Rachel Birkedal is concluding her year of service in Mexico through the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Mission program. In this recent entry from her blog, "To Love One Another," she writes about what the experience has meant to her. To learn how to sponsor a participant, see www.ELCA.org/YAGMsupport or contact email@example.com.
One of my favorite words in Spanish is the verb "convivir" or "convivencia."
vivir: to live
In other words, it means to: live with, live together with, live in company with, spend time with. Related words are "convivencia" and "convivio." A "convivio" is a get-together, party or time of fellowship.
But there is something about the word in Spanish that is special to me. One of the things that I love about learning a new language is it allows you to see certain words in a new way. That is what the Spanish language and the Mexican people have done to me with "convivir." What does it mean to "convivir" or spend time in fellowship with someone? For me in its most positive sense it means being present with one another. As you live with each other and spend time together, you learn about each other's hopes, fears, dreams and struggles, but you also begin to share common hopes, fears, dreams and struggles.
This year I have heard this word a lot:
"Hay un convivio en la escuela si quieres venir." (There is a school party/meal/get-together if you would like to come.)
My host sisters often say that it is going to be hard to see me leave because: "Has convivido mucho con nosotros." (You have spent a lot of time with us.)
Saying goodbye to my host brother he told me "Gracias por la convivencia." (Thank you for your fellowship.) That is something we just don't say in English!
As a side note: Food is often an important part of "convivencia." Around the dinner table or at fiestas with food is where I have had the chance to "convivir" most with my family. I have also heard my boss say that it is sad when coworkers can't be present during the lunchtime and that is an important part of our work place. When someone passes away there is a belief that the family member stays in the home for nine days. During this time the family invites friends and family to accompany them in prayers services. Following the prayer service food is offered to all those in attendance, but food is also placed on the home altar. When I asked about this I was told that in offering the food at the altar and then partaking in the food you are still "conviviendo" with the deceased. The same tradition takes place for Day of the Dead. For me this is very beautiful.
Another word that is very close is "acompañar" or to accompany. Young Adults in Global Mission of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has accompaniment as its model of mission. "Walking and working together, we seek to accompany our companions. (For more explanation: www.ELCA.org/en/Our-Work/Global-Church/Global-Mission.)
Sometimes in my house the following conversation has taken place: "Quieres ir con nosotros?" (Would you like to go with us?) And another interrupts and says: "Se dice, quieres venir a acompañar nos." (You should say, would you like to accompany us.) In this case it is for the sake of politeness – but how do we go from just "going with someone" and move to "accompanying" them or "going with them in companionship?" In my case it has meant purposely learning from the host community as much as possible but also trying to understand and decipher the structures of power that surround our relationships and our cultures. It has meant "living with them" and crying together in times of sadness, laughing together in times of joy and all the stuff in-between.
The hard part is that my host community has put so much energy into "conviviendo" with me and I with them – and now it's time to leave. Sometimes that just seems unfair, but I guess what makes it fair is if the relationships built and lessons learned were not in vain (which I know they were not) but continue (which I pray they will). So many wonderful people have accompanied me here in Mexico, and I will forever be changed and forever thankful for our "convivencia."
And now I am thankful for the time that I will be able to spend in "convivencia" with my family back home. Both are very important and for everything there is a season.