one year mark!

this entry is a little jumbled but I needed to write about everything and if you like reading my blog then you probably won’t care, so thanks for that! and if this is your first time reading my blog then my bad, I have a lot of emotions and you can just deal with it.

I have officially been in Colombia for one year! Time is a man made construct and it constantly confuses me. Wasn’t I just saying goodbye to all the people I love and getting on a plane to go to a country I had never been before with a bunch of strangers? Trying not to ugly cry on the plane even though people do it all the time and who cares? That whole “it feels like yesterday” cliche is 100% true. Now I’m sitting here in my little room, writing this with the window open, fully aware that mutant like bugs could potentially come into my room at any minute. I just put anti itch cream on a suspicious looking bump on my foot and basically thought nothing of it, except that now my foot doesn’t itch anymore. My water filter was full of bugs yesterday before I cleaned it. And I feel pretty content.

But before I got to feeling this level of okay-ness, I had to go through both a figurative jungle of emotions and an actual jungle. Full of howler monkeys. And tiny gnats that bite.

On December 20th, I got to travel back to the states to see my parents who moved to Atlanta from St. Louis right after I left for Colombia. This is the longest I’ve ever been away from home and the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family or friends. I finally got off the plane in Atlanta and basically ran through the terminal where my parents were and teared up when I saw them. We walked outside and it was FREEZING (45 degrees).

It didn’t really hit me until we left the airport that I was actually in Atlanta, not St. Louis. A city I had never even visited, which is where my parents now live. Some people probably don’t think that’s necessarily going “home” for the holidays, but I do. While St. Louis is where I grew up, what made it home to me was my family and friends. I’ll always love St. Louis and appreciate it for all it is, but home to me is where my mom has her morning coffee. Or where my dad smokes cigars and watches John Wick over and over (and over) again. A lot of people have asked me if going home to a new city and a new house was weird, and it really wasn’t. The new house has all the same things in it. The pictures of me and my brothers when we were little are still everywhere. The lit up Christmas tree in the new family room felt the same. My new room has the same Minnie Mouse pillow I’ve had for probably twenty years. It’s a new place, sure, but all of the same feelings are still there. I got to be with all the people who love me unconditionally. I got to take as many hot showers as I wanted and sleep in a giant bed, and I think I ate my weight in all of my favorite foods.

While it was inexplicably amazing to come back to the states for two weeks, it was honestly a little heartbreaking to leave again. I was anxious, sad, and really conflicted about returning to Colombia. I felt so torn. Being here is so eye opening and rewarding, but it’s really emotionally difficult too. I wasn’t ready to leave again, but I’m not sure I would ever really be either. To leave everything you’re comfortable with behind and choose to be challenged every day is really tricky. It’s hard to leave your parents, siblings, and friends again. I cried less this time, but I felt even more sad. I let myself feel what I was feeling, but I kept moving forward too. I found myself thinking about saying goodbye to my students, friends, and family here in Colombia and had to think about something else because I was tearing up about that too. Basically, I was just a giant blob of emotions for 3 weeks and it took actually getting back to my house in my site to (kind of) get over it.

So that was the jungle of emotions. I also stayed in the real Colombian jungle for 3 days with one of my best friends at a small Airbnb in Minca and it gave me the clarity I really needed to dive back into my service. We slept in a little cabin in the mountains, surrounded by crazy wildlife and got to spend time with some really incredible people. We hiked down the mountain to a waterfall, heard howler monkeys howling about who knows what (being a monkey? having fleas? still not sure), and ate amazing food. We also had some truly inspiring conversations with the hosts of the Airbnb, who are both American. They came to Minca on their honeymoon and fell so in love with the area that they decided to stay and build an Airbnb/farm hybrid called Finca la Frecuencia. Tala was born in the Middle East but grew up in the states, where she met her husband Jesse. I felt really at home with them and found that I could talk about my struggles with my service without judgement, which I really appreciated. I could talk to them about anything and it was honestly therapeutic. We left that little peaceful space in Minca and I felt more level headed than I had felt in a while, even though I had some new bug bites I didn’t have before.

