Finding the Flow in Colombia – Update #3
Day six. A quickie. Several of our team members fell ill over the last 36 hours. I too had a brief bout with the old ‘rumble in the jungle’ yesterday morning as previously reported; not sure if it was the unbearable heat, the grueling work, the lack of sleep, or something I ate or drank. Same goes for the other troops who went down over the last two days. You just can never be sure. But we’re back on the work site and we’ve finally hit that flow-space that most work trips find eventually within themselves. It can take anywhere between two days to five if its going to happen, and when it does you can really see and feel it. It’s palpable. One minute you are on a team of twenty-something unique individuals of all different ages, races, backgrounds, and social circles, who may or may not know each other, each with their own work habits, ideas and beliefs; each with their own opinions, fears, hopes, and aspirations – God knows all trying their best to get along and get the job done, but still separated by that invisible line that exists between each of one of us and “the other.” On almost every work or peace or mission or activist trip I’ve ever been on I have noticed that at some point the group as a whole will reach a new place in consciousness where the individuals unify, become one unit and work as a whole that almost always is greater than the sum of its parts in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. Not sure when the exact moment in time that occurred for us on this trip, but it has. We spoke about it today after we got back to the hotel in our group meeting. We hit that stride where everyone is now working together in harmony and it feels great. Heat, illness, and back-breaking work aside, several commented that the work site has now turned into “a happy place.”
And I thought to myself, “imagine that, a happy place… when just a few days ago there was such a feeling of sadness and frustration in the air in this community. But for this brief moment in time we have managed to all get over ourselves, forget about our “real world troubles back home, or the differences that we pretend between us, and work together, and the ensuing result is that a very happy place indeed has been created there. The theme of our meeting today (for often these meetings do have a central theme to them – each one is created, organized, and run by one of the team members (this one in particular was very special and stood out to me personally and to many of the others I believe) was “harmony.’ And yes there is harmony in the air now. One team member commented that she observed harmony in the ever changing sounds that our work creates – whether it be the sound of people moaning as they dig yet another hole in the earth with a shovel hour after hour, or the back and forth sound of a saw against hot steel, or the sound of a loud cement mixer that we are now using… sometimes the sound can even be the silence that briefly follows one of our meetings when everyone just sits there and takes it all in after a long hot day. The sounds correspond to whatever we happen to be working on that day, and as we progress in the process of constructing this building the sounds continue to change right along with the tasks at hand.
Yesterday the children of the little town up the mountain that I wrote about – Rincon Del Mar – sang us a welcome song to show their appreciation for our visit – which when looking back I find strange because it is we who should be grateful, for after all it is we who are being log allowed to enter their small community and poke around taking picture and learning more about the world we live in through them and their stories; the experience of course is always very moving – no matter where you visit in the world on these kinds of trips. One of the lines in the song referred to “And those mountains will move…” And we all agreed that yes it is a grandiose vision to have, a utopian vision, perhaps an unrealistic one – to think that today, right now, in this time and place in human history we are all contributing to the creation of a better world and indeed we are moving those mountains if we have to. If there is a need to, we will do it. Call it sheer will, perseverance, the will of God, divine intervention, idealism… whatever one calls it, it is happening more and more and more around the world we live in now. Mountains are being moved all around us. Like him or hate him, the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States of America this year is but just one example of this; and there are so so many more. Right now as I type this blog post I am struck by a slight awe contemplating how many other groups are somewhere on planet earth doing a similar such thing. Or even individuals just on their own, helping others. Imagine it. Try to see it. For it is indeed happening.
I guess the real question, if there is one, is how to balance all the giving that one wants to do to make the world a better place with making sure that we also take the time and energy to take care of ourselves as well. Sometimes we can get out of balance and not spend enough time or energy on our own lives and that isn’t a good thing. Just remembering to stay balanced in that.
Speaking of harmony, another thing I have noticed is that our communication – and the fact that we have some 40 plus people now on one work site speaking either Spanish or English or a combination thereof (but only a total or two or three who are truly bilingual) has become entirely transparent. It is almost impossible now for me to tell the difference between when I am speaking or listening to English or Spanish in any one moment. It all just sort of blends into itself. Almost all of the team members now are full on going for it attempting to speak as much Spanish as they can with everyone. It is really inspiring. Kind of cute. Very cool. That communication barrier that might have existed in our first few days here has completely disappeared.
One thing that would render this entire post worthless if I neglected to report on is a story that one of our teammates told us today. Several of us went into the village proper – to the school actually – (I did not, but instead stayed on the work site) and did arts and crafts with over 90 children from the community for a few hours. Imagine that too. because that’s a big thing. just as important as the construction we are doing here on this church and community center. She spoke to the principal of the school and she told her about this girl who was there today doing the arts and crafts who is 12 years old. She had to try to stop her from going to school with a knife to “take care of some kids” who were teasing her. She said that’s what she as taught by her parents. The principal tried to teach the girl that there were other ways of dealing with disagreements we have with others and when their conversation was over that she hugged her. the principal was balling her eyes out when talking about how at the end of their conversation with the girl she leaned down and hugged her and how the girl started crying because she said that was the first time that anyone had ever hugged her before, that that was the first time in her entire life that anyone had ever “touched her” in a loving or caring way, rather than a more hostile way. Imagine that. Not a good thing to imagine. For sure. But imagine that same girl now having this large church and community center in her village that will be church, school, after school care, consulting and counselors and advisors, social networking with nicer folk more than eager to hug her or play with her or hang out with her and do fun stuff. A place that if all goes according to plan should remain there in that village for decades to come. That is a nice thing to imagine. It is why people do things like this work trip I believe. At least for me, that one story will provide enough fuel to keep my engines burning all day tomorrow.
