Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Celebrating new lives and a life passed

I became a godmother the other day (to the left is me with my new goddaughter, Karin Juliet, during the baptism mass, and below with my teammate Chris - the godfather - and the Karin's parents). During the joint baptism-Christmas mass, celebrated in the open-air community kiosko (gathering space), the priest described the particular advantage the 7 babies being baptised have over most other newly-baptised babies: while through baptism children are welcomed into the Christian community, these 7 babies are already part of an extraordinary community that exemplifies many of the best parts of Christianity: solidarity, mutual care, cooperation.

I do see many of those values embodied here. In preparation for the 24th (Christmas Eve is the big day of celebration in Colombia, as opposed to the 25th in the U.S.), community members collaborated to prepare huge vats of the traditional Christmas food for the entire community – sancocho de res (a traditional stew made with a community-owned cow), natilla and buñuelos. And of course organizing the requisite baile (dance). I am proud to report I danced until 5am, though I was still bested by the strong few who danced until 7:30am! (I have earned a reputation as one of the top 2 or 3 dancers among FOR volunteers, which I find hilarious since at home I didn’t do much dancing, and when I did it was certainly not until dawn!)

Talking with the priest before the mass, he mentioned how he comes to the community several times a year to perform baptisms. “I have to,” he said, “because this community produces so many babies. That’s how we know this community won’t be defeated, won’t be killed off: they keep reproducing!” he joked. And it's true: this morning the newest baby girl was born, just a few days ago my next-door neighbor gave birth to a little girl, and possible twins are expected in a couple of weeks – not to mention my goddaughter and the four other baby girls born in the last few months. A veritable baby boom!

The priest’s comments became especially poignant when, early Saturday morning, an older – though not elderly by any means – member of the community had a stroke and died. As I understand it, Perucho had been sick and in a lot of pain for a while, so some consolation can be taken in the fact that he’s no longer in pain. His body was lain out in the kiosko and community members took turns staying with his body night and day – drinking coffee and playing dominoes to stay awake – until his funeral yesterday morning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Christmas card from Colombia

Happy Holidays from Colombia!

My Christmas this year will be quite a change from the christmas-cookie-eating, presents-under-a-decorated-fir-tree Christmases to which I'm accustomed in the States. Instead, I'll be spending the holiday season eating natilla (a sweet corn pudding made with milk, cinnamon, cheese, and often coconut) and buñuelos (cheesy balls of fried dough), and dancing the nights away to vallenato (accordian-based Colombian pop music). As much as I'm already enjoying the start of those festivities, my teammates and I remain on alert. December tends to be one of the most violent months in this region: members of the legal and illegal armed groups are anxious and on edge because they'd rather be home with their families, and the attention of human rights offices of the government and other such agencies is often elsewhere as folks head off on vacation for the holidays. So far things have been calm, however, and we hope that continues.

And some New Year news for you: not only will I be transitioning to FOR's office in Bogota in the late spring, but I have agreed to extend my contract with FOR through the end of November 2009 – and perhaps longer. It's crazy to think about not returning home until nearly 2010, but I'm excited to take on new and additional responsibilities and challenges, like training new accompaniers, leading delegations, meeting with embassy officials, etc. Also, I will be back in the States for a visit in June or July, so keep your calendars open!

Last but not least, during this season of giving, I ask you to consider supporting me and the work I am doing in Colombia by donating to the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Your tax-deductible contribution would help pay for travel, insurance, living expenses, communication, and office support for me and my teammates, as well as supporting our work to provide support and visibility for the Peace Community.

I send abrazos grandes (big hugs) all the way from Colombia, and wish you a very Happy Holidays.

With love and peace,


FOR under surveillance

Below is the text of an action alert issued today by FOR. As described, we have learned that our email accounts have been under surveillance. This is another example of the way the Uribe administration has created a climate of suspicion around the human rights community in Colombia, putting us and our work in danger. Please take action!

"Speak Truth to Power" takes on a new dimension when you realize you are under surveillance! That is exactly the position we at FOR find ourselves in once again. In 2005, we informed FOR supporters that more than 10,000 pages of FBI files had been released to us, documenting decades of surveillance of the organization. Now, we have just learned that for two full years - since December 2006 - our Latin America program has been targeted and monitored by state agents. Specifically, the e-mail messages intercepted include FOR communication in the US and with Colombia!

