Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, missioner Annemarie Barrett reflects on the challenge of living in the concrete city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, and shares how moments in nature provide a source of great comfort for her.
One of the harder parts of living in a big city like Cochabamba is the lack of connection to nature. There is only one lake within the city limits and it is human made and highly polluted. Due to the combination of scarce access to water and rapid urban sprawl, the neighborhood that my fellow missioner Jeff and I live in is mostly concrete and dirt. Any parks that exist near us are filled with rocks, and the sparse trees are surrounded by cement.
The people and the community are what fulfill us here as we grieve together with our neighbors about the reality of environmental degradation that surrounds us. We feel the sadness daily as we witness the effects of globalization in the pollution all around us.
During these past few months of feeling particularly down and disconnected by the environmental degradation, we began to make home visits to a number of women who have just recently started to work with us in our parish garden project.
On one visit, we entered a woman’s home to see her vegetable garden and her backyard immediately took my breath away.
Her home opened out onto large hills and an open skyline. There were no homes yet built in her backyard. There was evidence still of the existence of Earth and soil and fresh air. I breathed deeply and felt a deep comforting calm in my soul.
On another visit, a woman welcomed us into her home filled with trees that she had personally planted when she first bought the property. We sat on a small spot of grass under the shade of her trees and talked about her plants and flowers for over an hour. I felt overwhelmed by gratitude for the comfort of the grass in between my toes, the cool breeze, and the lovely smell of plant life all around us.
For weeks we continued to make these initial visits, meeting women who were already producing their own food and passionate about expanding their gardens.
There is only about 7km (4.35mi) of difference between the neighborhood where I live and the communities where we work. But some days, it feels like the difference between night and day.
Generally, what is emphasized is how we serve the communities that we work with on the periphery of the city. But what we do not talk about enough is the service they offer to us when they welcome us into their homes, when they tell us how much joy their gardens give them and invite us to join their vision and share that joy.
Question for reflection: With less than a week until Christmas, how can you acknowledge the joy in your life and invite others to share that joy?