Having my friend leave the next day was really hard and I found myself trying to keep it together on my way back to my pueblo. I got back onto the same bus I always take home from Cartagena with the sun streaming in through the hot, dusty air. I tried to make room for my big REI hiking backpack, but I just ended up putting it on the floor next to me. The bus filled up and we started on home, bumping over potholes and dodging people on motorcycles. An hour later, I was in a motocarro heading from the town where the bus stops to my site. As we entered Villa Rosa, I waved to people and some of my younger students ran alongside the motocarro, waving and saying hello. I paid the driver and lugged my bags into the house, where my host mom yelled with joy that I was back and gave me a big hug. After settling in, I walked around town for a little bit before dinner. I had been gone for three weeks and everyone I talked to was so excited to see me, wanting to know how it had been being back in the states. I felt a big surge of appreciation while still feeling sad about leaving home for a second time.

This week, I get to spend time getting ready for class again with my counterpart and with the other teachers at my bachillerato. I have a lot of ideas about being involved with my community this year, and I’m really excited about my projects with my students. Do I daydream constantly about food from home and it being so cold outside that I can smell snow? Of course. But I also appreciate all of the little things about being here, like sharing recipes with my host family, watching a movie with the neighborhood kids, and the fact that I can ask just about any Colombian for help when I need it and they go above and beyond to make sure I get what I need.

I’m really thankful that I have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. Now, if only I could figure out a way to make it just as hard for spiders (like the one on my wall right now) to get in my room, that would be ideal.

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Oíste Piece

Los fracasos

I have always had an interesting relationship with the word “fail.” What does it mean to really fail? Is it when you try something with good intentions, and it doesn’t work out? Or is it when you don’t try at all because you’re scared?

For me, failure is when I let my insecurities get the best of me and I give up on something before I’ve even begun. I wouldn’t say I’ve had a plethora of failures while serving in Colombia. To be honest every time that something has happened during my service that could be considered a humongous, flaming FAIL, I just shake it off (please, no Taylor Swift references).

For example, I had an amazing bachillerato counterpart before I even swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She was excited, determined, and spoke English: basically, a unicorn. During the five days when I was visiting my site, she told me she was leaving because my site was too far from where she lived. I dropped my phone on the ground when I read the message from her on WhatsApp, praying my brain just wasn’t comprehending Spanish that day. But no, she did leave. And all of the plans I had, all the listo-ness I had about working with her? Poof. No longer a thing. We weren’t going to mold Colombian teenage minds to love English, we weren’t going to do dynamic lessons using technology, and we 100% were not going to co-plan together. This is a huge fail, right?

Not exactly. Because of her absence, I had no choice but to put my Chacos on and get to work. I marched around my tiny town,showing my face in the bachillerato and in the primaria. I became “la gringa con gafas”, Seño Clarita. I taught in the primary school a few times a week and came up with a podcast project idea for the 11th graders that (some) of them really loved and participated in. I kept showing up day after day even though I was scared and anxious. I didn’t have anybody to work with. What was I doing? Who did I think I was? I pushed all of those thoughts aside and just showed up, no matter how tired or defeated I felt. My “big fail” turned out to be the foundation on which I built my first few months at site. Sure, I wasn’t doing what I was technically put here to do. But I wasn’t going to let that ruin my mood or make me give up on my little town. Nothing worth having in life comes easy, and I wasn’t going to throw in the towel right away. Integration wasn’t going to happen on it’s own.

One day, I walked into the bachillerato and some of my students ran up to me, grabbing my arms and pulling me towards the steps to the second floor of the school. This could mean many things: Were they showing me a wild animal? Was another student doing something illegal? Had they decided to push me out of one of the second story windows? None of my worries happened, thankfully. They were all chattering about a new English teacher, which I was skeptical of. Was he lost? Turns out, he really was the new English teacher, and I ended up showing him around. Now, a few months later, we are successfully working together in our classroom, and we co-plan together as well.

