Tag Archives: Colombia

Faith

28 Jul

Lucas Cuartas was in one of my fourth grade classes in Medellín, Colombia. I think it was in 1992-93 school year, because Pablo Escobar was still on the run and times were crazy.  There were police searches, car bombs and assassinations by vigilantes, and paramilitaries on all sides.

Lucas Cuartas was absent one day. The Columbus School was a private school for wealthy families, and kids were rarely absent, so Lucas’ absence was notable. It wasn’t until someone official arrived – the counselor, our principal, I don’t remember who – arrived at our door that I knew his absence was extraordinary. Miss Vicky, the religion teacher, might have been there too.

My small class of 20ish students sat silently as they were told that Lucas and his family had gone out for pizza the night before. As they drove past a police roundabout, a bomb went off, blowing the roundabout to bits. The car was sent rolling. Lucas had a broken arm, but his mom was in very serious condition.

When I was in teacher’s college, no one prepared us to share this sort of tragic news with our class. Maybe they do now, but in Medellín, Colombia, though it was not an everyday experience, few families or classes had been untouched by the violence of that city and country in that particular period. In the class next door, a girl disappeared from one day to the next after her father had been found, assassinated and dumped in a hole by right wing vigilantes who felt they had proof that he worked for Pablo Escobar. Rumor had it that the girl’s mother had taken the remainder of her family and fled to Argentina.

But there were my fourth graders, facing their own tragedy that touched on our classroom family. I think there was a call for questions, I don’t really remember. I do remember, though that a sweet girl named veronica raised her hand.

“Can we pray for Lucas and his family?” was her simple question.

Chairs scraped on linoleum as every kid in my class, including the one Jewish student we had in a room full of Catholics, knelt on the floor to pray.

A few days later, I went with my principal to a mass for Lucas’ mom, who wasn’t doing well. She recovered some weeks later. Lucas returned to school in a cast, but my class felt so much closer than we had before.

I think often about the contrast between the formality of the mass and the simplicity of the prayers of my class. I don’t know if one had more impact on the outcome of the Cuartas family’s tragedy than the other. But I am still awed by the power I felt in that classroom as my students prayed. There is a verse from Hebrew that says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That classroom was filled with faith, hope and love for others. If we all had the conviction of those fourth graders and followed the guidelines and safety protocols public health officials keep repeating to keep ourselves and others safe, we will be able to go back to normal, sooner, rather than later. I have faith in that.

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The weird way I am dealing with my back- to-school anxiety

11 Jul

I am not an anxious person, but as the details of my school district’s opening plan evolves, I have an unfamiliar feeling in my chest that I can only call anxiety. I am trying to deal with it by thinking back to times when I have felt this anxious and, despite living in Medellín Colombia from 1991-1994, I have nothing that compares.

What has been helpful, though has been thinking about my years in Colombia. It was the height of the drug war. Pablo Escobar had escaped from prison and there was a nationwide manhunt. FARC rebels were attacking police. Vigilantes were attacking narcotraficantes.  And yet, I only have two recollections of times I felt anxious there.

The first is at the end of my second year, when I had to change houses. I was struggling to find a house in Envigado where I could still employ my maid, Teresita, and have my dog. It ended well and I loved the traditional house that I found. It had thick white stucco walls and a floor with alternating yellow and green tile. The two barred windows at the front had wooden shutters that opened from the inside. There were two interior patios that had openings in the roof. In winter, when it rained, I loved the sound of the rain falling into the patio. My anxiety of looking for this house has been almost erased by my joy at finding it.

The second time I felt anxious, was in my second year. It was a particularly trying time in Colombia. In a country with the highest rate of murders and kidnappings in the world, it was hard to believe things could escalate, but they did, and it impacted us at school. The murder by vigilantes of the father of a girl in the class next to mine was bad enough. But then, on a family evening out for pizza, a boy in my class was affected. As the family car drove past a police roundabout, rebels detonated a bomb in the police station. The family’s car flipped. Lucas, my student, suffered a broken arm. His mother was taken to hospital and was in serious condition. When the principal and counselor came to talk to my class, I got tears in my eyes when a sweet girl named Veronica asked if we could pray. I had to wipe the tears away as each and every student got out of their chair and knelt in prayer for Lucas, his mother, and their family. We all felt like we were part of their family. A few days, when things took a turn for the worse,  we all attended a mass to pray for his mother’s recovery. Fortunately, she recovered and this horrible tragedy helped bring this class together in a deeper way.

So, all of this has me thinking about finding joy. Every day in isolation, I make myself do four things: exercise, read, write, knit. I think I am going to start writing the joyful stories I have from my years in Medellín. I might even post some of them here.

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Booked!

19 Jan

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Home from Boston, surrounded by the piles of arcs I collected, my mind has turned to summer.

This summer, my niece, my twin sister’s only child, graduates from high school and turns 18 in the same week. I got to thinking I’d like to be there for those two big events and checked flights. Prices were very good.

So, in conversation with my sister last night we talked it over. As the Superintendent for elementary schools in her district, her time can be flexible, even though school will still be in session if I were to arrive the last week of June. We looked at the calendar and talked things over. I went online while we were talking and found nonstop, round-trip, PDX to YYZ  flights on Air Canada for $422, a very good price. We talked it over and I though tempted to book it right away, I decided to sleep on it and book it in the morning if I still felt confident.

I am now booked to go and I feel very happy about it.

It makes me amazed, how easy all this is to do now. It used to take days or weeks to make these kinds of plans.You’d make a plan. Then you’d have to go see a travel agent. They’d give you some options. You’d think them over and decide. Later, you’d get your paper tickets. It is all so different now.

I started shopping for my own tickets when I lived in Colombia. Once my Spanish was good enough, I skipped the travel agent and would just call the airlines directly. I can’t remembered how I paid, but it must have been by credit card over the phone. I still have my Lonely Planet guidebook  Colombia: A Travel Survival Kit   ©1988.

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The inside covers refilled with notes, including flight information I scratched down while on the phone with Avianca.

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It is a ratty old book now, but it is a storehouse of memories.

Springing forward SOLSC 11

11 Mar

I’m enjoying the posts about the time change. I hate to admit it, but I had no trouble adapting this year. I set my clocks ahead in the early afternoon on Saturday, took my dogs for a walk & came home to the “new time”. Saturday night, I stayed up later than I would on a school night, but had a great sleep. But it has all had me thinking about Colombia’s first time change.

In the summer of 1991, I travelled to Medellin, Colombia to teach at the American School, there Much of Colombia was experiencing a drought, though Medellin and its environs were less impacted. Medellin, called the City of eternal spring, had excellent infrastructure (you could drink the tap water among other positives). It was a wonderful place to live and work and I ended up staying three years.

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 In an effort to conserve energy, he federal government implemented several policies. For my first year there, we had only 12 hours of electricity a day. Each week we alternated between 6 am to 6 pm and 6 pm to 6 am. additionally it was decided to implement Daylight Savings time for the first time ever. Colombia lies just above the equator, so daylight hours only vary about 30 minutes from one solstice to another.

Some people accepted the decision, some resisted, and some were confused. Many would ask “Old time or new time?” when you made an agreement about a time to meet. Arrogant North Americans that we were we would argue trying to explain that it didn’t matter, just change the clock and go with it, but friends and coworkers sometimes couldn’t do it.

One problem I face is my alarm clock. It is about 15 years old and has a chip that automatically changes the clock. Alas, the chip changes the clock based on the dates we used prior to 2005 when revisions were made and  DST began on the second Sunday of March and ended on the first Sunday of November, from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. So now, I have to change my clock 4 times a year.

Randy Ribay

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