Before I came to Córdoba as a Casa de la Mateada student in August of 2013, a dear friend gave me a pocket-sized notebook with the word “Dig” on the cover. A wise woman and Spanish language learner herself, she encouraged me to “dig in” to life here, beginning with the simple practice of jotting down new words and expressions as I encountered them. The handwriting that its pages hold isn’t always my own and the words have an incredible range, everything from “pickles” to “sideburns.” I have the students at El Gateado, my praxis community, to thank for the majority. There are maps, phone numbers, and a list of things to read. One of my favorite pages includes a pie chart, scribbled for me as a visual aid, breaking down the political affiliations of the Argentine senators.

The cover is worn from time spent in the pockets of my guardapolvo (smock) on days spent in El Gateado, in my backpack on busses en route to class, and in my luggage as I returned just a month ago, this time with Amanda Montez as community coordinators. It earned its spot in my suitcase, not for the utility of a few blank pages that remain, but as a reminder of what I get to do this semester. Dig in.

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Oregano growing in the Casa garden.

This morning, we had the chance to “dig in,” in the most literal sense, to the soil here, starting a garden at the program’s new house. As I tugged and tilled and prepared to sow seeds, I was filled with a great sense of joy. In five short months, we will have the opportunity to welcome students, not just to this casa, but to the praxis communities that have welcomed and accompanied us.

Amanda and I have been amazed by the hospitality we’ve been offered as we “dig in” here. It’s been a joy to hear stories of past cohorts from new friends in the praxis communities of La Luci, Barrio Arguello, and Nuestro Hogar III. We’ve experienced joyful reunions: with Nestor, who transported us to and from El Gateado each week, with professors Diego and Martin (as well as his darling daughters), with friends from our Praxis community as well as our time here as students. We’ve joined in the celebrations of spring with the teachers and families of Nuestro Hogar III’s nursery school (wearing costumes we hurriedly painted the night before), and again with friends on a weekend backpacking trip to El Parque Nacional del Condorito. In rich conversations as well as more structured language class, we hope to continue to improve our castellano. As we continue building on existing knowledge of bus routes and this city’s many wonderful panaderillas (bakeries), it is the growth of relationships that is most meaningful. And through these relationships, I am thankful to be able to dig in to the richness of life here in Córdoba once again.

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A four-sleeved “I ❤ MONSANTO” t-shirt, one example of graffiti in the streets of Córdoba.

At times the reality here in Cordoba is a difficult one, deeply and tragically “connected to commercial imbalances … and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time” (Laudato Si, 51). I’ve listened to long-time residents lament the changing weather patterns. On walks I’ve lost count of works of graffiti art protesting Monsanto, Coca-cola and other international corporations and their involvement here. I’ve witnessed, in a small way, the many social and health implications of living on contaminated land. I’ve found myself becoming increasingly aware that I’m a participant in systems and a society that exploit not just the environment, but workers and peoples who depend on it for their human needs. The ramifications of every choice we make, to consume, take action or ignore issues, are always social as well as economic, impacting my own spirit as well as the health, safety, and well-being of others. Sometimes those “others” are in my own home or community, but often the impact of my choices reach much further; to those driving down highways, laboring on assembly lines, sweating in between rows of crops, or the shafts of a mine, those living next to garbage dumps, or along contaminated rivers. Our impact, in a globalized world, reaches not just across trade agreements, boarders, and oceans, but across cultures and generations. And when I take a moment to think, I know that these are problems we can’t solve without removing some of the distance between myself and those “others,” something that my faith calls me to do.

This past summer I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on food and faith, focusing on what the book of Revelation has to say about today’s environmental and social issues. As participants, we were challenged to think about how, as people of faith, we are called to make an exodus from “the empire” and its selfish, seductive, and exploitative ways and to be anything but lukewarm in the way we live our lives.

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A joyful reunion at El Gateado

I have continued to think about how we can go about making this “exodus from empire.” After four years of studying agricultural economics I knew that the change in longitude I was preparing for, from the global north to the global south, would give me a chance to glimpse reality
again from a different perspective. But I also knew well that my move, in and of itself, would far from suffice.And in just a few short weeks here, I’ve been reminded, time and time again, that the lateral movement, occurring in planes at dizzying speed and altitudes, isn’t nearly as important an exodus as seeking out new depths. Depths, not just in the soil where we’ll sow radishes, carrots, and lettuces, but in relationships; with others, with creation, and with God. In deepening those relationships, we free ourselves up to be transformed, to live joyfully, perhaps with less, to learn, as Papa Fransisco encourages us to do in Laudato Si, “how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously” (47).

So I’ll keep digging.

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Catherine Goggins and Amanda Montez are excitedly preparing for the February arrival of the next cohort of Casa students. Both members of the first cohort, they look forward to living in community with students, but right now are simply incredibly grateful to be back with people who have taught them so much about what it means to love ones neighbors. Amanda is an alumna of Loyola Marymount, where she studied Education with a concentration in Spanish and Catherine studied Agricultural Economics at Virginia Tech.

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