This covert action is a direct violation of our right to privacy as a humanitarian activist organization. FOR's e-mail account was among more than 150 e-mail accounts of human rights organizations, journalists, academics, and labor organizations that were targeted. We've also learned that the Colombian military paid for computer hard drives "of interest to intelligence" agencies. The June 2007 break-in and stealing of FOR's Bogotá office computers containing sensitive files on our work with members of Colombian peace communities may have been a direct result of this state-sanctioned surveillance.

FOR is meeting this attack on civil rights by calling on U.S. and Colombian officials for a full investigation, sanctioning of officials responsible, and the erasure of intercepts. Join us in exposing this militaristic intervention. Click here to write to the State Department's chief for human rights concerns.

We also hope you will take this opportunity to show the Colombian and U.S. regimes that you support democracy, privacy, and self-determination by making a donation reaffirming your commitment to FOR. We need your help. Whatever your gift, it is a sign of your commitment to justice. We say again: we will not be silenced!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recruitment time!

Wondering how you can visit Colombia and learn about the armed conflict and movements for peace? Come on a delegation! (And I may even by leading your trip!) Or want to become a human rights accompanier like me? Here's how:

Upcoming Delegations to Colombia

  • March 27-April 6, 2009: Youth Arts and Action Delegation. Builds on the dynamic experience of the first youth arts and action delegation in 2008 and the groups of conscientious objectors in Medellín and Bogotá. This delegation will be the focus of a documentary film produced by two participants. $1000 from Bogotá. For information and an application, contact Liza Smith,
  • August 15-29, 2009: Delegation to San José Peace Community, Medellín and Eastern Antioquia. Witness the incredible commitment and experience of the Peace Community of San José and other Colombian grassroots initiatives. $1500 from Bogotá. For information and application, contact John Lindsay-Poland,

Training for New Field Team Applicants

March 17-22, San Francisco: Apply to be part of the FOR teams in Bogotá and San José de Apartadó in Colombia. Team members serve for 12 months or longer, must be 23 and fluent in Spanish. More information is at

you could be here

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A few things I've learned after 6 months

I recently returned from a week vacation, spent with my mom in Medellin. To be honest, we didn't do much besides eat, drink and relax, but for me it was perfect: what I really needed was a break from my rice-and-beans diet and from constantly thinking about men with guns. My mom had many questions for me about my life and work in Colombia, of course, so the subject was never far from my mind. At one point, as we discussed my life and work here, she posed a question that I had considered in the abstract, but never in concrete terms: what have I learned?
So, here I present a list of a some of the things I have learned over the past 6 months:
  • how to hike through a mud pit without getting stuck - and when stuck, how to dig out one's boot
  • how to live and work with someone without driving myself or the other person entirely crazy
  • how to differentiate the sounds of combat fire from random shots

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Manos de Resistencia: event in SF, Dec 7

Attending this event is a great way you can support me and my work in Colombia!

Manos de Resistencia: Women Peacemakers in Colombia
Sunday, December 7, 7 pm.
Women’s Building
3543 18th St. San Francisco

A Benefit Featuring:
Amanda Romero
is a leading Colombian human rights activist, co-author of the collection of Colombian women’s testimonies, “We Will Never Be Silenced.” She will speak about Colombian women, human rights and the need for international presence.

Aluna is a Bay Area multicultural ethnic and Colombian folkloric band that features traditional Colombian music styles such as Cumbia, Puya, Bullerengue, Curruláo and Mapalé, as well as original music.

, Poetry by Maria Mercedes Carranza, raffle drawing, and honoring Bay Peace.

$12-20 donation. No one turned away.

This event is raising funds for the human rights accompaniment work of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Colombia. FOR’s teams live with the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and other grassroots initiatives, in order to dissuade political violence and ensure their rights to stay on their lands and continue their nonviolent work. See for more information.

Co-sponsors: Global Fund for Women, American Friends Service Committee Pacific Mountain Region, Fund for Nonviolence, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom San Francisco Chapter, Peacemakers. Information: 720-296-6429