Finding out my first counterpart was quitting and essentially leaving me all alone in a brand new town where I knew no one was hard. It was really discouraging. I had been so excited about working with her, and had daydreamed about how great my life at site would be with her showing me the way. Instead, the rug was pulled out from under me and I had to find my footing way earlier than I anticipated. I had to do things outside of my comfort zone and really change my whole mindset about what I came here to do. My original plan had to be scrapped, so I made a new one. That first “failure” has really set the tone for my service. When things don’t go as planned, or something I’ve prepared for and really care about doesn’t work out, I just shrug and go about my day. I can’t change what’s happened. I can only change the way I think and feel about it. Sometimes I decide to deal with my so called failures by eating too many Goldfish that my mom sent me from home, drinking a Coke, and letting myself feel disappointed. And I think that’s okay, as long as I don’t stay stuck in that feeling.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer isn’t about being perfect and never failing. Everyone fails during their service. I think the big difference is what we decide to do with those failures. We can let it define our service in a good way, or in a bad way. Failures can teach us what we need to know, if we let them. A lot of people let the fact that they did something “wrong” change the way they feel about themselves. I hear a lot of friends beating themselves up for projects that flopped, like there’s some essential part of them that’s missing. If only they had done this, or that. If only they had tried harder. Sometimes, for no particular reason at all, things just do not work out. It’s hard in general when that happens, but even harder when you’re miles away from home and in a different culture. Failures can teach us to give ourselves a break. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is about taking those failures, and choosing to still show up and be a positive presence. It’s about still smiling and saying “hi” to your neighbors, talking with the little kids in town that yell random English words at you, and sharing stories with your host family. It’s also about knowing when to take time for yourself. A big failure can knock you down, and sometimes it’s good to just take that time to recharge. You tried, it failed, you’ll try again in a couple more days. People make mistakes, we mess up, and our best intentions blow up in our faces. But that’s okay. I’ve discovered that a failure isn’t truly a failure unless you let it consume you.

So go ahead and fail. Show up at your community class and have nobody come. Try to set up a meeting with a counterpart only to have them blow you off. When that happens (and it happens again, and again), try to laugh about it. Tell the tienda owner about it over an Aguila, or tell a friend back home about what happened. Failures are a part of service, but they aren’t the only part. When I reflect on what I’ve done so far in my service, I think fondly of my “failures”. They’re more like helpful setbacks anyway, things I know that have positively impacted my time here in Colombia.

Except that one time I tried to pet one of the stray cats in my town, that was a colossal fail. Zero out of five stars, would not do again.

November

Hello all! November for me has been crazy to say the least, and I can’t believe it’s already the holidays. Almost all of the little houses in my town has Christmas decorations and lights up. I kind of keep forgetting it’s the holidays though because I break a sweat getting dressed in the morning.

November was super busy for me for a few reasons. The first super cool that happened to me was that I applied to be on the Public Health Committee for Peace Corps Colombia and I got it! This means I will be working with other volunteers in Colombia on public health projects, workshops, and communication with community members/government representatives about the importance of personal hygiene, sexual health, and health initiatives for new mothers. I will be doing small workshops about eating better, hand washing, and sexual health as well. Another cool thing that happened was that I applied to be the camps programming coordinator for GLOW Colombia and I got that too! GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and is a youth development initiative for teenage Colombian girls that teaches healthy habits, self esteem, and professional skills. As camps programming coordinator, I get to make sure all of the program material is correct and flows smoothly for all GLOW participants, among other things. I am so excited to be part of one the most important initiatives in PC Colombia!

I also am part of the Environmental Club for PC Colombia as well, another super important club that addresses a big issue in rural Colombia. I myself am working on being more environmentally conscious and am so thrilled that there volunteers who feel the same way as I do about taking care of the planet.

Phew! This month has been CRAZY for me but I looooove being busy so I am super excited! I am currently working on getting my personal GLOW club started in Villa Rosa. I have a Colombian counterpart and a lot of interest from the older girls to help me with the club, so hopefully I can hit the ground running with that when school starts up again in January. I am hoping to incorporate PHC workshops into my GLOW meetings, as well as having workshops about being more aware of environmental issues.

Vacation has officially begun in Atlántico which means I only have my community classes until I head home for Christmas (21 days!!!!!!!!!!!) and it’s nice to catch up on Peace Corps things. We had a fun English day too where the kids got to play “American” games (tug of war, sack race, egg and spoon race, musical chairs. You know, games you roll your eyes at but still feel super competitive when actually playing them) and won some American treats (Rice Krispy treats that I had to give away before I ate them all). November has flown by and I cannot believe I have almost been here for a YEAR already. Seriously, time is so crazy.

I can’t wait to have some time off at home with the people I’ve missed so much these past 10 months, but I’m also excited to be a part of all of these amazing projects in Colombia as well. I feel happy and confident about what I want to accomplish here. My community English classes are going great and my community art class is so fun, so who knows what else I’ll be able to pull off in 2019? 😊

As always, thanks for reading and can’t wait to see some of you so so so soon! 3 weeks to be exact. Not that I check my countdown app every three minutes or anything. Totally calm about the whole thing.

October

Hello friends and family back home!

