In 30 days we will fly back to the United States and, yes, we are counting down. 

While we are grateful for this adventure, we are also ready to come home. This week was Semana Santa (Holy Week) here, and the lack of family and friends to celebrate with, the fact that we don’t have formal jobs to give us days off, nor do we have a ton to do outside of work when everything is closed, just drove home the fact that although Colombia is a wondrous place, it is not home. 

We passed the time this week working, watching movies and The Office, going for runs, and Casey did a bit of cooking. Also, before everything closed, our friend Esteban met us for dinner at a pizza place near our apartment, which turned out to be one of the hippest spots in town (with good pizza, too!). That was fun, but it was also a reminder that our work here – which has had us traveling across multiple municipalities every week – has made it hard for us to settle in and get to know even the city we live in. 

All that said. We have met wonderful people and heard their amazing stories in our travels. And I wouldn’t trade away those experiences, nor how they have impacted us and our values. It has been a great journey, these past eight months, but a hard one, too. And we are looking forward to coming home. 

PS – The big news here in Colombia this week was that Colombian author, journalist and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away. Both Case and I have read and loved his writing, which has only made more sense to us living here. For a bit more about him, here’s a quick read. For those wanting to read one of his books, One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the best books I have ever read.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Last Asocomunal

Last weekend in San Luis, we attended our last Asocomunal meeting.  These meetings were crucial to our fieldwork, as they occur once a month in rural municipalities and are the only time when ALL the democratically elected village leaders get together in the same place.  This is especially important because we could have never gotten to all of the nearly 200 villages we’re including in our study.  Some can require up to a six-hour hike through the jungle to get to them, and may still have remnants of the conflict within them (such as land mines…). And many have no land-line or cell phone coverage, so we couldn’t have called the presidents either. So we have attended the Asocomunal meetings to implement our surveys.  Doing so has also given us a fascinating window into the local workings of Colombia’s democracy, and we have met some really cool local leaders, too. 

In addition to this being our last Asocomunal, this past weekend’s trip was special for a few other reasons.  First, we had Caitlin with us, and it was fun to see San Luis through her eyes.  (After nearly eight months in a place it is easy to forget the magic of the green lush landscapes or how strange it is to bite into the slimy seeds of a granadilla for the first time.)  She took some pictures of us presenting our results to the community, and she marveled at the cows on the loose in the town square.  (Cows are often blocking the roads as we drive in and out of town, so I was glad she got such an authentic experience.  By the way, did you know that cows can run really fast?)


Presenting our final results to the community.


Cows in the town square in San Luis

Second, this trip was special because we went for an afternoon dip in the river with our friend Gallego, his girlfriend, and their young son, Geronimo. Growing up in San Luis, they knew every swimming hole, current, and rock in the pristine river running through the municipality.  It was a beautiful sunny day and it had rained the night before, so the water was cool and the rapids created natural slides over the smooth rocks. 


Gallego and his son, Geronimo


The rapids to our right created a natural slide over the smooth rock. It was really fun!


Soaking wet after frolicking in the river.

Third, we normally spend the night when we travel to San Luis (it is over three hours from Medellin), but we did the whole trip in a day because Caitlin was flying back to Washington D.C. the next day (and honestly, because we are totally sick of staying in hotel rooms and doing laps around a small plaza in the evening for “exercise”).  So we got up at 6 a.m., drove the 3+ hours to San Luis, did our presentation, had fried fish for lunch, frolicked in the river, Gallego bought us homemade green mango popsicles, Caitlin bought eight pounds of locally grown beans, and then Jake drove us safely back to Medellin. 

PS – This is Jake, just writing to thank everyone for the concern and wishes of health after my steak-stuck-in-throat incident. I’m doing fine, and chewing carefully…


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Blog Post Number 100, and It’s a Doozy

We finished last night in the Emergency Room.

The evening started out well. Case and I took Caitlin on the Metro-Cable up to the national park, and then rode back down as the sun set. It was beautiful, as it always is up there.

photo 3

photo 4

photo 1

Once home we cracked a bottle of wine and got dressed for dinner at one of the nicest restaurants in town. They gave us a table on their outdoor patio, and we ordered a round of exquisite drinks and our main courses – I got prawns, Caitlin got tilapia, and Casey got steak.

The trouble started when I began eating Casey’s steak. (We’d strategically ordered different things so we could share.) As some of you know, for years I’ve had a constricted esophagus. I’ve had doctors check it out and they’ve never told me anything useful, or that there’s any remedy. My throat has a point that narrows more than most, so I should be careful to chew my food well, and when taking pills. (Nyquil is always a challenge.)

