Moms connecting across cultures



The open-air jeep seated eight, but more passengers hung off the back bumper as we bounced along through the lush Colombian countryside. It was 2013, and I was headed for the remote mountain village where my daughter had been living for several months.

My bag was packed with markers for the children of the village as well as tall socks that, I hoped, would keep the mud out of my rubber boots (and the snakes from biting, reminded my husband). But mud was the least of my worries.

The village in question had declared itself neutral—not allied with the military, paramilitaries, or guerilla forces—in the ongoing violence engulfing the country. Gale, just 23, was part of an international organization that stationed foreigners in these independent communities, in hopes that their presence would protect them from potential threats. Past action had confirmed the need for their presence. The group’s bright blue t-shirts seemed, literally, like a thin veil of protection as they negotiated with the Military, or accompanied people from one place on the mountain to another, or to appointments in town. But I had so far managed to keep my fears under control.

Night was falling quickly, and Gale and I hopped off to spend the night at a small community before continuing our one and a half hour ascent on foot in the morning. Sleep was elusive: I wrestled with my mosquito netting and considered harmonizing with the roosters whose call-and-response drills echoed long after dark.

I saw how Gale’s face glowed when she described the village and the people in it. Her passion radiated in waves so vivid that the energy was contagious. Still, I could not let go of my worries for her.

Our arrival in the community caused a stir of welcome from many corners, including the trio of free-roaming pigs, and Daisy the cow, who helped herself to banana peels and other tidbits thrown from open windows. I made note of the cold shower, and the small refrigerator, now repurposed as bookshelves.

Gale grabbed my hand as we set off to meet the farmers, or campesinos.

Marielena swept aside kittens and ducks snoozing together to offer us a place to sit on an upturned log in her neat adobe home. She peppered me with questions: How do I like it here? Where is my husband? How long am I staying? I stammered out responses in my rusty Spanish. I stuttered even more when she bustled around her wood-burning stove, placing bowls of bean soup and bread, each with an egg on top, in front of us. This was in addition to the ubiquitous tinto, or sweet, strong coffee that the campesinos all enjoyed. I had not been expecting a meal. “Gracias, muchas gracias!” I exclaimed.

Marielena suddenly stopped her activity and looked me straight in the eye. “You do us great honor by coming here,” she said.

Something about the way she spoke reminded me that she had a daughter about Gale’s age. If her child was alone and far from home, she might hope that a sympathetic woman like me would be there for her. Marielena knew better than anyone that we could not protect our girls from dangers and difficulties. We could only trust that another mother might offer solace and understanding.

The thought made me a bit teary. I responded, flustered, that the honor was truly mine.

When she asked when I planned to return, it was not a matter of etiquette. She really wanted to know.

Just a few days before, I might have wished to return as soon as possible, trying to outrun my anxiety. Now that Marielena had connected, mother to mother, I knew I didn’t need to. The love in our villages runs wide and deep, and her offering showed me the wisdom of letting Gale go. 

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.