Sister Liza Segleau, SDS shares about her experiences in Colombia, as she prepares to begin our Guatemala Initiative along with three of our Sisters from South America. They will depart for Guatemala on September 5, 2016. Here, she describes their brief immersion into the culture of an indigenous people who inhabit a Pacific coastal region called Chocó.
Well, the trip (to Chocó) was interesting to say least. It was the most risky trip I have ever taken in my entire life…There was a road blockade coordinated by the natives in the area to protest lack of government support. The road to enter the region was only open from 6:00 – 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Colombian military presence in the region was heavy, but peaceful. They were watching guerilla movement on the other side of the valley, who in turn were watching the Colombian military – not us.
Once we arrived at the reservation called Savaleta, tensions were pretty high. The house we stayed in had about 15 people and only one bathroom. Hygiene conditions were very low, especially after a week of being there… Overall, despite all the obstacles, things turned out OK.
We arrived Saturday afternoon and settled into our host’s home. He was one of the chiefs of the tribe and happy to have us. As soon as we arrived all five chiefs came over to review our plan for the week. During the meeting I could tell something was not quite right…I just could not tell exactly what. Our plan was fine, but there was this issue they needed to take care, but would not say what it was. For that reason we were not able to do anything Saturday, Sunday, or even Monday.
In between, I spent quite a bit of time with the chief to try to get a sense of what was going on. Once trust was earned, he told me two neighbors had died recently, plus quite a few animals, and there was no clear explanation as to why…On Monday the council got together. The council/community hall was right across the street from us. The meeting lasted about three hours. When it finally ended everyone appeared exhausted and irritable. Our host quickly informed us that the council had decided an evil spirit was roaming their land. No one was to leave their home after dark, or if it got dark you were to stay in whatever home you were in. All children were to return home before dark – no exceptions. The new rule also applied to us, the pastoral team. No going out at night, period. In terms of our program, we could start on Tuesday at the school.
Our pastoral team delivered a presentation about rights and responsibility in caring for others in the school and their community. We covered the high school on Tuesday and the elementary school on Wednesday. We three foreigners talked briefly about how kids struggle in our native countries. Wednesday afternoon we met with the women on the same topic, but focusing on their own concerns. Fifteen women came, which I thought was a pretty good number.
By Wednesday evening, one of our members was coming down with stomach problems and two of us — including me — with slight colds. We decided since we had completed most of the work, it was probably best to plan our exit on Thursday afternoon, instead of Friday at 3:00 a.m. as originally planned. So now we are home safe and sound. I’m nursing the sniffles, but nothing more.
Sister Liza Segleau, SDS