4 weeks!

Hola amigos! Today marks 4 weeks in Colombia. Where does the time go? I feel like so much has happened but it also feels like I left last week. Not much has changed in my life, but today was a perfect day and I wanted to celebrate with a blog post so here we are.

Like I said, life has settled into a nice routine. Monday-Friday I have training from 8-5, once a week I hang out with my friends after school but most nights I go home to spend time with my family, relax and read. Weekends are spent with my friends or in my room binging on Netflix. For 14 of us, training changed up a little this week as Friday was our last day of Spanish class. We spent Monday and Tuesday visiting various sites to choose for our volunteer project and today we spent our first day at our new jobs. The choices were an art gallery, a library, a museum, a center for children with disabilities and a women’s center. I, along with two super fabulous ladies, chose the CEDESOCIAL, the women’s center. It is the most perfect place on planet earth and every single employee there is an absolute angel. CEDESOCIAL focuses on the advancement of women, helps victims of violence and sexual abuse, fights against machismo while teaching inclusive masculinity, supports diversity and combats homophobia, and promotes women’s reproductive rights. They are also starting a new project to educate prostitutes and show them other alternatives of providing for their family. It’s basically all of my beliefs rolled into one, big happy place. I am in my element here. If I stay in Barranquilla, I definitely hope to continue volunteering there after training. Not only will it be an amazing learning experience, I can already tell my Spanish is improving after one day. Folks, if you want to master a language, integration is key! There is only so much learning that can be done in a classroom, which brings me to my next point…

INTEGRATION! You guys, I want to be so freakin’ integrated that people take one look at me and assume I’m costeña. I realize that this is a lofty goal but I am already well on my way. Today, my partner Sammy and I showed up to our practicum to find that no teacher was there. We had been warned that this can happen on the coast but it was still a shock. However, Sammy and I stayed in class and just hung out with 40 8th graders for the 100 minute class period (yes, 100 minutes. With 8th graders. And I didn’t kill anyone. IT’S A MIRACLE!) But seriously, these kids were so sweet and fun and intelligent. We just sat and chatted. They asked me questions in English about the US and I learned about Carribean culture. Hello cultural exchange! JFK would be so proud and I had an absolute blast!

When I got back to my barrio (on a new bus line, all by myself I might add), I immediately heard someone screaming my name from the other side of the calle. It was my neighbor and her two adorable kids. I crossed the street to say hello, greeted her with an air- cheek kiss thing that is popular here and immediately started chatting about our days. After we said good bye, I crossed the street and walked by the corner tienda (a little store that sells candy, toilet paper, chips, pop, beers and also converts into a restaurant at night). I greeted the workers and stopped to chat with a dude who is a frequent customer there. Finally, after almost 4 weeks here I’m becoming a part of the community.

Life is good friends. I am missing the fall weather back home but don’t worry, last night it dipped down to 77 degrees so I put my sweats on and turned my fan on low! Hope all is well wherever you may be. If it’s not, it will be soon. ¡Cógelo suave! Xoxoxoxo

P.S. Ever since I accepted my invitation to Colombia, I’ve been saving these cool quotes to keep me motivated and cheer me up when I’m feeling down. I’m going to try and share one at the end of each of my blog posts. Hope you like!

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Week 3 coming to a close…

Holy cow it feels as if so much has happened since my last update! Where to start? First of all, I had an AMAZING birthday! Seriously. It rocked so hard. If that day was any indication, 26 is going to be an incredible year for me. My day started off with my host mom playing a birthday song while she served me my standard breakfast of eggs. Then, we went to school to observe some classes and the instant the kids found out it was my birthday, they broke into song. It was one of the cutest moments of my life. My super awesome friend, Michael, caught the tail end of it on video. It’s up on Facebook and you should totally check it out. After school, we had Spanish class and I walked in to see my profe had made me a bday card on the whiteboard. So adorbs. After class, we watched some of the volunteers play soccer. I obviously sat out and drank beers. Then, we went to this restaurant called Bourbon Street which was Mardi Gras themed and they served American food. I got to eat nachos which everyone knows is my favorite food of life. Nachos + beer=heaven.

