Guatemala

I have just come back after 12 action-packed days in Guatemala. As usual it is the miniature that charms me:

1. Boy in the street: Where are you from?

My friend: From Colombia.

Boy: Cali, Bogotá, Medellín, James Rodríguez.

2. Me, to young woman vendor of handcrafts: So how has your day gone?

Woman: Really well, thanks be to God.

Me: Lots of sales?

Woman: Oh no, I meant my health.

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My Father’s Care

Today I need to pack for a 12-day trip and attend to some stressful things, so I was glad this fallen bird reminded me of Jesus’ words:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:29).

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Amazing growth

A couple of years ago I visited a friend who lives near Medellín, in a slightly cooler place. I stole a cutting from her garden. It quickly produced roots in water and flourished when I potted it up.

My flatmate says it has a lot of personality because when it needs a drink, it flops melodramatically, and then perks up as soon as it is watered. For the horticulturalists among you, I think it is a variety of the Iresine plant, or bloodleaf. In Colombia, I think its popular name is  corazón de Jesús, or heart of Jesus.

I started giving cuttings to my colleagues and eventually my boss had the idea of filling an empty space in the grounds of the seminary where we have our offices with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of that original cutting.

We have now planted out almost 20 plants and more are on the way.

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The heart of art

Months and months ago, I sat poised over my keyboard, waiting for inspiration to strike. My task that day was to write a drama for children about the context of the giving of the 10 Commandments (we are nothing if not ambitious here at Vive!). The point of the drama was that the people of Israel were liberated from their oppression in Egypt before they were given the Law, a fact that the commandments themselves highlight. (Identity before behaviour, a key idea in the New Testament, too).

Anyway, I had the idea of an Israelite family talking about the Law and remembering the events of the Exodus while leafing through a family album of photos (anachronistic, I know). I imagined a family at one side of the stage and a huge “photo-frame” at the other, which would be uncovered now and then to reveal “frozen” actors, representing some part of the story (the oppression in Egypt, the Exodus, the first hard days in the desert). At one point, the actors would unfreeze and come out and act some more of the story.

Fast-forward to today. I was scrolling through photos of this year’s circus and there it was, the idea I had all those months ago, working, on the stage!

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Flags

For a few weeks last year, I posted the flags of countries that had been affected by terrorist violence as my Facebook profile picture in an attempt to remind us that the countries that are suffering most grievously are not in Europe or North America. I appreciated the response I got in comments, likes and tearful faces.

But this week, I realized that outrages were happening everywhere and I just couldn’t keep up.

There were the attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel and Save the Children in Afghanistan, car bombings in Libya, and, closer to home, the massacre by unknown assailants, of seven people in Yuramal, a town 75 miles away from Medellin.

So, I am going to leave the flags to one side for now, but hopefully not my heart.

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Red-letter-day

The internal phone that connects us to the guards at the front gate rang yesterday.

“We’ve got a package for you. I was just checking you were in. I’ll get my colleague to come round with it,” the guard said.

“It’ll be for my flatmate,” I thought. It always is. I never get mail.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was a new guard, and he checked the house number before handing the parcel over.

And it was FOR ME!

“This is my first mail for 5 years,” I gushed.

The guard was a bit taken aback but manage to rally and ask why that should be, and why hadn’t I complained…but to whom, I said?

I used to get mail quite reguarly but then it just dried up and I know that several people had tried to send parcels in that time. I started telling people not to bother.

And then yesterday, a Christmas card and pack of pretty notecards, sent in Scotland on 25th November arrived and made my day.

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Semiotics

I remember the first time I met a semioticist, it was on my first visit to Spain, and I think he must have been a cousin of the family I was staying with. From that encounter, I have a vague idea that semiotics has to do with symbols and meaning. Which brings me to this photo that I took at a mall.

What is it a symbol of? (Or: Of what is it a symbol? For the pedants).

I think you will guess that it is the sign for the Ladies’ toilet but have you ever thought what a feat it is that our brain takes a circle, a space shuttle and a line, and knows what it is?

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Desperation

These poor neighbours, opposite a strip of cafés and restaurants, are getting fed up of the noise! Their sign says, “Shopkeeper, please turn down the volume on the speaker.”

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Weariness

As you may know, the Vive Foundation has two offices, one in Medellín and the other on the Atlantic Coast. This week, our colleagues from the Coast have been with us in Medellín, bringing with them a nice, Caribbean vibe.

Last night, we went out to eat pizza in the best pizzeria in Medellín, which is called Bigotes (= Moustaches), and is run by a German with a spectacular handlebar moustache.

Anyway, on the way there, we saw a family (mum, dad and baby) begging at some traffic lights. They held up a sign and all I managed to read as we drove by was desplazados (displaced).

I felt a terrible weariness. Twelve years after I first visited Colombia, after I first had displacement explained to me, and first met displaced people, there were still people, almost certainly very recently displaced, desperately trying to survive in the city.

At the restaurant as we waited for our salami and cream cheese pizza to arrive, a young woman with a baby on her hip approached us, offering a chocolate bar for sale. One of my colleagues bought the product and we asked the baby’s name. He was called Steven (pronounced Esteven). The baby was pale and solemn, and the woman, very thin.

“Was she Venezuelan?” I asked, once she moved on.

“Yes, you could tell from her accent.”

Just when Colombia might be thought to be making some progress to a more peaceful society, a wave of hungry, desperate people is arriving, often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and the willingness to work hard.

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Good news story

In his New Year message, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, highlighted the continuing fall of violent deaths in the country,  to 24 per 100,000 inhabitants, about the same as in Washington DC and lower than several other US cities (for example New Orleans, 41.7 and Detroit, 43.8) but still much higher than neighbours Peru (7.16) and Ecuador (8.23).

Of course, being Colombia, these figures are contested, though the trend is definitely downwards.

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