Anyway, a couple bites into Casey’s steak I felt a chunk get stuck. I grabbed my glass of water, and started chugging, a remedy that works 95% of the time. But last night it didn’t, and I stood up, walked to a relatively secluded corner of the patio, and puked.

Unfortunately, all that came up was the water. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. I took some deep breaths, and Casey came up behind me to see if I was ok. Then an (English-speaking?) waitress arrived. I asked Casey for a glass of water, and took it downstairs to the bathroom. I tried chugging again, to no avail. Casey stood by me as the restaurant host came in to offer his expertise on the human trachea. He then left and came back with seltzer water. But that didn’t work either. The worst thing was, with each attempt I knew that I was only further inflaming my throat, likely tightening it around the piece of steak.

So we paid, left, and caught a cab to what the folks at the restaurant told us was the best hospital in town. Our first taxi driver said he didn’t know how to get there, however, and then our second one drove us halfway before coming to the end of a one-way road and realizing he didn’t know how to get there either. We started walking, three gringos in the dark, in Medellin. That seemed really stupid, so, after attempting a head stand (with Caitlin holding my legs and Casey pounding my chest – sorry, no one left to photograph) which didn’t help, we caught a third cab. It got us to the emergency room.

Once there, we stood at reception, where there was no receptionist. When a stubby man showed up five minutes later, he asked if I had health insurance here (which we do, but don’t fully understand) and then took and kept my ID. We sat in the dark waiting room, across from three guys on their smart phones. We could hear a baby (perhaps a newborn) shrieking behind us. Casey called her dad and stepmother, a doctor and nurse, with lots of ER experience. They suggested sips of olive oil or a hot lemon tea, and a neck-stretch-swallow-maneuver. The pharmacy only had castor oil, but it also had a vending machine that made hot tea. The other vending machine was out of water, and the pharmacy didn’t have any, so I bought a powerade. Then we sat in the waiting room for a while, as I stretched and swallowed and took the tiniest sips of lemon tea. We still hadn’t seen a doctor in the entire building. A guy with a bleeding head from a motorcycle accident arrived, his friends pushing him in a wheel chair. He was left in the lobby, too. That’s about when I felt like I was going to puke up the sips of tea that hadn’t been able to pass by the steak, so I went to the bathroom.

I did my usual routine in the bathroom, but on the third or fourth retch, I saw more than tea was coming up. No chunk of steak, but still, that meant I was no longer totally blocked. Casey came in and said the nurse was calling me. I asked her to tell the nurse to wait, that I was busy vomiting, and to bring me the powerade. I retched some more, and felt more confident I was in the clear. When Casey came back with the powerade, I chugged it, and it went down. All of it.

The nurse wanted me to come out. She said they could do an exam, but that didn’t seem very appealing, nor did I expect it would be useful, so I declined. Instead I washed my face, grabbed my ID from the receptionist (who was now making what looked like a personal phone call), and we took off.

At home Casey made me tea with honey, and I apologized to Caitlin (who told me not to worry about it) for screwing up our night out on the town. I got in bed, sipped my tea (which all went down easily) and Casey cuddled me to sleep.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

That’s What Friends Are For…

Our friend Caitlin came to Medellin this week for the World Urban Forum (and in our minds, to hang out with us). It’s great having her here. We went out to dinner last night and chatted about working in international stuff and then gossiped about mutual friends. It was fun, like being back with friends in the U.S., and we miss that.

Another thing we miss, which we haven’t had since John and Hannah visited at Thanksgiving, is peanut butter. All they have here is way too processed and chemical-laden stuff that makes me long for the co-op in Las Cruces where I could grind my own. Am I peanut butter snob? Yes. Do I care? Not in the slightest. 

Anyway, we asked Caitlin to bring us a jar of the good stuff. She outdid herself:


THREE JARS! Needless to say, we immediately stocked up on apples and bananas, which is why that top jar is already a good bit lighter than the other two.

That’s all there is to report for now. We’re taking Caitlin up the metro-cable to the park at the top this afternoon, and then gonna get dinner and drinks this evening. Should be great!


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Today we decided to get a bunch of logistics taken care of in the city.  We had to extend our tourist visas so we don’t have to leave the country on April 12 (!), pay some bills, and submit an official “Right to Petition” in order to request archival documents (about the humanitarian agreements between the mayors in Eastern Antioquia and armed groups between 2001 and 2005).  

Whenever we are in the countryside and we speak to mayors or community leaders who have to go to Medellin to do official business with the government, they call the activity “Volteando,” which loosely translates as “turning in circles” or “to tumble.”  So, when we set out this morning for the administrative center, we knew we had to be emotionally prepared to tumble between generic offices, to run back and forth between distracted civil servants, and to wait patiently for hours to get our tasks done.  

