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.

 

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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.

Officially a Volunteer

To those of you who are still reading my posts, thanks! For those of you who are not, all I can say is rude.

Almost 3 months have passed since I cried like a baby in Lambert National Airport after saying goodbye to my family and friends. It’s crazy to think I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time, but I really have. It feels surreal to say that training is finally over and I am an actual Peace Corps Volunteer now, but it also feels pretty awesome too! I’ve never felt more proud of myself and the other volunteers in my cohort.

Since being here, I’ve learned that I really need to be less hard on myself. Actually, I didn’t learn that just now; I’ve always known that. I have forever been my biggest critic and it’s really hard to deal with sometimes. When you’re surrounded by peers that are vastly more experienced than you are, you feel like you have to prove that you’re good enough to be where you are. And I kept falling short of my own expectations. I had a particularly hard day here, where I was so frustrated with my Spanish level and I couldn’t stop beating myself up about it. My host dad could tell I was not happy and asked me what was wrong. I explained myself as best as I could in Spanish and he said to me, in English, “You are strong, Clarita.”, and gave me a hug. That really put things into perspective for me. I don’t have to be the best or prove to anybody that I’m capable of being a PCV. I do my job as a volunteer just by sharing my life with Colombians, not by speaking perfect Spanish, or always having an “on” day. My host family is overjoyed when I just spend the day with them and tell them stories about back home. Obviously, it would be easier if I spoke fluent Spanish. But if I wanted things in my life to be easy then I probably shouldn’t have applied to Peace Corps, right?

My perspective of a successful volunteer has drastically changed also. My students are not going to be fluent in English when I leave. That’s just a fact. For me, success is integrating into a community that will only ever see a handful of Americans. Success is making sure to take care of myself when I need to so that I can be present and make long lasting relationships while I’m here. I might not even see or know of the impact that I’ve made here ever, and that’s okay. I can’t sit around and wait for results. Success for me in Colombia will be the little things; reading and drawing with my new host sister Milena, talking with my Colombian counterparts and figuring out how we can work together in the best way, and hopefully having lessons that inspire my students in Spanish while incorporating English as well.

There will be days when I am frustrated, tired, and annoyed. Where I’ll wonder what I’m doing wrong and why I’m not better at what I’m trying to do. I’ll compare myself to those around me and need time to get over myself and my feelings. And that’s okay. If I met someone who didn’t have days like that, then I would 100% think they were a psychopath.

What I’ve learned so far after being here for almost 12 weeks is that I need to remind myself daily that I’m here and I’m trying. I need to take a step back when I’m feeling upset or having a bad day and realize that whatever I’m feeling won’t last forever. In fact, I’ll probably be over it sooner than I think. And that right there is success, if you ask me. Training was hard, but knowing that I’m going to be changed for the better during and after this experience is what will make the hard times easier to get through.

What doesn’t get easier to deal with? My never ending craving for toasted ravioli from the Hill 😭

Permanent Site

I got to Villa Rosa around 8:30 Thursday morning, after a bird tried to fly inside the bus because busses in Colombia do not close their doors. The bird flew into the guy who was hanging out of the bus which subsequently made him scream like a small child. As you can tell, bus rides here are very eventful.

I met my permanent host family which consists of my host parents, Eneida and Pompilio (yes, that is his real name), a 100 year old woman who is Eneida’s mother, and my host sister Milena who is 9. There are also two dogs, a kitten who is very feisty, ducks, and a parrot named Paco who routinely wolf whistles at me. The house is more traditional but very nice, and the outside patio is full of plants and has a hammock. And, my room has AC 🤙🏼

Everyone in Villa Rosa has been incredibly kind and helpful so far. Girls from the colegio have come to my house just to talk and one stopped by yesterday to wish me happy birthday after I had been in Cartagena all day. There is no WiFi in Villa Rosa, no supermarket, and no restaurants but the people are amazing. I can tell that they really care about their town and want me to be a part of it. Each person I talk to is genuinely interested in me, what my name is, where I’m from, and my family back home. They go out of their way to help me when I need something, and always do it with a smile on their face.

