An Independent School • Grades 5-12
GSL Colombia: A sense of community

by Roman S. '20

“Yo quiero saber la verdad” (I want to know the truth), stated a woman in a television ad last night – referring to discussion surrounding Colombian internal conflict. People across the nation received the message of coming forward and talking about difficult events – events that have shaped the history of Colombia, and on a smaller scale, the daily events right here where we are staying in the village.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., millions of people sat down at their TVs and watched the Oscars, an event dedicated to honoring people for crafting and embodying false personas. In Colombia, false personas are forced on people as they are killed and labeled as guerillas to maintain a show of aggression; these innocent men and women are known as “false positives” and deter people from speaking out or resisting against powerful political and military forces. Experiencing the extreme trauma that plagued Colombian villages for decades has led to stronger communities that constantly strive to be more self-sustainable and integrated. With only four days left in the village, every moment we spend here solidifies our knowledge of the community’s strength and unity.

Discussions with my host family have led me to understand many of the large and small differences between life at home and life here. Even things as simple as wake-up time impact daily life. People here are all awake by six – although many are up by five – to milk cows, check on and feed the chickens and pigs, and get ready for the day. Back home, we typically have to be up around seven to be ready for school. School starts here at six to be done at one, avoiding the blistering afternoon heat that has left many of us with red shoulders and backs. We typically stay out or awake until past ten or eleven at night in Seattle, but most here are asleep by nine thirty.

A conversation two days ago with my host dad, Juan Carlos, along with some conversions, revealed that minimum wage in Seattle would be equivalent to the salary of a doctor or lawyer in most parts of Colombia. In terms of transportation, practically everyone here takes motorcycles, cramming three of four people to a seat while we sit in traffic in luxury cars back in Seattle. Lights are only on here for part of the day, and street lights are a rarity. Most showers are with buckets, and water usage overall is minimal. On the other hand, every day is a new juice that leaves us refreshed and rejuvenated. Animals are everywhere, because every house is practically a farm. Everywhere we look there are hammocks, which serve as perfect devices for lengthy siestas.

Above all, the largest difference I have noticed between Seattle and P_____ is the sense of community. Throughout our stay, everyone has been incredibly welcoming and hospitable, showing nothing but care for all students. While this has been true the whole time, the past couple days exemplified the community’s efforts the most. Two days ago was Akira’s birthday, and yesterday there was a youth event in the morning. On Saturday, we had our retreat day – spending more than six hours at a beach resort nearby. It was a nice break from the more constrictive day to day schedule, and allowed us to spend leisure time together as a group.

While we played volleyball on the sand, threw Frisbees in the ocean, snacked on ice cream and lounged in the pool, the youth of P_____ went door to door with Juan Carlos to collect donations from the community. As I learned last night, every single household had something to give, including money (which was used to buy soap and oil), ñame, yucca, cheese, suero, rice, coconut milk, salt, and more. Those donations went towards providing for Akira’s birthday celebration, and making a hulking pot of mote de queso, a soup that is commonly made for large groups and relies on the local ingredients of P_____. The soup complimented a day of rhumba in the morning led by a dance instructor from the neighboring town, a relay race with sack running, hopscotch and balancing a ball on a spoon in the mouth, and softball with fists as bats.

Everything was put together by Juan Carlos, who balances his time between running the village chicken farm – which is at my homestay – and coordinating youth events to bring young people together in the time following the P____ massacre of 1996 and the residual fear that has carried over ever since the conflict between the ELN, paramilitary forces, guerilla resistance, the FARC, and the Colombian government. The cohesion this community has created, relying on themselves for all of their basic needs, promoting self-sustainability through cow excrement energy, is truly incredible. I could never picture my neighborhood coming together for celebrations and social events as often as they do here. I don’t even know most of the names of almost all the people in my neighborhood, which isn’t supported by the fact that people are constantly moving.

Here, everybody is connected. All residents of P____ know everyone and everything about each other, and support each other without question. The community even goes so far as to provide for foreigners, putting on an incredible surprise celebration for Akira’s birthday. I could never imagine my neighbors happily handing over food, let alone every single person in my community.

Overall, P_____ has exposed us all to a true sense of community. The residents of this town have extended their kindness even to us, people they barely know, and have practically no shared experiences with. Our time here has shown me what self-reliance really looks like, and how much can be accomplished with just the people in one place.

We depend on so many people in our day to day lives, at stores, school, work, and more. Here, almost everything is achieved independently. As cliché as it may sound, I am glad that we have had the opportunity to be exposed to what a community really is, and am excited for the days to come.