From my side of the dam

your relation to the dam is relative, let's meet on the bridge

Month: May, 2013

Quinque Viae: There is a God

Esteban brought out a bowl full of mangos this morning and said, “eat ’em, or take ’em home with you”.  Over the last three days in Garzal and Nueva Esperanza we’ve been visiting with families, celebrating new houses and new babies, and enjoying the abundance of fresh crops.  Esteban didn’t need to say more as Pierre and I rolled up our sleeves and took on this important duty of the day – no need for the mangos to go to waste.  “You know”, I said to Pierre as I chuckled at his current state of being, bent forward, the bottom half of his face a shiny orange mess of pulp while rivulets of juice  followed gravity’s pull down his arms and off his elbows, “mangos make me believe there is a God”.

Saint Thomas of Aquinas, a Catholic theologian and philosopher from the 13th century, came up with the quinque viae, the five ways or five proofs of God’s existence.  Strangely enough his didn’t include mangos, but fortunately, he never meant for these five truths to be ultimate, but rather an introduction to how he understood and defined the existence of God.  I figured since I already have my first proof, I’ll try my hand at philosophy and attempt my own quinque viae, my own explanation of how I understand spirituality and what I mean when I speak of God.

1. Mangos. (proof found here)

2. The moon.  I lose myself in the moon.  It pulls me, it quiets me, it changes me.  It’s that thin space that one of my favourite philosopher’s talked about.  It’s that space where everything makes sense in the world; I realize that I am just one more speck of sand amongst 8 billion, but that each animate object is interconnected.  We don’t just co-exist on this earth, we’re dependent on one another.  What you do matters.

3. Wireless (and sometimes even wired) communication.  Cell phones.  Telephones. Internet.  Even recorded music.  I don’t get it.  And maybe if someone was able to explain it to me it would no longer be one of my proofs of God, but for now it’s like magic.  Amazing.

4. The metaphor.  It’s fantastically amazing that we have the capability to manipulate our concrete environment, through language, into something abstract and unreal – creative imagination which allows us to design a different reality.  One that doesn’t exist yet.  Today’s reality doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s, we have the ability to change it.

5. Fuzzy green caterpillars.  I had a run-in with a gusano peludo, a hairy worm, this week in Garzal.  While lying on Don Salvador’s floor chatting I felt something graze my neck.  When I reached up to swat it, thinking it was one of the swarm of mosquitos that had descended upon the village recently, I felt a sharp stinging on my knuckles of my index and middle finger.  I jumped up rather confused as the stinging reminded me of nettles, but I was indoors.  But it was a fuzzy green caterpillar that my fingers had grazed and within a short period of time I knew this was no ordinary caterpillar.  My fingers swelled to the point where I considered slicing open my skin to relieve the pressure, sure that if and when the swelling went down my skin would flap in excess.  The pain was absolutely awesome.  I could not believe the extent of inflammation caused by a mere brush with an immaculately coiffured creature, that through tear-filled eyes I thought it necessary to photograph the event.  More importantly though, the plague of mosquitos that were pestering the town in hordes, leaving people pock-marked and forcing church to be cancelled?  I didn’t even notice them.

6. Bonus proof: The existence of the bag in the photo below (and all other hilariously incorrect English print).  Power to the woman’s Jesus.  There is a God.



Open Letter to Mr. Stephen Harper

Dear Stephen Harper,

My name is Hannah Redekop, a 24-year-old Canadian citizen, living and working in Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), as an international observer for human rights, striving for justice and peace in a country torn by a 50-year civil war.

I want to tell you about Las Pavas, a farming community in rural Colombia.  I want to tell you about their displacement over the past 10 years and the human rights abuses that continue to happen to this day at the mercy of Aportes San Isidro, a palm oil company.  I want to tell you this because Canada has recently become Free Trade partners with Colombia, and while Canada imports millions of palm oil products (palm oil is found in a large percentage of every day products) we are perpetuating these abuses against humanity.

