, my life and its beauty.

February is white and orange butterflies on the path and hummingbirds plucking spiders from their webs. It is Guama season, and eating them with neighbors on the hill. It is the beginning of my collection of jungle treasures to take with me to the andean capital- beautiful seeds and dried flowers and river stones. February is me in the near splitz at the top of a papaya tree, not willing to let the birds eat all the fruits of the jungle and then my neighbor saying,  “you’re stretchier than an acordian.” It’s a community leader’s ancient looking mother, waving from her kitchen doorway as I start off on my trek home to the next village. It is my neighbor’s blasting vallenato across the canyon that announces her return to town and a baby playing by a clump of bananas.

February is picking, drying, smashing, toasting and grinding coffee. My first week ever in La Union in early 2011, I saw the coffee and said, “I am going to help when you pick this.” Two years later, the first harvest was ready for picking. February is the best coffee I have ever had in my life. And feeling so proud of making it myself, even though my stomach had heat rash for a week due to the toasting process.

February is a moment where everything stopped for no reason. I am in the cacao and this overwhelming thought occurs…how did I get here? And then another, also difficult question with more obvious options for answers: what is the true color of cacao? (Mauve? Purple? Yellow? Green?) And then a mix of the two- How did I get here? Purple.

February is bomber planes and armed groups (all of them) mourning the deaths of soldiers young and old as military operatives in the zone pick up, again. February is accompanying the community work days and lazing in the arms of trees until the fire ants arrive to kick me out. It is me realizing the things I have learned in La Union, like how I am good at locating where people are in the jungle by the sound of their machetes. I am good at hearing fruits fall and then finding them. I am good at being a morning person.

February is Elisabeth’s arrival to the CdP for a visit with English magazines and personal mail in tow. It is the 2012 essay called, “The Things They Googled” originally published in the Sun that everyone should read. It is music mixes and birthday packages and Christmas cards from friends far away finally arriving to my hands in La Union. February is military propaganda on the radio in the early mornings while I read poems with beautiful imagery and think to myself about how I woulda constructed them differently. February is rain. And how it calls me beside itself, to walk through it and look for Nuri’s purple and white flowers and then the mango grove. February is morning stretching and the light through sheets of water. It is treasured memories of the CdP.

Sitting with my community ‘mom,’ hummingbirds dive bomb past us as we sit outside. We say nothing- her because it is normal and not worth commenting on and I because I want it to be.

An 8 year old boy in Mulatos breaks his arm falling of a horse. The left one. In two places. The eventual ex-ray looks pretty much like mine did when I broke my arm at the age of 10. I was in that acute pain for maybe an hour between flipping off the swing-set and being sedated in the hospital. Thinking about the moment my arm snapped 20 years later still gives me a shot of phantom pain. The trauma. Jimar broke his arm in the jungle outside a village. He walked to neighboring farms with his mother to verify it was broken (ahem, I can assure you he was certain) and then rode a horse with a double fractured arm for 6 hours through thick mud and then spent the night waiting for public transport to come up to San Jose and then, rode a bumpy jeep to the hospital and waited a whole additional day for a qualified doctor to arrive and perform the surgery. It blew my mind. The different realities we live on this planet.

February is walking home in a downpour: double timing it to the river as to cross before the flashflood and then walking up the last vertical hill as a waterfall came down around me. It is visions of my neighbors walking up towards the foggy morning mountains to work. And visions of Laura Ingles when a little girl comes to say hello in her blue cloth dress with double braids before chasing her puppy down the street in the morning sun. February is the community making honey from sugar cane on valentine’s day. It’s me explaining that “honey” is a term of endearment in English and asking if husbands or wives have done anything special for their other halves. It is everyone staring blankly until one guy says, “She can pick her own flowers.” February is a spider across the floor, and packs of horses running together at full speed up the street. It is Ash Wed catching me in Apartado and my impromptu step into a church. The ash is sweat of my brow before I make it to the first river crossing on my way home.

