Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Older white males

I rode the city buses everywhere when we lived in Guatemala City. For a while I was thinking I could blend in with the local folks by dressing casual Guatemalan, not speaking English, and generally trying to look like I knew what I was doing. One day I was at the front of the bus standing in the packed center aisle and happened to look toward the back of the bus. There was a young man’s head, almost certainly an American, looking at me over the top of every other head on the bus. It was like seeing myself in the mirror, and it was apparent that we were both about as inconspicuous as palm trees on the North Pole.

It’s pretty much the same when I come to Colombia, and it raises on of the moral dilemmas of being an older white male member of the team. When we make our visits to the folks we are accompanying, I am positive I am given credit for being wiser, wealthier, and more powerful than is really the case. People in South and Central America rarely get meet North Americans. And their views on the US can be pretty limited. The taxi driver who took me to the bus station in Bogota assured me that he knew quite a bit about the US. He said he watched lots of movies. I didn’t say it, but that’s what is usually the problem.

If I am sitting in a community meeting with another CPTer who happens to be a small Colombian woman, it is critical that I do everything I can to empower her in that process. That usually means I should shut up and keep listening. And most of you know that’s not my strong suit. And, too, it is important to remember that CPT's role is most simply to keep levels of violence down so that the local folks can do their own work. So, tomorrow when I head out for a couple days of listening sessions in a little town called Tiquisio, you can be praying for my patience and my listening skills.

1 comment:

Leah said...

Your observation that you are not as wise, wealthy, or powerful as people will assume is . . . well, rather wise. I love you and I'm proud of you! I will be thinking of you and sending you energy to listen well!