I want to tell you about Don Efraín and his son Tito, two hard-working farmers who are struggling to survive on their land because the palm company’s security agency has stolen their fences, knocked down their house, threatened their lives and even shot at them while they carry out daily tasks on the farm and attempt to survive, living under a couple of sticks with a garbage bag roof and a pot hung over coals, with supper that consists of a boiled yucca or banana.

I want to tell you about Rubiela, a 37-year-old mother of five, who lives daily under threats from the company against her and her family’s lives as well as threats of rape towards her three girls, aged fourteen, thirteen, and nine.  Rubiela sends her husband off to work the farm with a boiled banana and a fried egg, nothing of real substance for a man who works 14-hour days under equatorial sun.  Despite his hard work, Wladymir’s fields of yucca crops have been poisoned and uprooted; his unripe bananas chopped down and left to rot.  Rubiela would go help him in the fields but fears leaving the house unattended in the shadow of the palm company’s pattern of destruction.

I want to tell you that I was there when the community, preparing to put a thatch roof on the new ranch house, arrived to find the piles of palm branches burned in gasoline.  I was there when they cut down new branches and as they drove the load onto their land the security men came out each armed with pistols and they shot out the tire of the tractor with a shotgun.

I want to tell you about how the police showed up an hour later but ruled in favour of the palm company, despite evidence and proof that the company is acting illegally.

I want to tell you all this but I think I would be wasting my time.

Because before you care about Colombians, you have to care about Canada.  But apparently Canada isn’t all that important to you either, Mr. Harper.

If you cared about Canada, we wouldn’t be worried about the environmental damage of the tar sands or the fact that you have shut down many institutions that cared for and protected our fresh water bodies.

If you cared about Canada you wouldn’t have preferred to welcome pandas to the Toronto Zoo instead of welcoming the Nishiyuu youth who had walked 1600 km to Ottawa to bring attention to the indigenous issues you refuse to recognize.

If you cared about Canada, you wouldn’t be muzzling scientists, librarians, or artists, or censoring alternative media and trying to control the CBC.

What is it you want, not-so-honourable Mr. Stephen Harper?

If it’s money, just take it and leave.  There’s already a scandal out that $3.1 billion is missing from your “Harper Government” regime.  We’re Canadians, we’ll forgive you if you take a little bit more.  But just go.

Canada needs a leader who cares about her people and also about the people who are affected by Canada’s actions.  Colombia needs international leaders who care about the impunity granted to large business owners at the expense of subsistence farmers.  I need a leader who cares.  So please leave.


Hannah Redekop, Rubiela, Don Efrain, Tito, and the other Las Pavas community members.

Tito's rancho destroyed by the palm company

Tito’s rancho destroyed by the palm company

Tito on his farm

Tito on his farm

Don Efrain on his land

Don Efrain on his land

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Mangos

Mother Earth has a lot to teach us.  It rather baffles me – and I am guilty as any other – how we have seemed to taken ownership of the land we walk on, drink from, breathe in, and consume of.  There’s a terrible disconnect between humans and their provider; strange as it is since it’s quite obvious that we cease to exist without her, but yet we continue to consume with flippancy.  How did that happen?

Anyway, on my way to the norteastern region of the province of Antioquia, bumping along through the bush in the back of a truck, the Pachamama taught me something.  As we ventured on into the Colombian countryside, we passed many a mango tree, their branches so heavy-laden with golden treasure that they could not hold the weight of it all and mangos were strewn along the side of the road, some flattened by vehicles gone by, others conquered by hoards of ants, still others pecked at by birds.

And still there were enough for us.  We barely let the truck stop before five of us, plastic bags in hand, waded through the abundance of fruit to collect until we could not carry one more.

Back on the road we passed more and more trees, stopping again at one shading the front yard of a village school.  Tiptoeing to avoid stepping in mango puddles, I found the juiciest, sweetest mangos yet, and since my bag was full, there was nothing to do but eat until I could eat no more.  But of course, the teacher came out with a bag of mangos for us, collected earlier that morning but unable to be consumed for the sheer quantity of fruit available.