February is the CdP commemoration of the 2005 massacre. We walk the pilgrimage to Mulatos and hear the stories of the brutal murders again. Arriving at the top of the filo, I find myself alone with a neighbor and he says, “thank you for walking with me today.” He says this because it was a year to the day that the two of us witnessed the combat that killed his son. And I said, “I think of you every time I walk here.” And he says, “I can’t believe…” and is cut off by more people arriving. In Mulatos and La Resbalosa, we honor the memories of the community leaders and the children killed in the brutal massacre of 2005. We witness a truly democratic process as the CdP holds its elections for the internal council. Mulatos! Green parrots in a dense jungle! Beautiful green mountains! People flooding in from all different community villages and from places all over the world! Dancing in the center of town under a spread of stars! Jungle flowers! All things beautiful. Then Ale leaves and another round of training starts. I realize I have had 13 different co-workers since I started working with FOR and I pump myself to start yet another training process with two new co-workers in March. Transition. Growth. Change. February is more children leaving La Union to study in cities far away. And Jamie arriving to La Union for the first time.

March arrives with a bang: ERIN COMES! She hikes up to La Union and sees where I live. We throw a party for my god-daughter on Charit’s first birthday. We hike to the kiosks and I introduce her to my neighbors. A boy buzzes Erin’s hair as his mother looks on. We hike our way down and begin our Caribbean adventure. We bus to Cartagena and within a day I become a tourist. We meet chatty travelers in a green hostel and saunter along city streets looking at brightly colored doors and buildings. We go to an urban beach. I read The Little Prince. And Rumi. We sit at the windy shoreline and then in bookstores with postcards. Rolling waves and air-conditioning. A traveler says she hasn’t learned the past tense yet. (So, there is only the here and now?) We drink limonadas de coco and escape to an island off the coast with blue-green waters and white sand, with dusty roads and moto-taxis. We take an evening flight to Bogota and we bring sand from Varu to the Andean Highland capital. On International Women’s Day, Toto La Momposina dances to her own voice at a free outdoor concert and we are in the capital plaza, dancing cumbia. Hats and scarves and bags piling up in the center of the cumbia wheel as the dancers warm up in the chilly Bogota evening, and for a moment it is like we are back in the Caribbean.

One week later, Erin leaves and: MONICA COMES! We walk city streets and see markets. Then we take off for Leticia and nearly die when our public boat between Leticia and Puerto Narino sinks. Yes, our public speed boat sinks with us inside it, in the middle of the Amazon River. By some miracle we survive. And after it all- after the adrenaline and the escaping the sunken boat through small windows and the swimming in the Amazon between Colombia and Peru, and holding my sister with eyes wide in the middle of one of the biggest water systems of the world and the uncontrollable shaking on top of a rescue boat and the police reports and towing the upsidedown boat to the waters edge and recovering our bags- we start pulling out our waterlogged things. I open up the wet Rumi book that Erin brought me to the dedication page. It read, “for this moment.” And we continue on to our lodge in the middle of the forest. And a river runs through it- a mile wide.

We head up the Amacayacu River on a small motor-boat. We are wet, but happy to be breathing. We talk about how our surroundings are right out of National Geographic (featuring us?) and we eat new fruits- copuasu and madrona and acais right off the trees. We get Huito tattoos and see tamarin, howler, wooly and flying monkeys. We see snakes and dolphins and caimans. We put-put around in boats. We laugh. We try and breathe deep. We lay in hammocks and sleep in a wooden cabin. We hike to a ceiba. We get eaten alive by bugs. We learn about the jungle around us. We hear native stories. We see small motor-boats put-putting by in the early morning Amazonian fog. We see glowing mushrooms on the forest floor in the dark of night. I steal nummy smelling Amazon forest tree sap and lots of fruit to take home. A coconut falls. I know exactly where and I think of Uraba. The amazon forest is a lot like the forest of my home, except for that large river part. Because it is rainy season, we boat through forest that the river would normally snake around. Juli is a lovely guide. He followed his dream, too.

We do all of these activities and these things while drying our clothing from the sunken boat and setting our electronics in the sun, then pulling them out of the rain. We get sick. We have nightmares. I start thinking about everything differently. About everyone I have ever known. About everywhere I have ever been. About why we didn’t die. We spend the week in the Amazon in post-traumatic mode from almost dying in a boat crash. I hear monkeys in the night and I journal in the misty morning. The local mother makes teas of all sorts of things to make us feel better. There is a weaver-bird with a pretty song and butterflies- citris butterflies swarming around children on the indigenous reserve. There is a boy blowing bubbles while he washes his clothes and illegal removal of wood from the national forest. There are thoughts about how fragile we are and how precious life is. Everything is turbulent and then it is not. Over and over again.