October marks the 9th month that I’ve been in Colombia. In 65 days, I will be in Atlanta with my family and I will get to see some of my closest friends. What’s even better is that one of them is coming back to Colombia with me! I absolutely cannot wait to see everyone.

I can’t believe October is almost halfway over. This month has really shown me what taking a good break can do for a PCV. I was feeling agitated, restless, and just frazzled in general at the beginning of this month. I was taking everything all of my Colombian students and counterparts said too personally, which is always my first sign that I need to recharge. I took some time off, did some serious yoga and journaling, and really thought about my priorities here. Now, I feel calmer and more rooted in what I’d like to accomplish here. I’m ready to face the challenges I’m up against in my small site and make every day a little brighter for someone else.

I think part of the reason I get so wound up here is that I am and always have been so hard on myself. I want to positively impact my Colombian community but I sometimes forget that I’m only one person. I need to remember that I don’t have to be a superhero here. I get so wrapped up in my thoughts about doing a good job that I become absent even when surrounded by others. I can make change just by caring and being kind. Because sometimes that’s all another person really needs. And I do that by showing my kids that I’m here for them, and being a listening ear to my adult students when they feel frustrated about learning English. Being a big sister to Milena is also something I take very seriously, as well as being a support system for my host mom who is a mother figure to so many people that I’ve lost count.

As class starts up again tomorrow, I’m excited to see my kids again and my Colombian teachers that I work with. I’m putting aside the relentless thought that I have to build a library, put WiFi in my town, and do all of the other seemingly impossible tasks I’ve imagined for myself. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on making my community classes as fun as possible and not take anything too seriously. The Colombians that I’ve come to know and be friends with don’t expect perfection from me, I’m the only one who does that. Colombians just want to get to know you and spend time with you, and that’s not asking much. Most of the time, it’s sharing food together and asking them questions about their family. Or looking at a magazine together or watching a movie. Walking along the river and watching the fisherman pull up their nets while the sun sets is as simple as it gets, but it means the world to them.

I don’t have to do it all. I can be a great volunteer just by being myself and being the kind of person that my students need. I can always being a positive presence in their lives, even when I’m feeling worn down and tired. I need to remember to fill my own cup up first before I can try to fill up others. And that’s not selfish, that’s self care. Which is another thing I’ve really come to learn here as well. I can’t compare myself to others especially when I’m miles from home and everything that I know.

Basically, all this rambling just means that October has really taught me a lot of important things in a short amount of time. I can be a good influence in my student’s lives and also take time for myself. I can put myself first so that I can effectively be there for others. I’m hoping to carry these things I keep learning and re-learning about myself with me after my service is over, especially during my really hard moments. I think I just chose to ignore a lot of my feelings before because they were difficult and I didn’t want to acknowledge them, or acknowledge that I’ve been wrong before and made mistakes. Now I’m going over my mistake when I make one here, like if I snap at someone or start to beat myself up about something. I take a step back and figure out why I’m feeling the way I do, and I figure out what to do about it.

Colombia is teaching me so much about myself and other people. How to survive extreme heat when there’s no electricity, what to do when ants invade your food, and how to learn how to love who I am all over again. It’s also teaching me that I’m wrong sometimes, that I can be a jerk who needs to go and have a time out in my room to re-evaluate my grumpiness.

Which usually involves some form of chocolate, Harry Potter, and yoga. In that order. And then I’m ready to be a normal person again.

September

*cue Earth Wind & Fire*

hello all! I have been in Colombia for 8 months and in my little town for 5. While it may be getting colder in the states, it is definitely not getting colder here. In fact, I think it might be getting hotter. Or at least it feels that way at noon when I’m walking to my house from class.

I am happy to report that all of my community classes are going really well, especially my kids English/art class. The only thing my students and I argue about is when the class should end; I think the class should end around 6:30, but the kids want it to go until 7:30. I am now trying to figure out how to make the class more curriculum based, so that the kids have specific themes to work on. I would love to have the kids experiment with themes like emotions, self esteem, and self awareness. I also want to develop this class so that other Volunteers could use the program in their sites as well.

My adult English classes are super fun, and are making me realize I still have a ton to learn in Spanish. Luckily, my students are extremely patient with me, just like I’m patient with their English. We play a lot of games, especially with pronunciation and matching. I have a very relaxed and honest classroom, so my students feel comfortable telling me what they liked about the class and what else they want to learn. I am currently working on finding simple English dialogues and paragraphs for them, because they can read English, but pronouncing the sounds is a bit tricky for them. Overall, my community classes are my favorite thing so far in site.

