Goodbyes and Hellos
Trip Start Aug 15, 2012
21Trip End Aug 15, 2013
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My name is Colleen Maki and I just returned from a year living and working in Cuernavaca, Mexico through the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Mission Program. Today I am here to say thank you for this community's support over the past year and share a little bit of my story.
I want to start by inviting you all to take off your shoes if you feel comfortable doing so. Try willing your toes a bit. Maybe take a walk around. Think about what you are feeling. What does the ground feel like to you? Is it cold or warm? Etc..
I have some news that I would like to share with you.... we are all standing on sacred ground! How exciting is that? Let me explain to you a little bit about what I mean....
During my third or fourth week in Mexico I went to a presentation by a feminist theologian named Mariana Gomez. I wasn't exactly sure what she was going to be speaking about but I was excited about what she had to say. She started by asking all of us to take off our shoes and remember that we are always walking on sacred ground. But why was this ground sacred? Because God created it? Because it has been around for many years? Because it can tell the story of time? Sure, all of these things were true... But why it was sacred for Mariana and why it is has become sacred ground for me is because it holds the story of all of the women who have been abused, raped, or killed. You and I are on the same sacred ground as the sisters who have gone before us.
In Mexico I worked with an organization called Ddeser, the Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Mexico. One of my main tasks was to read the daily newspapers and cut out articles on a variety of topics.... contraception, STIs, abortion rights, and feminicide. Feminicide is the murder of women simply because they are women. I had only been working for 2 weeks before I went to hear Mariana speak but I was already confused about the newspaper articles I was reading. My worldview, my upbringing maybe, did not allow me to understand why so many women were being murdered. In order to deal with the complexity of these issues and the deep sadness I was experiencing I spoke to my coordinator and she suggested I create a ritual to aid in my struggle reading the newspapers, but I was having trouble coming up with one. I wanted my ritual to bear witness to the lives of the women I was reading about. Each one of them had a family and a life full of passions, joys, and sorrows. I wanted to make sure that I remembered them by the life that they lived and not by the police report number in the newspaper articles. So, after hearing Mariana speak so beautifully about sacred ground I knew exactly what my ritual would be. Every morning I would take off my shoes and read the newspapers barefoot. I would remember that I am on sacred ground and that I have the opportunity to bring justice to these murders. Ddeser, my organization, was part of a committee called CoCoFem, the Committee Against Feminicide. CoCoFem organized protests and marches as outcries to the Mexican government to take action and start preventing feminicide. As a foreign citizen I was not able to participate in these protests but I was able to help CoCoFem create an archive of deaths and keep accurate statistics about feminicide from the newspaper articles I collected. At first I was frustrated about my inability to participate in the marches but then I realized my newspaper reading had a much bigger impact. I was able to support my coworkers as they fought the fight. Before arriving in Mexico I really did not know what feminicide was. I may have read about it in my feminist theory course but I really can’t remember. And I can honestly tell you that I still don’t understand feminicide very well, even after a year of working with it. It is hard.
At Ddeser I also worked with young people by giving workshops on contraception and healthy relationships. One of my favorite activities we would do with high school students was called the dance of love, baile de amor. We had paper hearts and bombs with different words written on them describing common characteristics of relationships. The students had a short amount of time to decide if the words described love or not love, amor o no amor. After all of the hearts and bombs were placed on either the love or not love side of the room the facilitator would lead a discussion on aspects of healthy relationships. Conversations about jealousy, verbal abuse, condom use, and many other topics always come up. These workshops provided a space for young people to have conversations about what it meant to them to be in healthy relationship. I was constantly surprised by the depth of these conversations. Ddeser is doing good work and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to work with them for a year. I was able to teach many people how to use condoms properly, where they could go for STI testing, where they could receive support if they were in an abusive relationship, about sexual diversity, and many other topics. Over the year sexual and reproductive right became very near to my heart and even led me to do some serious reflection on my own vocation.
Who knows what the ELCA's slogan is? It is on the website... "God's work, our hands." This phrase was essential to me during my time preparing to leave for Mexico. I remember thinking, "I am not exactly sure what God's work is but I am really excited to learn about it, to get my hands dirty and discovered where I am called to be." But, after just a short time of being in Mexico, I quickly started thinking about my feet and where they were. What they were walking away from? What they were walking to? Who were they were walking with?
I don't have "it" all figured out yet friends, but I have come to understand that figuring "it" all out is not what we are called to do. In Mexico, God was calling me to be vulnerable and walk with my coworkers as they worked as activist fighting passionately for sexual and reproductive rights. To walk on sacred ground and remember the women who have gone before me as people and not just numbers. God called me to love and be loved. God called me to expand my definition of neighbor and in doing so I created relationships with my coworkers; Andrea, Emmanuel, and Anna, that will be in my heart forever even though we live in different countries.
The other day my friend told me, my story was a story of hope and at the time I wasn’t totally convinced. But now I am. See this as a message of hope. Be vulnerable enough to discover where God is calling you to walk and never forget that we are all walking on sacred ground together.
I am currently teaching English in Spain and I am trying my hand at blogging once again!