Here in Colombia, “dar papaya” (to give papaya) is a way of saying “to trust” someone. I was reminded of this expression during a meeting we had on Tuesday afternoon with a man who has just discovered that his name is on a hit list from Jorge 40’s computer. (“Jorge 40” is the alias of a major paramilitary leader whose laptop and other documents were confiscated several months ago. The list in question is 32 pages long and includes names of some who have already been killed and others whose lives may be in danger.) While talking about the possibilities for the presbytery to resume work with his community, he said that he thinks it might turn out well if we go about it carefully, making sure to cooperate with the Catholic priest who has been working there. He said that the people are careful about who they trust, and he likes it that way, no quiere que den mucha papaya. This is an important means of self preservation for the community, which has a troubling history of police and military manipulation and, because of its poverty, is easy prey for false promises.
That was the first time I’ve actually heard anyone use the expression “dar papaya” in conversation–I had learned it years ago from a friend who was married to a Colombian. What struck me about it particularly was an interesting coincidence: just that morning, when we were visiting the farm of the displaced persons’ cooperative in Galapa, we were literally given a papaya (which you can see on the post in the upper left corner of this picture of me talking with one of the members of the cooperative, my thanks to Jake for the pictures in this post). It was one of those gestures of respect, gratitude, and hospitality that I always find deeply moving and humbling, when those who have so little still have the dignity and desire to give out of their need. I was even more touched by the gift of that papaya when I was reminded to think of it in the context of a culture that uses “giving papaya” as a metaphor for trust.
We received that gift from humble folk whose lives have been upset by the violence and greed of others. They have joined together in an effort to start a new life, working hard with what they have been able to acquire and dealing with all the red tape and hypocrisy of the government agency that is supposedly in place to help them gain title to new land of their own. They welcomed us into their home and told us of their struggles. We were strangers, and they gave us the gift of trust, confident that we might prove to be true friends who will accompany them in this process, even though they have received countless empty promises from their own people and from the U.S. government (for example, Plan Colombia funds available to help single mothers with school-age children are corruptly administered). I hope that God will give us the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love to help us be faithful to that trust.