Sometimes, time feels like it has completely stopped. And then I look up and realize that it’s almost October. Wasn’t it just January? Wasn’t I just sobbing like a baby in the airport in St. Louis with my mom? When I go home in December, it will be 11 months without seeing anybody from back home. That’s the longest I have ever been away, in the States or out of the country. And I have learned an astonishing amount about myself and about Colombia and it’s people already. There are times when I want to pack up my things and leave, I will admit that. But every time that I feel that, there’s something that makes up for it. A conversation, or a hug, or just a wave makes me feel better. Being here is showing me that I really shouldn’t take anything too seriously. It’s taught me how to really reflect at the end of the day, and to be happy with where I’m at. It’s also taught me truly ingenious ways of saving things when I’m done with them, and how long I can re-wear something before it starts to smell (hint: not very long).

Do I sometimes act like a big baby and have hissy fits about things that are out of my control here? 100%. But I also give myself time to get over it and ask myself what really made me upset, and how to learn from that. Even when I am so homesick that I can’t see straight, I’m happy to be here. Sometimes sitting in the shade on the terraza with a good book and saying hi to everyone who walks by is just what I need. This is definitely the hardest thing I have ever done, but it’s also the thing that has taught me the most in such a short amount of time. I am so happy and excited about my community classes, and about being there for my students who really want to learn and be friends with me. I can’t wait to see their progress over the next few months, and my own progress as well.

Sometimes it feels like nothing is really happening at all in our lives, but that’s never really true. We’re always growing and learning, and sometimes hurting. And I think that’s okay. I feel great about my time here in Colombia because I know I can count on the little things to make me feel better. And that is something I know I will take back to the states with me. Even when I’m struggling and wondering why I thought leaving home for two years was a good idea, I know that feeling is temporary. I can walk to the tienda, buy a Coke, and sit in the shade while I watch my 3rd grade students play soccer and be happy. I know that I might not ever see the effects that I’ve made on my community. All I can do is do my best, create lasting relationships with my Colombian family and friends, and know that my impact will probably show up in little ways over time. And that’s what keeps me going.

Also, the idea that I will get to have Steak n Shake in 91 days helps. Helps a lot.

Yoga and Youngsters

If you know me, you know that I love kids. I love playing with kids, talking to kids, holding babies. The majority of my time in Colombia has been about spending time with kiddos. And while I do love them, they are exhausting. They’re even more exhausting when you live in a completely different country, where alone time is not a concept that a lot of people understand.

About a week or two ago, I realized I was just running on fumes. There’s a lot of pressure to be a “amazing” Peace Corps Volunteer and, like most things in my life, I pushed myself too hard to try and meet that expectation. I was spending way too much time trying to be the super fun gringa and I just hit a wall. I had bags under my eyes, a constant headache, and was just overall not feeling great.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my host family, especially my host sister Milena. But being here is kind of like being in a fish bowl. Everything you say and do is watched, and there’s constant pressure to be what your community thinks you should be. As somebody who is slightly introverted (an introverted extrovert? that’s a thing, right?) and enjoys her alone time, this big change of trying to always be present in my little town wore me out quick.

One day, I just needed a break. I went into my room, put on some chill music, and attempted to do some yoga. I always thought I wasn’t a “yoga” person because my brain never wants to shut up. But as I sat there, in the dark with my own music playing as I did some deep breathing, I realized it doesn’t take much to really do yoga. I did some stretches and some mindfulness thinking. I wrote in my journal and just was alone with myself. And I started to feel so much better. I realized this is what I hadn’t been doing, and why I was feeling so run down. You can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. You can’t control what other people think of you because everybody lives in their own reality, and has their own perspective of how you should act. I can only just keep being myself and give myself a break every day. Sometimes I forget how crazy and hard my current living situation is. There’s a family of frogs in my bathroom. Not everybody would be cool with taking a shower while some amphibians hang out in the corner. I can take a break. It’s not the end of the world.

I have now been making sure to give myself at least 30 minutes to an hour of alone time every day. My overall mood is so much better and I’m more focused, patient, and happy. Which means I can play with Milena more and spend more time with my teenage girls from the high school too. I don’t have to explain myself to anybody or feel bad about it either. And that feeling is so freeing that it just adds to my overall happiness.