Now bestowed with more mangos than we know what to do with, we continue our trip further into the bush and onto a canoe to finally arrive at the riverside hometown of one of our partners and our destination for a three day retreat.

The mangos become a doorstop to the main house, a regal pile, and everyone who comes in and out of the house stooped to enjoy a mango, or two.  Over the course of the three days, the front yard became a garden of mango peels and pits, mixed with laughter, conversation, and sticky fingers.

And I began to value the situation.  Coming from a place where a mango costs a pretty penny, it’s really something to see such abundance, to the point where our truck tires had mango mud stuck in the tread, and to see it freely shared.  I was warned that this doesn’t happen every day, and that I’m rather lucky to have arrived in the peak of mango season which ends within a month or two.

Then it hit me.  Why would nature allow for so many mangos to grow, all at the same time, once a year?  Why would Mother Earth create it so that there is such abundance, so much so that it rots along the side of the road?  Especially when people are starving.  And most importantly, why don’t they ship well, so that we Northerners can enjoy fresh mangos all year round and forget about food being “seasonal”?

It’s not a fluke.  It’s not just because that’s the way it is.  Mangos – like so many other fresh foods – exist, and only for a short period of time, because they’re meant to be shared.  Our life-giver designed it that way, but in our disconnectedness we can’t even make out the simplest of messages: share.

Thanks mangos.

English: Green mangos growing on a tree near T...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Get out of your car

Coming home from Las Pavas on the chalupa

Coming home from Las Pavas on the chalupa

I have found that cars shut out life.  You know, those machines on four wheels that seal off the world while you suffocate in artificial air and nearly forget about the places that are whizzing by unbeknownst, only focused on your destination and more often then not, how quickly you can get there?  Yeah those.

In my early retirement, I get the utmost privilege to spend time with campesinos, Colombian men, women, and children living and working on the often highly-contested farmland of this stunningly diverse land mass.  This means extensive travel into the rural areas of the Magdalena Medio, a lush and thriving valley scored down the centre by one of Colombia’s largest rivers, the Río Magdalena that flows north into the Carribbean Sea.  Roads do not always extend to the far reaches of the monte, the bush, so we are frequently traveling by boat, motorcycle, or horseback.  And it has been clear that life is better that way.

On the back of a motorcycle I can see the paint drip off the kaleidoscope of colours ornately canvassed on the feathered tips of the flitting creatures that crisscross our trail towards the farm.  The air is pungent with fruit from the gods: the sweet syrup that oozes from a too-ripe mango or the delectable waft of a mafufo, which I can only attempt to describe as banana cream pie trapped in a peel, freshly plucked from the bunch, making me believe I have made it to another world.  But as we turn a corner, the wild grasses edge closer whipping my bare knees and the gravel beneath me blurs at too many kilometers per hour, reminding me that I’m all too human.

Traveling by canoe does not provide as much adrenaline but offers a unique tranquility.  Ahead of the bow a glassy reflection duplicates the serenity of the early morning river bank, untouched until the ripples turn the trees into wobbly, other-worldly beings that wrap their arms around our vessel and give much appreciated shade as the sun beats relentlessly.  Ten herons and storks of differing families stand stoic as we strangers invade their territory and I watch as their muscles tense in preparation while the foliage behind them shivers and takes flight.

Horseback allows for a sense of community, because at our pace we have time to greet every family we pass by, swinging on their front porch in a handcrafted hammock or preparing the fields for the next crop of rice.  Every farm has a name, La Laguna (The Lake), Buenos Aires (Good Winds), or La Fortuna (Fortune), the wooden signs bearing proud along the path, artfully crafted by the farmers themselves who came to enrich our journey with gifts of coconut, mango, papaya, and cacao.  The banana trees stooped to provide canopy while our beasts meandered and we chatted about life.

There’s a moral to this vignette.  Get out of your car.  Life is better.