I spent my 25th birthday in Cartagena with two of my friends from my cohort, and it was definitely one of the best birthdays I’ve had. After getting lost while trying to actually get into the walled city, we eventually made it and started exploring. The city is beautiful and also disorienting because it’s very touristy and full of people speaking English. We had lunch at a restaurant that only employs women and has crepes/waffles (😱), went and got gelato at an Italian restaurant where Pope Francis has visited, and sat outside with beers near the art museum. It was so much fun and I was totally exhausted when I got home. I feel so lucky to be so close to the city and knowing that I can most likely satisfy any food craving I have in a matter of about an hour (more or less) makes me incredibly happy. I will definitely be going to the beach next time too.

I head back to Polonuevo on Monday, where I will spend the next two weeks finishing training and we’ll have our swearing in ceremony. I know I’m going to be so sad when I leave my family in Polonuevo, but I am so excited for my adventure with Villa Rosa to begin 😊🇨🇴

Two Months

There is a long list of things that are now normal for me after living in Colombia for two months but I am just going to list the top two that would never be normal back home: sitting next to someone on a bus who is holding a live chicken, and having random Colombian men yell “how are YOU!” while I’m walking home from class every day. It’s cool that they know how to say that in English, right?

These things, along with lots of other things, have just become part of my daily routine here. Sharing a bathroom with my host family, the neighbors, extended family, and somebody that I’m not sure anybody actually knows is pretty common. The family duck consistently chases me and tries to bite my feet in the morning when I’m just trying to hang my towel up outside so it’ll dry. The power goes out in the middle of the night and I wake up completely covered in sweat which is always fun, and I have had more than one person do a double take when looking at me because I stick out like a total sore thumb. Despite all of this, I love it here. The people are incredibly friendly and curious, and my experience here is only just beginning. I can’t wait to get to get to Villa Rosa and unwind a little from training.

I went to a small primary school yesterday near one of the training towns and it was very different than the bachillerato that I have been observing at. There were only four class rooms and the grades went up to 5th grade. The teachers were so sweet and welcoming, and open to all of the questions I had for them. While their resources are minimal to none, they make do with what they have. And by that, I mean the students practice math by drawing a grid in the dirt and using it for addition and subtraction, with a small stick as their pencil. They have a smart board with dry erase marks on it because there is no projector; an area with bike racks but no bikes. But the students were well behaved, polite, and smart. They play during their break and get snacks to share with each other. They aren’t discouraged by what their school “lacks”. The teachers aren’t frustrated with the situation because they see it as a way to be as creative as possible. They recycle and reuse all of their papers, and share everything. I found myself feeling super inspired by the teachers and their coordinators because they are truly passionate about education. All of the pressure I had been feeling about not being a good enough teacher subsided while I was getting to know one of the Colombian teachers. She was so sweet and patient with my Spanish. She had a Moana sticker on her shirt, paper in her hair, and was just happy. I remembered the real reason that I want to be here; to promote peace and create long lasting relationships. I walked away from that conversation with her and felt so excited to get to site.

I could have reacted to everything in a negative way yesterday, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I could have focused on the things that need “fixing”, but I didn’t. In training, we are told that the things that happen to us here are 10% of what actually happens, and 90% how we react. Which is 100% true, especially when things get difficult and I’m homesick/exhausted/grumpy/everything at the same time. Our reactions will matter so much because of the people that we’re around. I’m glad that I didn’t really need to think about my reaction yesterday, but I know there will be times that are really going to test my patience with that.

I’ve only been gone for two months but I’ve already learned so much about myself. I can’t wait to see what happens at site, even if the only thing that changes is how many chickens are on the bus with me. Hopefully not that many.

Here are some pictures from the school in Santa Rita: