Many of you may not know the main reason for my recent journey through the Americas. It was a personal pilgrimage, a mission to learn more about my family history and the work they currently do as missionaries. To start, you’ll need to know a bit about my family. My mother Mary Jane Yates was born in Windsor, Ontario to Baptist Missionaries. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to Nigeria where she and her 3 older siblings spent the majority of their childhoods in a boarding school, located a hazardous 7 hour journey south of the village where their parents served in a hospital as doctor and nurse.
During the same years a similar story was shaping up across the Atlantic Ocean in Colombia. My father, John William Buchanan (also know as Juancho) was born to British missionaries in the small town of Faca, a suburb of Bogota. He and his younger brother David spent their early childhoods causing havoc on the dusty streets of their neighbourhood before they were shipped off to boarding school in England where they spent their formative years distant and separated from their parents in Colombia. Halfway through high school Juancho decided to ditch out and run away to Canada.
My mom had also returned to Canada around this time and they happened to meet at the University of Windsor. They met, fell in love, married, then conceived me about 3 years later. Three years after, they moved to Vancouver, where my sister was born, and three years later moved to Edmonton where my brother was born.
As our small family unit was budding, changing and forming, transient and separated across three major cities in Canada, my extended family was creating roots in various countries across the world. Juancho’s mother left Colombia to return to England, and his brother moved to Spain where they both remain today. My mother’s brother married and moved to Haiti where they spent 15 years raising a family and doing mission work related to healthcare. Her eldest brother (the only atheist in the family) moved to Yemen to work for Big Oil and my mother’s sister, (Aunt Liz), moved to a small village in the Amazon jungle in Northern Peru where they have been living with their 4 children for the past 20 years.
To say my family is distant and somewhat disconnected would be the understatement of the century. With my extended family spread across 6 countries and even my own siblings sprouted in different cities across Canada, I’ve always felt a little unsure of where my roots lie. I know it’ll be a lifelong adventure to stay in touch with family, visit relatives, and strengthen connections and relationships, this is only one chapter.
SOoo.. the general intentions behind visiting Colombia and Peru, were based on seeing where my dad was born, visiting my aunt in her jungle home of 20 years and spending time with the cousins I hardly know. Of course.. just because I’m an adventure junkie, I decided to take the long way down, attempting to make it all the way from Vancouver to Peru by land. On the way, I was sideswept, tumbled and distracted by a 12 music festival rollercoaster, a Western Canada tour with Mousai Entertainment, Skrillex and PK Sound, and a 5 month stint in Central America. Despite these minor hurdles I eventually made it to South America, about 8 months later then originally planned.
My father Juancho, flew down to meet me for my arrival in Bogota, Colombia. I spent a brief week exploring the city and the surrounding area guided by him and his memories. It explained so much about him, his character and his flair for life. I saw his eyes brighten with a passion that I’ve rarely seen in Vancouver. I was instantly welcomed by his Colombian “family” of high school friends, and spent every day, drinking, dining, and celebrating friendship. Then in a flash.. it was over.. next stop, Santa Clotilde, Peru.
Just as I thought, the months of travel beforehand helped prepare me physically and mentally for the epic adventure 8 hours upriver into the Amazon Basin and I’m thankful for that. On the other hand, it was impossible to prepare for the emotional effect of meeting a part of your family that you hadn’t seen since the age of 5. Walking through their front gate for the first time and seeing my mother’s smile in a strangely familiar face felt like one of the biggest accomplishments in my life so far. I made it! Alive and well. (It was damn difficult not to break into tears right there on the door stop, but I managed.)
To keep this long winded story from continuing on forever: the two weeks I spent with my family was awkward, wonderful, challenging, easy, eye-opening and peaceful. I had ample time to reflect on my recent journey and discover so much about the childhoods of my mother and her beautiful sister as MK’s (Missionary Kids) in Nigeria. Also I was able to witness the day to day lives of my family in their mission work in Santa Clotilde.
Although I have strongly mixed feelings about mission work, specifically in it’s direct relation to colonization.. it is a integral part of my family and our history so it was important to see it up close and personal. I learned a lot about my family, a lot about myself and came to some realizations about my journey through life. My family is comprised of a long line of highly devoted people, dedicated to providing healthcare, education and social aide to developing communities around the world. I believe that this devotion can be continued with or without attachment to religion. I also feel that everyone has the power to use their talents and abilities to serve others on a daily basis. Love, compassion, and understanding are the basic philosophies in most religions, and from my experience.. are sometimes even easier to practice outside of a regimented faith.
Leaving Peru was bittersweet. I spent my last week in Lima, the capital city, a drastic change from the quiet lifestyle of Santa Clotilde. I had been traveling by myself for a year by this point, constantly on edge, hardened, and introverted after months of watching my every move. I was sad to leave, but looking forward to the family, friends and familiarity that awaited me in Canada. April 15th I landed in Vancouver. Renewed, redirected, and changed forever. Happy.