And then we are on a placid dark water lake with purple water lilies watching pink dolphins. And I don’t want to swim with the dolphins because I am cold and sort of feeling ok and I had just swum in the Amazon the day before when out boat crashed. Monica is too sick too swim, but manages to look over the side of the canoe to see the dolphins all around us. Juli jumps in, but Renato says, “swim just to swim? With the anacondas and electric eels?” “No, silly,” I say, “not with those guys… with the pink dolphins.”

Monica fishes in a spot where human bones were found and she catches lots of fish. When she tosses back a big one, Renato’s heart drops, but he tries not to show that she just threw away his dinner. Monica holds a tarantula. And a snake. And a caiman. All too soon the week is over and we have to get back on a boat to go back to Leticia and my heart starts to race. Then, on the radio, a familiar vallenato comes on and I calm down thinking about dancing in the kiosk of La Union. Leaving Monica in Bogota, I cry. She says on her next visit we can definitely go to the war zone.

In mid-March and another new co-worker, Michaela, arrives. The poma flowers give way to the poma fruits. La la la! March is a neighbor saying I would be a good goalie when I catch every papaya he dislodges from the tree. March is me feeling like there is nothing linear about where we live and how we grow or how we feel and what we know, or what we live and where we go while simultaneously thinking about swim to survive programs and how everything we do prepares us for what is to come. Is it all planned? Did growing up in MN and working as a lifeguard actually prepare me for this moment of my life at age 30? March is training and prepping and reports and new roommates in my jungle home. It is a beautiful song that takes me away from my typing and out to the porch as a light rain falls. It is my neighbor giving birth while working in Mulatos and staying there for a month with her baby. It is a Meri under a flowering purple tree and Javier climbing a poma tree from the saddle of his horse to throw me down the fruits. It is veggie empanadas and cake for a first birthday party where the baby sleeps. It is downtown Bogota graffiti and an urban garden, turqoiuse Caribbean waters and being happy to come home to the Peace Community, after it all. March is nightmares of a boat filing with water and disappearing into the river and the warm love of the people around me in La Union. It is my new tomatoes in the garden. March is new thought processes and reflections like bolts of lightening.  March is a child coming to my window to say, “thank you for not drowning. I really would have missed you if you hadn’t come back.” And me responding, “No problem.” March is my tired body falling in a river without water, to find myself on the rocky bed in an inch of water, looking up at the sky. Then ringing out my clothes and having to explain to confused passersby on the path how I drenched myself (“Gina! Did it rain down below?!” “Gina, you’re so sweaty considering the sun isn’t even out!”) when the river wasn’t even rushing.

The CdP turns 16 on March 23rd. People come from all over the world and we hear about the history of the community and the dreams for the future. We dance in rubber boots in the kiosk of La Holandita. While dancing to the blaring vallenato, we don’t hear the combat ten minutes down the road in San Jose. On my walk home the next morning, Oliva is milking a cow and I stop to help her.

Then it is holy week, the third consecutive Easter week that I have spent in La Union. An early morning thunderstorm on Sunday and we lose light for 7 full days. There is candle light and buñuelos and a haunting song stuck in my head. On Holy Thursday we walk around La Union and hear about various massacres- in the cacao groves, at the river’s edge, on the hill by the kiosks. On Good Friday there is still no light and I journal by candle-light in the early morning. We walk from La Union to Apartado and hear about everyone who has been killed on that road. I speak to Padre Javier about my trauma in the Amazon and he says there is an indigenous community in Cauca where the shamans have to have a near death experience before they can be spiritual leaders in the community. They recognize that it changes you. La Union is a good place to be after a near-death experience, because most people there have had one. And I hear stories of what fear can do- (“we just threw ourselves off that cliff, swinging by a vine- imagine!”) and how from the fear comes the power and will to survive.

March ends with my calming in the midst of a storm of work and training and post-trauma. March ends with my planning for graceful goodbyes to my loved ones in the community as I prepare to move to Bogota. And as always, I have no idea what is about to come and shake me up in a whole new way.