That’s right, folks... 365 days of pure Colombian living. Read it and weep.
Volunteers reunite! The first 2-year Peace Corps group in Colombia since 1981, I am so fortunate to be a part of such a diverse, supportive, intelligent, and fun mix of people! Volunteers from near and far joined us Cartageneros on our home-turf to celebrate the occasion!
Mike's family friends hooked us up with their too-good-to-be-true apartment in the middle of Cartagena, complete with rooftop pool and all. Love me my "posh corps" moments!
To start out the week, some of us visited near-by Palenque, the first, free, ex-slave colony in the New World, founded some 400 years ago. Today, Palenque still maintains its own language (a creole mix of various African languages, Portuguese, Spanish...), its own religious beliefs (mixture of Christianity and African religions), traditional herbal medicines, its own social organization (no need for police, for example), and music/instruments brought over from Africa. The feat of creating and defending a tiny colony against the Spanish army and slave owners is inspiring. Seeing the preservation and pride of their African heritage is equally incredible.
I may still be abroad, but my previous year in Turkey couldn't contrast my new-found Costeno ways more. I no longer teach at school with a plethora of resources and to students from the wealthiest families. Instead, my classrooms now often lack desks not to mention textbooks and free photocopies, and my students come from some cases of extreme poverty. What was once Allah is now the Virgin Mary. Pleated khakis and conservative turtlenecks have been replaced by see-through spandex and cleavage. I live with three grandmothers. Whereas I traveled to 16 countries the year before, I have not left Colombia once. Another stark difference: travel costs are not well sustained on my new-found volunteer salary. I got everything I wanted to out of Turkey: met amazing people, gained professional experience and traveled immensely. But now, finally back in Latin America, I’m getting those cloud 9/”life high” feelings, smiling to myself randomly on a crowded bus because I realize how awesome my life is
I love this place.
My job is to create as much positive change as I can. Pretty awesome. I interact with genuine people, dance with my neighbors, speak Spanish, and completely make my own schedule. Feeling frustrated is a daily occurrence: waiting for 3 hours to do a 30 lesson plan, sleeping without a fan in 100 degrees temperatures because the power is out yet again, trying to teach students who don't come to school with a pencil or notebook, or having a five day work week never, ever, ever happen. But, at the end of the day, I feel energized and motivated by a job that challenges me and where I am my own boss rather than going through the motions, waiting for the next weekend or vacation.
Yes, excitement abounds at the thought of being home over Christmas break (CAN’T FREAKING WAIT!!) and seeing people I love and miss immensely. As much as I try to remind myself that I have the rest of my life to “settle down”, to have a family, to be responsible for other people, and to not eat rice for the seventh time this week, being away from loved ones is undoubtedly the hardest part and my lows here have always been centered on feeling isolated (remind me again, why the hell did I move away from everything familiar and comfortable?).
I'll be home for Christmas!
(And snow... haven't experienced temperatures below 80 degrees in over a year)
To end on, I have been able to read so much since I arrived in Colombia. Life is good. Here are some that I can remember...
“The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay
“The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera
“Little Bee” by Chris Cleave
“The World According to Garp” by John Irving
“Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal” by J.K. Rowling
“Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw” by Mark Bowden
“Banker to the Poor” by Muhammed Yunus
“The Reader” by Berhard Schlink
“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
“Velocity” by Dean Koontz
“Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do” by Michael J. Sandel
“The Hunter Games” by Suzanne Collins
“Open Veins of Latin America” by Educardo Galeano
“Relato de un Naufrago” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins
“The Kitchen God’s Wife” by Amy Tan
“El General en su Laberinto” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
“The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson
“The Hangman’s Daughter” by Oliver Potzsch
“La Casa de Dostoievsky” by Jorge Edwards
“Blindness” by Jose Saramago