Whoops, I haven’t blogged for a month and a half. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun. But also, other than my travels around Colombia during the holidays and going back to work, I really don’t have much to report on. So I guess I’ll share some reflections on one of the lessons I’ve learned over these holiday travels, and maybe I’ll be better about getting back into the habit of regular blogging.
Family. It’s an incredibly complex concept, one holding different meaning for each and every person, a concept that psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists spend their fair share of time trying to reach some sort of understanding about. Growing up as the daughter of two United Methodist pastors, I learned from a young age the importance and meaning of chosen family (my first set of chosen grandparents were in the town we moved away from when I was two years old, so I’m not sure whether they were assigned or chosen, but they were significant nonetheless). But I think that since I moved to Colombia, alone, as a single young woman whose biological family is thousands of miles away, family has taken on a whole different meaning for me.
Being away from my biological and chosen families for the first time in a significant way, being isolated from other native speakers of my native language for the first time, and living alone in another country have forced me to face loneliness at times, which, for an extrovert like me, can be a challenge and a blessing. And the prospect of being separated from my family brought about a profound sense of loneliness, which hit me like a ton of bricks all at once for the first time as I was listening to the Bogota Philharmonic Orchestra play Christmas carols at a concert I went to with a group that was here from DePaul University, including one of my closest friends.
But the good news was, the loneliness didn’t last long. Soon thereafter, I was at one of the meetings with the youth and young adult group which I have been a part of forming at my church, and we were doing an activity which required talking about how we were feeling at the time and I decided to reply honestly – “extraño a mi familia,” I said – I miss my family. As a result of this conversation (or maybe he’d been planning it anyway) my pastor invited me to spend Christmas with him and his family, a family which I have grown quite close to over the past five months. I graciously accepted the offer and grew excited about the possibility of spending Christmas with a family. Soon thereafter, the older of the pastor’s daughters asked me what I’d be doing for Christmas, and I told her the plans, to which she responded “oh, good, I had told him we should invite you.” The invitation really made me feel appreciated and welcomed, like maybe I was finding some chosen family here.
The plans with their family fell through and in the end I spent Christmas with the other volunteer from CEPALC (Laura) and her family in Zipaquira, a small town about an hour outside of Bogota which is famous for having a cathedral carved out of its salt mines. I arrived to Zipaquira early in the afternoon on December 24 to the house Laura’s family owns here in Colombia and where her aunt and cousin live. They welcomed me to their home and we spent the afternoon relaxing. In the evening, we got dressed to go out; in Colombia the tradition is that people spend the night eating, drinking, and enjoying the presence of friends and family.
We went to the house of one of Laura’s uncles (she has an enormous family) and ate a huge dinner around 10 pm and at midnight toasted in Christmas, spending the night talking and enjoying each other’s company. We returned to the house sometime after midnight, and listened to the mariachis for a while at the block party of the neighborhood which had started early in the evening and continued until sometime between 2 and 4 am. When we returned to the house, the family opened their Christmas presents, and then we went to bed. We woke up late the next morning (Christmas) and took it easy for the day. Throughout the time spent in Zipaquira with Laura and her family, never once did I feel out of place. I felt welcomed, like a member of a family.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, I left Bogota for my big adventure across Colombia. I spent a few days with a friend in Medellin, which is a beautiful city and which also gave me the opportunity to escape some from the “city” atmosphere, being only a Metrocable (gondola) ride away from Parque Arvi, a giant nature-y park that is like a national park in the US. After Medellin, I went to Valledupar, a city in the hot lowlands of Colombia near the Atlantic coast. Laura also has family there, so we stayed with them. Her family who we stayed with in Zipaquira were also there for a visit. Laura’s cousin calls all of his cousins “primo” or “prima”, both meaning cousin, and at times called me “prima,” too. Each time he did as such, he would apologize, but it really didn’t bother me; in fact, I loved it. It made me feel more like I was welcome as part of the family.
Lastly, I’m coming up in the six month anniversary of my separation from a group of 25 members of my chosen family, the other YAMs. I can’t believe it’s almost been a half a year since we were commissioned (I about dropped dead from shock when I realized that), but I know that no matter how far the distance is between us, we’ve got each other’s backs. And that’s what family is, in many ways.
So what lessons have I learned here? I have learned that I can always find family, no matter where I go or what I do. And even though that family will never replace my biological and chosen family, I will simply keep adding to the latter. No matter whether I have speakers of my native language around or even, I’d bet, no matter whether I understand the native language of where I am, no matter the cultural differences and all other differences which might divide us, I can always find family. I can always find mis primos y primas en todas partes del mundo.