Before coming to El Tres, I only met a handful of people that were familiar with the town. Many attended Presbyterian churches in other parts of the country and warned about long services and unwritten rules against dancing. A few folks from the United States had visited the town as accompaniers through the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Their tone was mostly one of reverence about the people there and the violence in the region.
After spending three months in this place, it becomes increasingly difficult to characterize—especially when I’m learning new things just about every week. I can say this for certain: there are lots of bananas. Banana trees grow for miles by the highway and my host dad has worked in the banana boxing factory for 35 years. On my morning runs, I often greet a herd of goats eating a pile of rotting bananas. I say, “Hey, you goats! Have a great day!” as locals stare at the rare foreigner (and even rarer, a runner) jogging along the road.
The kids that know me aren’t shy at all about saying hello as I go by. I’ve been working with some of them at the after-school center based in the church. Most of the time, I help students with English homework or putting together lessons to slake their curiosity about the language. We also spend time playing soccer together. So far, my ability to dribble a ball is improving at a much slower rate than my Spanish.
Last week, I returned from a few days in Medellin. Spending time in the city was nice for a while especially since the Spanish they speak there is so clear. I could understand the gist of most conversations. In Urabá, the region where I live, folks tend to speak rapidly and abbreviate words. It’s been a bit tedious to have to ask folks to slow down when speaking, but I think the immersion has done me more good than anything.
That being said, the last few months have been hard. The first few weeks were confusing especially being in a culture that feels so distant from what I’m used to. This place is a powerful teacher and it requires a great deal of honesty to sort through what there is to learn. That can be difficult at times.
A lot of those lessons are still forming. I hope to share more soon from what I’ve learned by picking coffee, making new friends, building a new house, and praying in a different language.