As I was sitting on the couch of a friend's house this afternoon, feeling very overwhelmed and a little bit like I didn't have what was needed left to continue my trip here, a song came on my iPod called "Breathe". The song samples Norah Jones' voice in such a way that it sounds as though some one is breathing for a few bars, and then finally is saying "just breathe". I don't know what song it samples; there are no words, just instrumentals; and the song is only a couple of minutes long, but it immediately calmed me and reminded me that I will be fine.
Let me explain how I got to this particular couch, listening to this particular song.
I'll start with the song: my iPod was on shuffle and it was the first thing that came on. If you don't believe in the power of music to do what nothing else can do, and to do it at just the right time, I don't know what more to say to convince you.
How I got to that couch is slightly more complicated.I tend to be long-winded (as friends and professors alike well know by now), so I will try to condense a week and a half of the most trying and moving moments of my life into a short blog. (I'm off to a great start with the length at which I wrote about a song, no?) Roxie hasn't made it yet; she was due last Friday. Anyone who travels with any sort of frequency (and many who don't) knows how much of a pain the bureaucracy can be. Between lost passports, national holidays and ridiculous ticket change fees, my traveling and working companion is still in LA. I recently went to the ER for less than pretty reasons, but suffice it to say that a midnight hospital visit conducted entirely in a foreign language when you are groggy and feeling awful is less than a walk in the park. The altitude here is 8,600 feet and altitude sickness is a real thing (who would have thought?). And, icing on the cake, I have a head cold that I cant seem to shake. Oh, and the place where I am volunteering has it's annual huge fundraiser Saturday, where over 600 people will be descending on our humble abode to sing, dance and eat chocolate.
So there's the details, the complaints, the "poor me"s. I needed a break, and I needed to talk to Roxie on the phone to figure out what was happening with her plane ticket. She has a family friend here in the city (one of the nicest women I have ever met!) with a Vonage phone line that calls the states, so I decided to take a break from everything this afternoon and come on over to Kim's house to call Roxie and spend the night. Hence the couch, iPod, etc.
Self-pitty out of the way, on to the beauty that is the people of Colombia and the daily struggles they meet with courage, warmth and resilience:
In various regions of the country there is serious violence both on the part of the FARC and guerrilleras in the areas (homework: look up Colombian politics, etc for more information on the different paramilitaries). This violence effects the people, the everyday citizens more than anyone, as violence of that type so often does, and as a result many people are forced to flee their homes, farms and livlihoods. Much like any sort of internal displacement, the capital city is seen as the beacon of hope for some, and as such is the destination of many. What the center I live and volunteer in does is have "atendencia" every day. This is where between 30-50 people come through the doors, meet one-on-one with a social worker of volunteer and tell their story of displacement. Where they lived before, how many people they are with, reasons for leaving, etc. After this we give them a bag of clothes and a bag of food if we have enough. We rely entirely on donations, and while clothes are always plenty, food is harder to come by. The only people who are given housing are those who have arrived to Bogota that day, and have no family, friends, or place to go in the city. In these cases we give them 3-4 days housing in the center, and help them find a permanent, rent-based situation in some part of the city. We pay the first month's rent, and then they are expected to have found enough work to continue paying.
The first week here I sat in on these "atendencias". I listened to the stories. I search for appropriate clothing, and I kept children occupied while their parents sorted out details. I met with an 18-year-old mother to an 7-year-old daughter (we didn't believe it either, but papers proved it), and watched her be sent back out to the street with her 40-year-old husband because they didn't qualify for housing. It has been hard, to say the least, but my witnessing it is nothing compared to their living it. This I know.
There's a park in the town center called Parque Tercer Milenio (Third Millenium) where, for the past 5 months, there has been a "protest" for the lack of government aid to the displaced. It's so interesting to me that I was introduced to this with the title of "protest" because, in a way, it gives agency and power to the people living there. Over 1,300 families (not people, families) are living in this park, in shelters made of plastic bags and tarps. When it rains (and it rains every day here) everyone and everything gets soaking wet. While there is a good mix of mestizo and afro-Colombians who come through the center, almost all of the families at Tercer Milenio are afro-Colombian. While there is chaos that would be expected at a gathering of such size, the organization is awe-some. The shelters are divided into four "districts" each with a leader. Whenever any aid organization comes with large donations (as we did with food and clothing), the leaders are contacted, delivered the supplies, and then disseminate the supplies to their respective areas.
It has been an experience. I am tired. My Spanish is wanting, and I miss fast-food. But I do believe that the things that happen in our lives happen in the manner and time in which they do for a purpose. Yet, I also believe every experience is what you make it. I'm trying to roll with what I am dealt; cry less and smile more; understand that somethings don't get easier, and that that's ok; and fully embrace each opportunity I am presented with. Obviously all that is easier said (or typed) than done, but I'm a work in progress.
I have an ongoing joke with a friend that I tend to write in "novels" when we're talking via the computer. I tried to stay concise here, but clearly that was a failed effort. I hope this latest "novel" at least gave you a taste of my experience thus far.
The hardest thing is to be experiencing so much, and have no real way to express or debrief what I'm going through and feeling. That's where I thank you. I thank you for taking the time out to read this, as the written word is the only way I am able to come close to fully expressing what's happening. Spanish can only take me so far, and mine is rusty. So thank you for reading, and for the in-person conversation I know I have to look forward to upon my return.
You have no idea how much it helps. That and Norah Jones' distorted voice reminding me to "just breathe".