The next two days were pretty standard training days with language class in the mornings and tech classes in the afternoon. It’s a bit of a snooze fest but it’s going to all be worth it when we swear in. When I came home Friday, my family had surprised me with a “pudin” (Colombian for cake). They gathered round to light the candle and sing happy birthday to me. Little did I know this was NOT your ordinary candle but basically a firework so big and bad that Nebraskans cross the border in Missouri to buy these suckers. It almost took my head off which my family though was hysterical, of course. It was such a sweet and thoughtful gesture that I will remember for the rest of my life.

On Saturday, we went to the local market to learn how to bargain. Unfortunately, this was not your typical Latin American market and most of the stuff was junk made in China. My homegirl Natalie did buy a volleyball so her and I entertained the Colombians by playing pepper in the streets. I rushed home to shower and then Luisa and I walked to my favorite arepa stand for dinner. Then, some friends and I partied our pants off at La Troja and Country Licores, which my fellow Nebraskan dubbed the “Colombian Whiskey Tango”. Obviously, I felt right at home there.

On Sunday the real fun began. I, along with about 9 other volunteers, packed up and headed out to the beach town Santa Marta for a few days. After a death-defying van ride, we arrived safely to our hotel (queen size bed! hot showers! air conditioning!). There, the current volunteers in Santa Marta took us out to a corriente (small restaurant with a daily menu, usually choice of meat accompanied with rice, salad, soup, fried plantains/yucca). Then, they took us to the quaint little fishing village of Tagonga. It looked like it was out of a movie. I wanted to kick myself for not bringing my camera. The second I got into the calm, ocean water I felt all of the stress from training lift off of me. I had no idea how anxious I had been until that very moment. I swam out to the buoy a couple of times and then played some volleyball on the beach with my awesome volunteer buddies. The only downside of the day was getting scolded by the Colombian cops, which was actually pretty cool because I felt like a badass.

The next day, I visited the school of a current volunteer living and working in Santa Marta. The staff was so warm and welcoming and it was wonderful to see how strong of relationships he had built with them in such a short time. The kids were adorable and when I surprised them by speaking Spanish, they all gave me a round of applause. It definitely got me really excited to get back into the classroom. These next 9ish weeks of training cannot go fast enough!!!!!!! Thank goodness I get to start a community project next week with my Spanish class.

After coming back from Santa Marta, I developed a terrible cold. Ok that’s a lie. Last Friday, I developed a slight cold, which was made worse by partying until 3 am, swimming on the beach for 2 days, playing volleyball and going on a sunset run. I make terrible choices but guess what? NO RAGRETS (if you don’t get the reference you better wake up and get a clue). On Wednesday, I woke up 30 minutes before my alarm and decided that school was just not going to happen that day. I crawled out of bed, told my Mama so she wouldn’t think I had overslept, and then I went back to sleep. I woke up 3 hours later to my host mom sitting in the living room. I asked what the heck she was doing home and she said she didn’t feel right leaving me alone and stayed to take care of me because I’m her daughter and that’s what mothers do. OMG GET CUTER! Seriously, how in the world did I get so lucky?

I made it to training the next day only to regret my choice immediately as everyone looked at me in disgust every time I produced a phlegmy cough. I don’t blame them, I sounded like utter garbage. I made it through the day, though and finally had my first interview with Olga, the program manager who decided our fate for the next 2 years. She said I’ve already adopted the costeño life style 🙂 however, that little compliment left me feeling very confident as I left the office, I decided to try out a new bus route. The second I stepped on the good old VIP line, I knew that my life was over. For starters, there were two random dudes chillin with the driver in the up front, off limits to passengers, area. These bros were covered in tats (very unusual for Colombia) and the bus was bumpin the hardest core gangsta rap music I have ever heard, and I used to spend a lot of time in North Omaha! I put my headphones and said my mental goodbyes because I knew this bus had been hijacked. However, my terribly offensive stereotypes turned out to be just those- terrible, offensive stereotypes. My bus driver got me home safe and sound, his friend even helped me off the bus! I suck. Next time I will do better. I can’t wait for the day when I stop judging books by their covers. Poco a poco I’m becoming a better person through this experience.

