Eating Off Banana Leaves

I decided to post again in such a short period of time because of a very important event that happened just earlier today. While I want to share tons of other things have happened in the past week, I feel the need to dedicate this post solely to today’s events.  Don’t worry, me eating off a banana leaf is not the main topic here, although it did really happen (and I’ll prove it later).

To start at the beginning, we headed off to meet up with some displaced farmers where they are currently living. I have been learning about the displaced people in Colombia a lot over the past 10 days, as well as during my 5 months of preparation for Colombia. I wish I could inform you all on the details of what I’ve been learning, but this would take up more than a blog post in itself. Please reach out to me via facebook or email to discuss the topic in depth (I actually really want you to do this, not just being nice, so please do). In a one sentence description: 10% of Colombia’s population has been displaced due to conflict between the government and guerrilla groups, as well as a recent free trade agreement between Colombia and The United States. The people I visited today aren’t even supposed to be living on their land that they’re on now. Now that you’ve gotten a very general context, back to my story:

We arrived at the displaced farmers plot of land with groceries to make lunch, and big hearts ready to support and learn what we could. I have to admit, the first thing I noticed, being the nature lover I am, is how beautiful the countryside was that we were in:

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I feel the need to point out that you can click on the pictures and they become larger. The little thumbnails that appear in this post are so small you can’t really see anything, so please, click away.

We proceeded to meet and greet everyone that had come to compartir (to share) with us. When I say they came to us, I mean that people from neighboring plots of land walked over to where we were just to share lunch with us. Here are just a few of them:

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From here we were shown around the property we were on, where four families lived. My personal tour guide was a three year old boy who loved that little wheelbarrow he’s sitting in:

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Here’s the kitchen where we ate:

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Here we have some pigs being raised on the property:

And here is the distant front of another house on the property:

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I specifically want to show this distant photo with the white flag in front because of how many of those white flags there were. Literally, they lined every single property that we passed for probably a mile, there were hundreds of them. I never got around to asking why they had white flags everywhere, but my guess is it’s to demonstrate that they are tired and done with any form of conflict. The white flags symbolize a surrender to violence, and a movement towards peace. These people just want a place where they can live and call home. It doesn’t even have to be on their land where they currently reside.

Back to my day’s ventures. Next, we had the privilege (and I mean absolute privilege) to hear most of our hosts stories about how they were displaced. Now keep in mind, my Spanish has improved, but not to the level to understand a fast speaker talking about a subject with many strange nouns and verbs. I was able to get the jist of what they were saying, with Sarah’s help in translating some things that went totally over our heads. However, the most moving part of our conversations was seeing the emotion on their faces. Their faces basically told their story for them. It wasn’t necessarily any expressions they were making, or the crying, but it was as if their entire face painted what they were feeling: pain. You could just see the pain radiate from them as they went back in time to tell their stories. And oh how terrible the stories were: police in swat gear shooting rubber balls, people bringing specifically chainsaws to knock down houses because chainsaws have been used to dismember people who have refused to leave, children telling their parents they don’t want to die yet, young adults having to drop out of college. It was just one story after another, and the entire time I sat there wondering, what can I possibly do.

I’m going to leave you hanging on that thought for a moment as I proceed onwards with my day’s activities. After our long discussions, it was lunch time. Might I mention, that our lunch was cooked on a wooden stove, which I personally have never seen in person before:

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This is the part where I walked into the room where we would be eating lunch and saw that the food was laid out on banana leaves! We had some incredibly tasty soup and rice:

After lunch, I had one of the men (pictured below on the right) approach me and begin talking to me:

At first I wasn’t 100% sure if I understood what he was saying, but it sounded like he wanted to write me a note. As anyone who is struggling to speak a foreign language would do, I used my hands and items I had to verify that I was indeed hearing him correctly. I was. I carry around a notebook with me, so I handed it over to him with my pen.

His note gave me his name, the name of the place where we were, and said we hope you all will return to compartir with us again (compartir is used as a more meaningful “to bond” almost). He made sure I understood everything he had written down, and I did. I was touched, he enjoyed our company so much that he was asking us to return already (which I was told many times by others as well).

But that’s not it… He wanted me to write him a note. At first I started to freak out in my head as I thought what on earth could I write him a note about in Spanish. I asked him what he would like it to be about, and he said just my name. He pulled out a piece of paper he had, which was essentially the back of a receipt, and handed it to me. I wrote him a note with my name, where I would be living in Colombia, and where I was from in los estados unidos (The United States). I handed him the note, and he gleefully looked it over to make sure he understood all of it. It took a couple times saying Phoenix, Arizona for him to get the pronunciation correct, but he got it. He folded up the note, and held onto it as we continued to struggle along in our conversation. He unfolded, looked at the note, and refolded it at least 4 times, as if to make sure it was still there. After our conversation was over, I watched him walk around with that note tightly grasped in his hands as he moved from one conversation to the next, never putting it in his pocket.

I couldn’t believe what had happened. This man truly valued me being there. He had planned out that he wanted a note from me, went and got any sort of paper he could find, and had me write down who I was so that he could always remember this moment.

In all honesty, I probably can’t help this man or these people much at all, and they know that. I’m no lawyer, elite family, or politician. I can’t save them from the horrors they have been experiencing (as much as I’d like to). What I can do is simply be there for them. Let them know that I care, and I’m there to support them. Let them know that there are people in the world who care about what they are going through, and that it isn’t going unnoticed. It’s called ministry through presence. I had learned and heard about it before, but just today I realized that I was actually taking part in it.

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6 thoughts on “Eating Off Banana Leaves

  1. Daina meyer says:

    Soooo good to talk to you yesterday, my son. Your blog post is very moving- God has placed you with these people for you to help one another. It’s the ultimate paradox: when we give, we receive. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings for you. God bless you and your ministry, Alex!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Matt Meyer says:

    This really touched me! My thoughts/feelings are … I love you! Am proud of you! “Christ’s hands and feet”! … Praying constantly for you and the people God puts in your path.
    Thanks for taking the time to share … You have a gift in bringing your walk “to life”.
    Big Hugs,
    Padre

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aunt Terri says:

    💭Alex, tears obscure my vision as I attempt to write to you. So beautiful, simple and profound– your ministry of being present. What an amazing gift you are giving and what powerful gifts you are receiving. You are an excellent journalist– keep reporting and I will keep praying for you and all that you compartir. Sending love and prayers as you participate in miracles.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Auntie Monica says:

    I am so VERY proud of you and the sacrifices you are making to open your heart to God’s plan for you and your willingness to be God’s instrument of love and compassion to the people you meet and are serving. Know that I am praying for you and look forward to reading more of your blog. Love the phrase ministry through presense- sometimes there is no need for words, love is enough. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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