Being here is an emotional roller coaster ride but I am really glad I realized I needed to take more time to myself. Just because almost everything in my life is different now doesn’t mean my personal needs should be on the back burner.

Sometimes my alone time consists of journaling and getting organized for the week to come and my various classes/projects. And sometimes it consists of me laying on my yoga mat, staring at the ceiling and listening to 90’s one hit wonders 🤷🏼‍♀️

Shout out to all my amazing PC friends for being there for me and everyone back home too! I miss you all and can’t wait to see you in December! 💕

July 2018

I have officially been living in a different country for six months! My brain now operates in Spanglish and I sometimes forget simple English words which is pretty funny. My host family’s parrot now screeches my name whenever I walk past it and our new kitten follows me around. Currently, a family of frogs is living in my bathroom along with an army of ants which doesn’t keep me from getting clean.

I got to really travel this month for the first time and it was amazing. I went to Santa Marta and Minca, about 5-6 hours away from Villa Rosa. Santa Marta is a similar city to Cartagena, but on a much smaller scale. I absolutely loved it. The beach was beautiful and the general vibe was super relaxing. The food was also amazing and the room I stayed in had air conditioning. After two days in Santa Marta, my friends and I took a little van about 45 minutes away to Minca. As the van drove out of Santa Marta and towards the Sierra Nevada mountains, my ears popped a few times and I started to get really excited. I absolutely love mountains and couldn’t wait to get to where we were staying, a hostel called Casa Loma. Our van pulled up to a small populated area in Minca, with restaurants and other vans unloading excited gringos.

I was not told until this point that our hostel was 250 steps up the mountain. I was wearing jean shorts, Birkenstocks, and had a duffel bag that was probably 35 pounds. I still am not totally sure how I made it all the way up the mountain, but I did. And the views were totally worth it. Some of the most beautiful nature I’ve ever seen. I think I maybe crawled the last twenty steps? No idea. Next time I’ll be sure to bring good shoes and hopefully not overpack. I thought I was in pretty good shape but those steps kicked my ass. We went to a beautiful waterfall, had amazing food that was cooked right there at our hostel, and watched the sunset over the mountains and the little Colombian houses. For the first time since I’ve been here, I wish I had packed a sweatshirt.

After that trip, I came back to work with my awesome coworker Luis. He really cares about teaching and wants our kids to succeed, but it’s really hard when there are barely any resources. I was feeling a little defeated and sad about my kids who really do want to learn English, but have no way of affording simple things like textbooks, worksheets, or flashcards. Luis could tell I was feeling bummed and asked me what was bothering me so I told him, and he told me he had bought a printer for us to use, which means we can actually have worksheets for our kids to use and print off pages from English textbooks. I stuck out my fist for a fist bump and he high fived it, which is very Colombian.

Half of the battle is establishing trust with people in our communities, but with Luis, it was super easy. He’s a huge nerd like me and his English level is really good. We both get frustrated about certain things, but I have to say he is definitely more patient than me with the kids who act out. I’ve been in American classrooms my whole life so I have very stubborn ideas of how kids should behave, and was just raised to be respectful, so I don’t take lightly to kids being disruptive or disrespectful. I huffed and puffed about it, and Luis told me that I need to have more patience. I took a deep breath and decided he’s totally right, and not just about the kids in school either. I’ve been super hard on myself for not being an “amazing volunteer” but I literally just got here. This is a lesson I’ve actually never learned, honestly. I’ve always been patient with other people, but never really with myself. I have always been super hard on myself no matter what I’m doing. I need to take the time here to learn how to be nicer to myself and take care of myself first, so I can really help my community.

I’ve been working with my technology counterpart, Jack, as well. I introduced my podcast idea to him and we pitched it to the students, and I thought we would maybe start it up after the 11th graders took their ICFES exam (Colombian equivalent of the ACT). Little did I know, the students had been working on their projects with him for several weeks. They’re finished now and Jack let me listen to one of them. I almost wanted to cry. It was so well done and sounded like a real radio show, with music and professional editing. The kids began the video introducing the idea for the show, and then they had 3 “guest speakers” who are teachers at the bachillerato in Villa Rosa. The teachers answered the questions from the prompt that I created, and it was really touching to hear their stories. Jack is going to email me the files and I am hoping to upload them to Facebook next month. The kids really loved this project and are so excited that their work will be on the internet for the whole world to listen to. Keep an eye out for when I post about their work!

