I have long known that fear can worm its way into an equation, stopping a story at the point at which it enters, thereby derailing or hijacking an otherwise perfectly lovely time. The trick is to see past it or through it, so that it does not get in the way. Fear has its place, and is vital for self preservation at times, but I generally do not cotton with the amount of anxiety it generates and selfishly, I do not like for it to get in the way of my own fun or that of others. I therefore have become quite skilled at finding effective ways to squeeze uncomfortable fearful feelings into smaller packages, leaving more room for laughter, adventure, and love.
When our 23 year old daughter made clear that she was pursuing a position in Colombia with an organization that actively supports peace in areas of conflict, I’m sure my eyes grew wide and my pulse quickened. The Colombia I grew up hearing about sported drug cartels and violence and unpredictability. Gale’s reassurance about the changes did little to erase the images that had taken root when I was her age. Reading on the website made clear that this is an established organization with connections to better known groups (like the UN) and also that violence was more than a decade in the past. I reminded myself that a decade to me reads like “last week” whereas to her it is long ago, back when she was a young teenager of 13.
I hear her excitement about how impressive the week of training was, how well thought out, executed and how helpful. I listen to the security measures that are now in place, and to her eagerness to be speaking Spanish all the time.
I consider the amount of walking she will be doing (45 minutes to the nearest town for things like groceries), her skill at mediation, even though that is not her role, and how much she is nurtured by being in a new culture.
I reflect on our five mile walks together over these past couple of months, and understand again how important this transition is for her. Having completed an excruciating year of graduate school, she was thirsty for something non-academic. Despite her passion for teaching, she could not settle into a position just yet, not with the world beckoning, inviting her to connect to people in a different way.
Residing in an intentionally peaceful community, her presence is a reminder of all of their connections to the outside world. Although she will be living in the northwestern corner of the country (a 12-16 hour bus ride from Bogota), she will have access to cell phones and internet, (when they are working), and tee shirts that bear the name of their organization.
When she walks with community members to their negotiations with government or other groups, or to the hospital, she will be getting to know them, and they will be learning about her. She will see what they eat and how to prepare it, what their favorite dances are, and she will teach them songs to sing as a round and show them photos of where she lives here in the States. She will learn how to make puns in Spanish and how to spot a pig in the path when it is belly deep in mud and the same color. She will find out what is important to these people, what their dreams look like, who is related to whom.
Spending a year in this community she will become a part of it, and they of her. I know that she lives to immerse herself in a situation and live it fully, from the inside out. We will look for her posts, her photographs and stories, what she is finding challenging and what surprises her most.
And I? I will be starting my internet search for affordable flights to Bogota, and quicker-than-a-16-hour bus routes to her village from there. I can hardly wait.