BY REBECCA JANZEN
In 2008 and 2009 I participated in a program called Serving and Learning Together, SALT, a one-year service and learning experience for young adults of the Mennonite Central Committee, MCC (www.mcc.org/salt); my blog from that time is available at www.blogs.mcc.org/salt/rebeccaj1/. Over the course of eleven months, I lived in Managua, Nicaragua, and volunteered at the Batahola Norte Cultural Centre (www.friendsofbatahola.org). Thanks to the program, I learned about Nicaraguan culture by living with a host family, attending a Nicaraguan church and interacting with my Nicaraguan coworkers.
After my year of service and learning ended, I began studying in Toronto and when my first year of a PhD program ended in May, I decided to see some friends I had in Argentina and Uruguay, and while I was there, see where my grandparents worked and where my mom was born in Paraguay, and since I was in the region, return to Nicaragua.
I did a little bit of everything. I saw impressive infrastructural developments, like the slaughterhouse and milk factory in the Menno colony in Paraguay and the Itaipú dam between Brazil and Paraguay and natural wonders, like the Iguazú Falls and the Quebrada de Humahuaca. Better still, in the Quebrada de Cafayate I went for a long bike ride where I felt like stopping to take pictures every few minutes. Most importantly I was able to meet interesting people, and in this way was able to see the beauty of my new surroundings because I was not convinced that my way was better.
By emphasizing relationship-building, especially in church-related contexts, I was able to better understand other people’s hopes, dreams and daily realities. At CEMTA, a Mennonite Conference School of Theology and Music, for example, I learned that all students everywhere procrastinate, and in Paraguay, drinking maté together makes it more fun. In Buenos Aires, the Floresta Mennonite Church invited me into its community, and I realized that all Mennonites are connected, both through faith, the Mennonite game and a commitment to peace and justice. As I return to life in Toronto, I hope to continue to seek out and develop these kinds of connections.