There is a boy who lives in the village named Paulito who has really taken to us. We get to that work site by 7:30 or 8 AM every morning and every morning he’s out there waiting to work with us. Working right along side us. Never did any manual labor in his life, but he’s ready willing and able to do anything just to be a part of the project. It’s been like that since we got here. everyday more and more people from the village are coming to the work site to help out. It’s really something to see. At first I didn’t quite understand what was happening. perhaps these were people being paid to help us I thought. Like on other work trips we occasionally hire “professionals” so the project isn’t just being coordinated by a bunch of DKNY sunglass wearing “volunteers” from New York City. But as it turns out all of these people are just plain old ordinary people like us who happen to live around the area and either like what we are doing and want to help out, or they just dig hanging out with a bunch of Americanos. We’ve heard both reasons for why we have been joined by so many local people who are now working right along side us. there are no longer 26 people working on this project. It’s more like 40.
The Bishop that is responsible for the project (he is the Bishop of the Methodist Church in the entire country of Colombia) explained to us one teary eyed evening that we aren’t building a church in a small poor town and we shouldn’t for a moment fall pretty to assuming such a simple idea. But that what we are really doing is building a community; helping to “peace” back together a community that was ravaged by fifty years of civil war and government non-intervention. Where there was once just a “housing project” filled with thousands of displaced strangers to each other, almost all of whom are living way below any country’s standard of poverty, many of whom evidently prostitutes, illiterate, or have challenges with alcohol or drugs, there is already a community coming together through this shared experience of working together to construct this mammoth two story building on a plot of land that just a few days ago was nothing but empty dirt, grass and weeds – with some garbage laying around on it. There are now giant 15 foot reebar columns jetting into the sky out of the ground and 24 giant holes dug into the earth. It would be impossible to miss what’s happening there. And word is spreading fast. As each day more and more people from all over the large area of Cartagena come running to our work site to see what all the commotion is about. Most come to stay and help out.
Many of the team members have taken a liking to one or more of the local people we are working with and for and developed friendships with them. Special bonds that are hard to describe. Working that hard, in that kind of heat, for so many hours and days in a row, for such a utopian cause and vision – something that would have seemed absolutely “never going to happen” impossible a few weeks ago creates a very unique, special, and almost other worldly bond between everyone; between both the team members and the locals alike. One really gets the very real feeling that these people feel that they were and have been “truly and totally forgotten” by the rest of the world for decades. Not only is it expressed verbally when you speak with them and hear their stories and their ideas and beliefs about themselves, but you can also feel it in the air. But that has changed. Let us hope that just because we leave that this new positive feeling and optimism does not leave with us.
For whatever reason I have formed a common bond with this cool little kid Paulito. He almost never leaves my side. No matter what I’m working on he wants to help. Even hardcore stuff like sawing steel reebar. He’ll go for it. He speaks no English so occasionally communication is a little iffy but we do alright. If he can’t help with actual work in any particular moment he will take my bandana and towel and go wet them for me and wrap them back around my head and neck, or get me water or Gatorade. He also occasionally surprises me by slipping ice down my back just for fun. I am glad to see him lightening up more and more as the days go on. I have also now started getting him to understand that he is free to drink from our water cooler or have a Gatorade if he is thirsty. He asks. That’s the thing. its just so odd… this humility and politeness that is so naturally expressed by the people here. He works hard and he deserves to drink up when he needs to. But he always asks first. Frankly I love the kid. I really enjoy working with him and feel he’s got a smart head on his shoulders and a good heart. When we go to leave he walks us all to our cars and he just stands there with this sort of sad look on his face… I’m not sure if he is grieving our departing just that day or if he is already thinking about the inevitability of our having to leave at some point in the not too distant future. Four days to be exact.
I found out today that he is only ten years old. He’s very smart for his age. He’s got all the makings of a super –achiever, or at least a darn good and decent person if things go right for him over the next ten years. Tomorrow I am privately going to visit his mom, who I’ve met several times, with our translator to ask her some questions, get some information, find out what their most primary needs are, what can we do to help make things easier for him over the next few years. I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that he needs to know about – Juan Camilo our translator told me that he should be there so he can realize how much potential he has, that a basic stranger from the United States would be so impressed by him that he would want to help him out and sponsor him. And also that it will help him over the next few years not give into temptation – something that I feel might be real easy in this particular community living under those kinds of circumstances – but instead really feel inspired by the situation and give life one hundred and ten percent for the next ten years. I’m thinking of some kind of sponsorship to get him into a good junior high and then high school and make sure that all his needs are taken care of.
Today it occurred to me that out of all the kids I have sponsored over the years through the two different orgs that I work with that I have never actually met any of the kids in person. Only pictures cards and letters. But with this kid, I already know I dig him. and I already know he’s a good person with a lot of potential. It’s a win-win. I already sponsor kids. So why not do it with a kid I’ve met in person and know deserves it. the idea excites me. A good sign. (as long as the ideas that excite you don’t harm another and better yet if they actually help someone else besides yourself, yes?) Yes. Yet another good thing to think about as we fall asleep tonight and prepare for yet another hot day out in that Colombian sun.