Today marks my 4th week at Busintana. I haven’t been keeping up with the blog for two reasons. First, I am writing every day from the murky depths of imagination. This place unlocks creativity and I’m writing more stories and histories about the people and land than I can keep up with. Blessed with good beginnings, I struggle to finish anything – or even get to the middle of things – but I enjoy it. The second reason you haven’t heard from me in a while is that I’m in the groove of daily life where extraordinary things happen and they just seem… normal.
So, here’s an update.
First, earlier month we had the women’s group at Busintana. It’s comprised of a core group of 18 women, all Arhuaco, who walk for hours to reach the meetings held every month or two. My mochilla (knit bag made of several thousand knots) was mostly complete – just needed to make the strap. The women in the group showed me how to weave 16 threads into a something that could be recognised as a device to carry a bag. It went well until I was left to my own devices. Then it all went to shit:
The amazing thing about these women, most of whom cannot read or write, many of whom speak only Arhuaco and little Spanish, is that they have inspired me to completely rethink art – how I think about it, what it is and maybe what it should be. Art is such a loose word, we talk about it in terms of mastery or expression, or mastery of expression. But what about simplicity and intention? These women make mochillas by repeating knots thousands of times. It sounds simple but it requires heightened mindfulness and a highly developed way of seeing things in a different dimension as they create complex patterns and colour changes in their heads, all the while creating every knot as a separate positive wish for the world. So in the course of making a mochilla they send out thousands of positive messages, little wishes for health and happiness for other people, the earth, the rivers, the air, the mountains, everything that is around them that they are connected to. I know many people who call themselves artists, but by this definition I know very few who make their work – or their life – an art. In short, these women are the knitting versions of Neo in the Matrix. (Or perhaps more aptly put – they’re the Oracle).
Oh, and the men! They came one night and played the accordion over Busintana 94.7FM radio waves. It was a great time, we danced, and they made me blush by playing songs special for “the blanca” on the 100+ year old community accordion. Me with old Mamos, and younger Arhuaco men, holding hands and shuffling side to side. We don’t look each other too often, but when we do it’s something special. Each man has such kindness in his eyes, but what’s more is this deep connection, knowledge, wisdom that shines out. It’s like they all know why they’re here, like the life they lead is the perfect meeting of destiny, choice and benevolence. There is something so hard to put into words about people who have that confidence, humbleness, connection. They know who they are and why they are here and it is both unshakeable and a gift to everyone around them. Similar to the women, they make an art of silence, eating cal (crushed seashells) and coca leaf out of poporro (gourd) and mochilla, while electrifying the air with communications sent without speaking.
Ok, what else? Well, it is the start of the cosecha de cafe – the first coffee harvest of the season. I scrambled around with everyone else on tarps under hot, hot sun, gathering the beans into burlap sacs which will be sent to Japan. Coffee growing is hard work I tell you… next week I’ll be out in the jungle picking coffee – a “meditation of the hands” they tell me. I think they just see me as cheap labour. (jajaja)
There has been a lot of rain here in the last few weeks. During this time snakes look for sheltered places to hide in and one found my overhang to be a good spot. He was little by Busintana standards (there was another 1.5m long and fat!), but Sarah, my Arhauco Zaku (mother) and the Mamo’s wife, told me that snakes show themselves when the viewer can expect their partner to come into their lives. She found him first so I’m not sure if it still applies to me. If so, that would be a rather interesting turn of events here at Busintana. I’m rather popular in town, and have received more than one proposal, but I can’t say I feel I’ve met a match here while walking past the pool halls and chatting with abuelos.
The girls, my students, my zatis (“sisters” in Ikan, the Arhuaco language) have been such a source of fun and learning. English lessons are still going, if slightly less enthusiastic after 4 weeks. “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” song has won the hearts and minds of all the neighbourhood kids (and the Mamo!). Saturday was Tima, the oldest’s, birthday. A bunch of kids came over, we ate, had cake, sang Happy Birthday in English (led by yours truly) and had a good time. Before everyone eats cake people say a few words to the birthday girl – a tradition I quite like. I was a bit on the spot with my speech in front of giggling 4-16 year olds, but I think it went okay.
Speaking of which, I’ve done a few interviews while here! One was for a cultural TV channel here in Colombia who do an incredible series on different indigenous tribes throughout the country. They were contracted before the Colombia “no” vote to peace to film about what can be learned from these people who were among the most negatively affected by Colombia’s war with the FARC (and other internal and external groups – guerrillas, missionaries, paramilitary, industry, etc, etc). Interestingly, all indigenous groups I know of supported the peace deal, as did people in rural areas most affected by violence of that era. Apparently, from what locals describe, the vote was blocked mostly in cities where the effects of war were not felt nearly as harshly. Locals were heartbroken and shocked when the “no” vote came through, but no one is really talking about it, aside from saying they make peace every day and that the announcement of the president winning the Nobel Prize was a big score (interestingly, the Mamo has shared the stage with the president, and he actually came to this area for the blessing of the Kogi people – neighbouring indigenous group – before he took office). Anyways, back to the interviews: the film crew was great and the director and I have chatted about doing something similar – a series or a documentary – in English. He wanted me to join them a remote region of Putomaya, in the Amazon jungle bordering Brazil, but I had reasons to stay here with the Mamo and family… But who knows, maybe something will come of it. I certainly seem to have connections to the film industry in Colombia – which is ironic considering I sound like a 4 year old speaking Spanish on camera.
Well, as I am sure you can feel through the waves of wifi, I am doing great and loving being in the heart of the world, the Sierra Nevada. I’ve got less than a month of living this way left, then I’ll have a bit of a transition. Back to Europe for end of November through January, then another transcontinental move. As the time draws nearer I feel excited for what is next. I’m acutely aware now of all the little pulls on our time – the thought of doing my hair and makeup every day or commuting feels like it will be a big challenge to rise above. Yes, I can hear all of you snickering and thinking me soft, but just think, not necessarily about what you can do with that time, but how much more tranquilo you can be when you don’t think about those things, when you wake up in the morning the same as you went to sleep: with frogs, crickets, the smells of flowers. It will be a great transition, I’m just preparing myself to make it a mindful one.