At the end of this month, I will attend in-service training with Peace Corps. It’s a week long conference where we reevaluate (it took me several times to spell that correctly) our goals and what we’ve done so far in site. I’ll also receive proper training for the group that I really want to start in my site, which is called GLOW (girls leading our world). There is a lot of interest for youth development in my site, especially for the teenage girls. So much so that I will probably have to have two youth development groups, one for girls ages 10-12, and another for girls ages 13-18. This will be the beginning of GLOW in Villa Rosa and I am so excited for it! I’m also really excited to start my community English class, even if only a few people come to it.

While there are days where I am so homesick that I daydream about toasted ravioli, Imos, and my parents couch, there are more days where I am truly happy to be here. I wanted to be a part of something that is bigger than myself, and that’s what I’m doing. I feel frustrated, alone, and sad sometimes, but other times, I feel proud and happy. Every positive interaction I have in my little town reminds me why I’m here. I was feeling stressed and anxious about the goals I had thought I was supposed to working towards, but I sat down and really thought about what I want to accomplish here, and I’m already doing it. Working with Colombians to help them advance their teaching skills and becoming a part of their lives, teaching kids to believe in themselves and work hard while having fun, and proving to myself that I can do whatever crazy thing I’ve put my mind to, like living in a different country for two years when I haven’t even been to Europe. 

Six months down, a year and 7 months to go! Yes I do have a countdown going, don’t judge me.

Little Things

Hi friends!

I am writing this piece from the well known and loved Juan Valdez in the center of Cartagena. I live about an hour and a half from Cartagena, and make the trip into the city to use the WiFi, treat myself to iced coffee, and do any grocery shopping/errands I need to do for the next few weeks. I’m sitting here trying to make my iced latte last as long as possible before I head back to Villa Rosa in a little while.

Cartagena is an extremely historic city. What was once an old port for slave ships is now a touristy area with amazing food, views of the ocean, and plenty of gringos. The neighboring barrio, Getsemani, is equally as interesting with graffiti murals, cafes, and a plethora of hostels. While all of that is definitely worth the trip, I find a ridiculous amount of happiness just from sitting in the Colombian equivalent of Starbucks. It also makes me extremely homesick, but I am willing to deal with that emotion if it means I can download music, podcasts, and check my email. Also, having actual WiFi makes talking to people back home way easier which I am so thankful for. The feeling of gratitude I have for the simplest things here is crazy. I now miss every little thing I took for granted in the states, but I also have a huge appreciation for just sitting and reading a book, or coloring, or talking with a neighbor in my pueblo. While it’s super fun to come into the city, I also find solace in the commute back and arriving home to my little room with my mosquito net.

I also never thought I would be so disoriented by other people speaking English. I literally stopped in my tracks the first time I came to Cartagena and heard a gaggle of American tourists, causing one of my friends to run into me.

I am currently still observing classes in the high school with my counterpart Luis, who actually speaks really good English. I’m hoping to start to plan with him in August, and then begin co-teaching. I have a week long training in Barranquilla at the end of July, and in August, I also hope to start my English community classes and club GLOW. I am hoping to work on my idea for a podcast in Villa Rosa, since there is a pretty large push for working with technology. Of course, everything here runs on Colombian time, so I’ve yet to had an interview. But, with patience and time, things will come together. Right now, I’m really just enjoying getting to know my community, especially the high school girls.

During class one day, the students had to recite a simple conversation about shopping. Two of the girls got up, and even though they had pena (Colombian version of shyness/awkwardness), they stood up in front of everybody and did it perfectly from memory. I could tell they actually worked on it and practiced, so I privately told them that they did such a great job. Their reaction reminded me why I’m here. It was both amazing and a little sad. Their faces lit up, and they looked at each other, trying to not smile too big. “Seño, thank you so much! That’s so good to know. I want to learn English but it’s just a little difficult.”, one of them said to me while the other nodded along. I could tell that hearing that their hard work paid off from a native English speaker really made them feel good. I invited them to my English class while trying not to hug them, since it seems to me that there might not be anybody in their lives that tells them they’re doing a good job and they probably need extra hugs. They now greet me every day at school, want pictures with me, and generally are the sweetest.

Peace Corps is hard. I’ve never felt so homesick in my entire life, but at times I feel so happy to be here and I appreciate simple things like being able to see Colombian sunsets and nature or mangoes con sal. Being here has just reinforced the idea that I have about life in general, that people are all connected. Relationships are everything, in my opinion. Success doesn’t happen without other people. I’ve always thought that people are all one, and being here for the little time that I have been has really shown me that. We all feel happiness, and sadness, and have dreams. We’re all more alike than we think. I used to be those high school girls who need somebody to believe in them, and I’m happy to be there for any Colombian who feels open enough to talk with me about how they’re feeling, like my friend Argelia who just lost her brother a few weeks ago. Colombians have shown me that they don’t care that I’m different from them; they want to share their lives with me. And that makes the hard times just a little bit easier for me.

But I still can’t see Instagram posts about food back home without simultaneously drooling and almost crying.

 

 

Mayo

I’ve never felt the need to buy one of those electric tennis rackets that people use to kill flies with, but after living in Villa Rosa for a little over a month, I would give my left arm for one. All of the mosquitos that eat me alive would die and my neighbors would definitely have way too much fun with it.

It’s rainy season which means two things here in the coast: 1. The mosquitos work in teams and 2. All plans are cancelled when it rains. It rains almost every day here in May. Sometimes a lot, and sometimes a little. Either way, whatever plans you had are no longer a thing.

Life is good here in Villa Rosa. Two English professors finally started at the high school (!!!) so now I can observe them which is awesome. I go to a Zumba class here in town that’s super fun and I am slowly learning everyone’s name. I most definitely need to learn how to budget after spending too much money on groceries (whoops) but cannot describe how good my peanut butter bread is for breakfast. Also, cereal. I have a new found appreciation for cereal here. Sometimes, I only have enough energy to pour cereal and milk into a bowl for dinner. And that’s perfectly okay.

I spend a lot of time here doing what I like to refer to as “porch sitting”. I sit outside with a book or just my phone and talk with people who walk by. It’s an excellent way to find things out. Pretty much everyone in my town is related to my host mom. The guy who runs the tienda has promised to stock it with my favorite cereal (Choco Krispies and Honey Nut Cheerios) after asking me if I know how to cook Colombia food (big nope right there). And I met one of my neighbors cousins on Mother’s Day who lived in Canada, speaks almost perfect English, and wants to help me with my community class.

Villa Rosa is really small. There is no supermarket, no hospital, no police station. There is no WiFi. But the people are proud, hard working, and so welcoming. Life moves a little slow around here, but I can’t imagine serving anywhere else right now 😊

Abril

April has been the big month of change for me in Colombia. I went from a scared little trainee to a big grown up VOLUNTEER, left my host family from Polonuevo who had basically adopted me, and my name has changed from Claire to ‘seño’.

What hasn’t changed? My insatiable craving for salty American snacks, being genuinely concerned about how much I sweat in this country, and wondering if the family parrot will ever not wolf whistle at me.

I have been observing classes for the past few weeks with both the bachillerato and the primaria, and boy am I exhausted at the end of the day. I don’t know if it’s the heat, or the kids, or just being the only white person for miles around but I am out like a light by 9 PM. Class starts at 7 each morning, and we typically go until 12:30 or 1. Afterwards, I trudge home in the unforgiving sun, eat lunch, and then try to not pass out afterwards. It’s usually impossible because my 9 year old host sister Milena always wants to play/talk/braid my hair/do all 3 things at the same time. There is also a 15 year old named Armando Jose who is always at our house, helping the old folks out. He is Milena’s uncle and takes up the rest of my afternoon asking me about bad words in English and why Playboy’s symbol is a rabbit. Go figure.

I am itching to get started with clubs and community classes, but I want to be patient enough to take this time to fully observe Villa Rosa and integrate. What would the community truly benefit from and how can I be a good resource kind of stuff. I’m taking advantage of this chill time now because I know I won’t have it later. The community in general is so incredibly welcoming and helpful, and I am so happy to be here. Even on the bad days, when I’m grumpy or annoyed or just hungry (pretty much always), I can easily turn my mood around by getting a hug from Millie or talking with my host mom or sitting outside and saying ‘adios!’ to everybody who walks by.

Integration takes time, and patience that I sometimes don’t have. I’m learning to remind myself to enjoy the process, because one day I’m going to blink and my two years will be up. For now, I’m truly enjoying making cookie dough balls with Milena and Armando Jose, talking with my students and my counterparts every day, and watching telenovelas with my host mom.

Oh and eating Nutella out of the jar with a spoon in the kitchen when my craving for chocolate becomes too much to handle. Don’t judge me.