Living into Each Others' Stories
Letter from San José de Apartadó:
By Charlotte Melly
There is an old woman in our village who is possibly the most affectionate person I have ever met. Her skin is soft and wrinkled. Her warmth is effortless and comforting. She strokes my arm as we sit for hours talking about everything and nothing. She has an age of Colombia’s history in her, has outlived five of her seven children and has a beautiful spark about her in spite of the horrors she has witnessed. From her house, she can see the back of ours and is always comforted when she sees our lights come on in the evening and knows we’re home.
There is an old man who likes to come to our house to drink coffee. He tells stories in his own peculiar way and has such a strong accent it’s hard for foreigners to understand him at first. He likes to quote the Bible to make the most absurd arguments and in ways that simply don’t make sense. He is always the first to tell anybody and everybody who arrives that we are the reason they are respected. He is also the perfect example of how a community can work so well. He has no family here. Everybody here is his family.
There is a woman my age who is hard-working and caring. Her father was a powerful community leader and was killed in the massacre of 2000. She is part of that generation. She is one of the ones who so easily could have gone to fight with the guerrilla to seek revenge. She didn’t. She stayed and walked with the community, choosing active non-violence over vengeance.
There is one leader who is so pessimistic it’s unbelievable. Whenever you talk to him, he laments the direction the world is going in. Everything is getting worse, day by day. He doesn’t believe there can ever be justice. He doesn’t believe non-violence stands the remotest of chances. And yet he dedicates his entire life and all his energy to a project which insists on justice and non-violence.
There is one woman who talks a lot and is infuriating. She is one of the most intelligent women I have ever met, a female leader in a community dominated by masculine, machista dynamics. She has a dark sense of humor and is incredibly cynical. I love her laugh. We laugh so much together. Her dedication to this life, her convictions of its value and its worth, run deep. She has travelled the world representing the community, and sees no reason to be anywhere else but here.
In ways, accompaniment work did not get easier over the last year. As time went on, new and tough challenges came up. The boundaries were not always clear. In fact, they never are. With these friendships and my emotional attachment to these people, I still wonder where the boundary is. We as FOR are part of the history of the peace community. By living here for an entire year, we as individuals are written into their story. How do we remain non-interfering when this is the case? How can we claim to be neutral from a community that could not and would not exist without us?
I have learnt so much from these people throughout this past year. I have learnt how hard it is to be neutral in this war zone. I have learnt the intricacies of war, the logic behind the strategies and the tangled web of criminal and political violence which has become meshed into the social fabric of Colombian culture and society. I have learnt to relate to campesinos and open myself up to this existence with empathy and solidarity. I have (at least tried) to be patient, to not judge, to not impose my standards, to stand back and to observe, to let these people carve out their own path and make their own mistakes along the way.
The peace community is written into my story now, just as I am written into theirs, and these personal friendships will slot into a broader mosaic of a collective relationship of international solidarity that will continue to open up space for them to walk their path.
Charlotte Melly just completed a year on the FOR accompaniment team in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in Colombia.