As we walked between the government buildings early this morning we ran into not one, but TWO people we know from Eastern Antioquia – the mayor of Granada and the leader of Asocomunal in San Carlos.  It was so funny running into them both in the city, but it made total sense, because Wednesday is the day that the mayor’s offices close in the countryside so that the mayors can turn in circles here in Medellin. 

After a few dead ends and some long waits, we got our visa extended and the Right to Petition submitted. 

Here’s our proof:


This is our “Right to Petition.” That sticker on top means it has been officially received by the state government. In theory they have to respond to this request for public information within 15 days. We’ll see what actually happens…


Our turn.

PS – Yes, careful readers, you are correct in noticing that we did not pay our bills.  With two out of three vueltas down, we were dizzy, and decided to save that for mañana…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why don’t you tell them grassroots peacebuilding doesn’t exist…

This weekend was busy and productive.  We finalized our surveys in San Carlos and Granada, in addition to conducting four interviews with demobilized combatants who were part of a government sponsored reintegration program here in Medellin.  

We also had a funny surprise in Granada.  The mayor’s office there had called me on Friday and asked if we could meet with a group of six of them on Saturday afternoon.  We arrived at the meeting prepared to discuss the results of our work thus far, with copies of our original maps printed and our business cards ready to distribute.  We even had a powerpoint ready.  

But it turned out we had the topic of the meeting wrong.  What they wanted to discuss was not our work, but visiting us in the United States.  (Thankfully, there was no projector, so we hadn’t loaded our powerpoint, and were able to play along as if we knew this had been the subject of the meeting.)  The group wanted to attend my dissertation defense (which I had estimated will take place in August 2015, but I really have no idea if I will be ready by then…).  They were ready to talk logistics and details: what the weather would be like in Madison in August, how much it would cost for a cell phone, how much the flights would be from Medellin, how to get a visa, how much time we would be able to spend with them, etc.  

At first I was a little worried about the idea – what if I wasn’t ready to defend by then?  Would it make me nervous to have an audience at my public defense?  Would we be able to help them organize accommodations in Wisconsin? But as we continued to discuss the possibility, I realized that this was potentially the most awesome idea ever.  In the university department that had questioned whether “grassroots peacebuilding” even existed in Colombia, I’d have a whole delegation of Colombian grassroots peacebuilders witnessing my defense.  The idea makes me so happy – a dozen enthusiastic supporters, none of whom speak English, sitting in the audience while I overcome the final milestone of the doctorate process.  What a sweet and supportive end to this often impossibly-hard-feeling PhD that would be! Needless to say, Jake and I are meeting with the group again in a few weeks…

We’ll keep you posted. In the meanwhile, here are a couple photos from the weekend.


The building with the blue trim is where we had our surprise meeting. In front of it is a chiva at sunset. The group joked that they want to arrive at my defense in one of these 🙂


This is the community meeting in Granada where we presented our maps. You can see them posted on the wall in that back, placed strategically next to our good friend, Adult Jesus.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Escape to Cartagena

At one point in the beginning of March, Jake and I felt exhausted and ready to come home from fieldwork.  Like, really really ready.   As we waited for a meeting we had scheduled in Granada, we spent about an hour at Gloria’s house discussing the possibility of coming home early – of changing our flights, foregoing a chunk of grant funding (it only covers field work done abroad), and getting our Stateside life rolling.  As tempting as it was, we decided to do the next best thing – take a REAL break.  We wanted to spend a few days in an easy tourist town, where we wouldn’t stand out like sore thumbs, and where we could stroll at night, drink mojitos, and just chill.

We found the perfect place: Cartagena!

The three nights and four days were blissful.  We ate wonderful food – mostly fresh fish and ceviche – drank mojitos and caipirinhas at sunset, walked through the colonial streets, went snorkeling on an island outside of the city, had lunch with an old friend who was in town for a conference from Bogota, and just relaxed.  When we were packing up our hotel room yesterday, I didn’t want to leave!

Now we are back to the grind, getting ready for two presentations in the rural municipalities of San Carlos and Granada.  We will be back in Medellin on Sunday night. 

Here are some pictures of our excursion:


We met this guy when we visited the Santa Clara Hotel to get massages 🙂


Sunset at Cafe del Mar, located on the old walled fortress surrounding the city.


Typical building in Cartagena. This was right across from our hotel.


Boat ride to the beach!


We took a day trip to the Isla del Encanto, part of an archipelago of 23 islands about an hour outside of Cartagena.


The water was beautiful! We saw so many different colors of fish.


This painting was in the lobby of our hotel. Very typical scene.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment