Discovering a Growing Edge While Walking in Cochabamba

By Sister Meg Earsley on Sunday, January 30th 2022

When I first joined religious life, I remember hearing the term growing edges, referring to where in my life there were opportunities for growth. I couldn’t help but think of a climbing plant continuing to fill in on the edges to grow bigger and more expansive. 

I sometimes have a hard time noticing my growth and change. Once growth happens, it becomes a part of me. It might be a better to say that my growth becomes integrated. So maybe for me it’s more like a forest. Given the opportunity, it spreads out with more and more trees on its edges in slow, less perceptible ways. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

Since I have been able to go back to language school, post COVID isolation, I have enjoyed walking to school. It is a joy to be outside in the open air. I get to look at all the activity going on in the city, see people walking, talking, eating and working. I get to enjoy the beautiful gardens and, of course, check out the different birds in the area. There’s actually a part of my walk that goes along a channel and is just FILLED with birds. Most times, I just hear them but sometimes one pops up for me to see. I don’t have my camera along as I walk to school so you’ll just have to take my word for it! But I digress…

 

 

 


 

Photo: This garden on my walk to school was being weeded by a woman (by hand) the first time I walked by and is now beautiful.

A growing edge I have become aware of this week has become apparent on my walks. First, it’s important to understand that outside of the people I interact with at school, I rarely see someone that shares my skin tone. To give you an idea, I have been here for 3 weeks and I have seen 3 people outside of the school that share my complexion. 

In my mind, I know that it doesn’t matter. Everyone I have had personal contact with has been so full of kindness and hospitality and even with the language barrier, they go out of their way to make me feel welcome. And yet…

Photo: Rain gathering in the mountains.

And yet, as I am walking down the street and pass someone by, many times they don’t make eye contact. For a moment, I wonder if maybe they don’t want to interact with me. Is it because I am different? Sometimes someone does make eye contact and I say Buenos Dias, but they say nothing back. I wonder then if I am doing something wrong because I am not from around here. At a bus stop, as I walk by a couple people sitting and waiting for the bus I say, Buenos Dias, and I can’t be sure, but it seems like an older woman looks me up and down before looking away. I wonder if it’s because of my skin tone, maybe she doesn’t like people that look like me. Maybe I shouldn’t have said hello. I am the outsider in this place. Who am I to think that people should be nice to me?

I live in this mind space for a short time wondering about my place in this country that is not my own, in this place where I am different. This place where I don’t fit in. This place where I am an outsider. 

In time, I consider my thinking more deeply. I remember that in the United States, where I am the majority and my skin tone affords me unwarranted privilege, that people don’t make eye contact with me, people don’t say hi back and that sometimes people give me looks I don’t understand. I remember that no matter where I am, there are people who have bad days, who are tired. There are even more in their own thoughts and not noticing the people they meet. In big cities I’ve lived in, it’s rare that people make eye contact or say hello.

Then I decide to stop and look around. I resolve to try to see the similarities I have with the people around me, and not make assumptions about them. I resolve to stop projecting my thoughts on other people. I continue walking.

Yesterday, I was heading back home and it was raining, so I hailed a crowded bus (that’s how it works here – pretty cool!) and jumped on, paying my 1,50 bolivianos, the equivalent of about 50 cents US. As I hopped up the stairs, a young woman left her seat and moved to the back so I would have a place to sit. I was grateful for the kindness. As we drove through some water that was tumbling down the road, the splashes were pretty spectacular. The older woman I was sitting with and I both said “wow!” in unison as we went through a particularly large puddle. The doors of the bus are always left open and we were in a really good spot to see it. We laughed and although she said something I couldn’t understand, I knew we shared a moment of connection.

Photo: The buses in Bolivia are brightly colored, they look happy to me!

That’s my growing edge to work on. I will no doubt have more experiences of otherness in my time here. And yet, I know that I am called to find connection and relationship, not difference. And so, I will continue to do just that because that’s one of the ways I know how to share my love.

Buenas tardes mis amigos!

Photo: Even the insides of the buses here have colorful decorations. I really like them!

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Comments

Judy Says:
01/30/2022 5:31pm
Dear brave and missioned penpal, Meg. I feel your thoughts and emotions. Thank you for sharing your growing edges. Today I will notice and appreciate them. Does Silvia give you any pointers as to the custom of greeting locals?

Sister Roselyn Says:
01/30/2022 5:58pm
Thank you for sharing your unfolding awareness. Sometimes, for me, it's in my recognition of discnnect that helps me be more intentional about recognizing and making the initial contact. Yes, eye contact is a powerful connector, especially with masks on.

Nina Shephard Says:
01/30/2022 7:07pm
You are learning from experience, and I think that is part of the reason you are there, right? Remember that you are among people whose culture is different and perhaps they aren't used to responding as we often do here. Maybe they are shy because you are "different." But I'm sure you will get more response, more encuentro, as you go along. Quite possibly the people of Santa Cruz will be warmer, as the climate also is. Just some thoughts! Que Dios te bendiga.

Diane Porter Says:
01/30/2022 7:11pm
If you send notice of your posts, please put me on the list. I want to experience everything you can share about your journey and what it means to you. What you wrote here has deeply touched me.

Mary Frances Bley Says:
01/30/2022 7:46pm
Hello Meg, I am the librarian from DC who was blessed to be Sister Rita Mae’s second grade student (Class of ‘59-60). Just wanted to let you know how much I am truly enjoying your blog. The inclusion of your marvelous photos adds such a deep dimension to your commentaries. Sister Meg, I love your startling honesty most of all. Thank you! Mary Frances

Heidi Erdmann Says:
01/31/2022 4:44pm
I am enjoying your observations. Thank you!

Pat Smith Says:
02/01/2022 11:22am
I am a friend of your Aunt Terri who, in her pride in your life choices, sent me the link to your blog. What you are doing takes such courage! I still remember how unmoored I felt years ago when I spent my junior year of college studying in Paris. The differences were not only the obvious ones: language, food, traditions. Much deeper were the underlying (and unsuspected) cultural differences that I tended to take personally but that were just differences in the way that French and Americans have of being in the world. Like you, I would smile at people in the metro and get a stony look back in return. Not only unresponsive, but cold. I eventually learned about the scorn that the French had/have for what they see as the overbrimming (obnoxious) friendliness of Americans. I learned that to be invited into a French home was a deep honor extended only to very close friends. I learned that the Parisians whom I knew were not, in fact, treating me differently. They were simply treating me as they treated each other. Of course, your situation may be different. You may be being rebuffed because you are so obviously an outsider, but it may also be that your friendliness might not comport with Hispanic ideas about how a young woman should conduct herself. Yes, you are learning the language, but, more deeply, you are encountering a culture where people do not value the same things that we do, who see life through a different lens, who understand their place in the world differently. Despite my love for French culture and language, the year abroad was not always easy. There were many days when I felt alone, isolated, different. But I grew my edges that year. Going to Paris at age 20 as an independent student without the support of an American study abroad program was one of the very best and most challenging decisions of my life. I suspect you will find the same thing. Whatever the reasons for your feeling distanced, this is an invaluable experience for you because knowing what it is to be an outsider will be of inestimable value as you proceed through your ministry. We may THINK we understand what it is like to be on the peripheries (to use Pope Francis's word), but we can't really know in a soul-deep way unless we have walked that path. I would love to follow your posts. Would you be able to put me on the list for your notifications? Best of luck to you, Meg. You have such a spirit of openness that this will be a defining, fruitful, and deeply rich time in your life.

Jessica Doering Says:
02/01/2022 2:41pm
Hi Sister Meg, I am a partner in mission at FSPA and I really enjoy reading your posts. The buses really do look beautiful and happy! I like the way you've described how they work as well. I almost wish they would work that way here! Thanks for sharing.

Beth Allen Says:
02/01/2022 7:17pm
I loved your reflection! So honest and real. It is really hard to be in a strange land, but I just wanted to say this. BE YOURSELF. You are a warm bright presence. Regardless of skin color differences, cultural differences, etc. one of your greatest gifts is universally recognizable. Give it time...as I know you know...but trust me, your warmth is infectious and genuinely felt by others. You are a gift wherever you are.

Ashley Moyer Says:
02/01/2022 7:38pm
Sister Meg, I love the term growing edges. I hadn't heard it before, but your writing did a great job of illustrating the concept. I'm enjoying reading about your mission in Bolivia!

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