I’m so happy I made it through another week! Love you all so much, thanks for reading! Un abrazo ❤

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1.5 weeks down, 9.5 to go…

You guys. Tonight is my last night being 25. Where did time go? I remember my 16th birthday party like it was yesterday. If you had told me then that in ten years, after teaching Spanish in Council-tucky for 2 years, I would be living in Colombia and training to be a Peace Corps volunteer I would’ve thought you were bonkers. It is crazy how everything in life works itself out and you end up being right where you’re supposed to be. While week 1 of training was brutal and by the looks of week 2, it’s not going to get any easier, I would not change this experience for anything. The love I have for my barrio, my fellow trainees and my familia is borderline creepy but I don’t eve care because it’s so awesome. I’ll give you a little run down on my day to day life and obviously share some of the weird stuff that has happened thus far…

Bueno, I wake up every day at 6 am in order to get ready, eat my breakfast of scrambled eggs and saltines (a big staple in our household), chat with my mama and head off to meet my friends at the bus stop. This usually where I encounter my first major choice of the day…risk my life and stand in the doorway so I can get a breeze or cram myself in the rows with the rest of the poor suckers who live too far north to get a seat? I usually chicken out and end up sweating my ass off while waiting for some hot Colombian dude to give me his seat. I’m still waiting for that dream to come true. After my hour-ish commute, I make my way past all of the iguanas and cats on campus in order to not be last to Spanish class. Our teacher loves to give “penitencias” for the person who arrives last. They usually involve song and dance….not something I want to do at 8 am. After 4 hours of fun, games and inappropriate conversations (all in Spanish, of course), we get an hour for lunch, usually some type of meat, rice, beans, and juice that comes in a plastic bag. The more food I eat in Colombia the more I want to go back to being a vegetarian. In the afternoon we have technical training which is usually a bit of a drag. A lot of us have teaching experience so we get a little antsy during our basic education classes. But that’s ok because we keep each other entertained 🙂

When the clock strikes 5 we all race to catch our bus, this usually where the fun starts. For example, one day I started a Prince Royce sing a long with a teenage girl. Other days, street performers hop on to provide a little en route entertainment. Yesterday there was a guy who did some free styling reggae rap that was super cool. I’ve also learned that if you ask nicely, street vendors will sell you food as you stick your head out the window. A little hair flip and a big smile will help ensure the bus driver doesn’t take off mid transaction. This how I found the best arepa stand in town!

When I get home, I sit down, chat with the family and then eat dinner. I’m usually served some type of meat, rice and sometimes I get cucumbers and tomatoes 🙂 Carbs are definitely NOT the enemy here in Barranquilla. After spending time with my host sister, I go to my room to read a bit before bed. I try to go to sleep around 10 so I’m fully prepared for whatever adventures the next day will present.

Just like in the states, weekends are the best. On Friday, Colombia played Brazil in soccer and I got to see my main man James in action. COL lost so that was a bummer but a couple rounds of Tejo took the sting away 🙂 Tejo is basically the coolest game in the world. It is essentially bags or corn hole but instead of trying to get some lame bean bag in a hole, you try to hit a pouch of gunpowder with a rock to make an awesome explosion. While my team won, neither of us was able to hit the gun powder. However another volunteer did and it sounded just like a gun shot! I obviously stayed calm and poised after the explosion.

On Saturday, we had a short class in the morning and then I spent the day exploring the various malls of Barranquilla. It’s just so dang hot here that basking in the air conditioning is the absolute best way to spend a day. Unfortunately, tragedy struck later that night. After a relaxing day in the AC I decided to unwind with a few beers with my amigos. We went to this super fun bar that played 80’s rock music AND they brewed their own beer! Paradise, right? WRONG! After a couple of minutes of drinking, my nose started to run, my eyes were itchy and watery and then my voice started to go out. I WAS HAVING AN ALLERGIC REACTION! What is my life? Why can’t I be allergic to something basic like broccoli? Why beer, the nectar of the gods, my favorite beverage of life? I had to leave immediately to go home and take a Benadryl. I don’t know what was worse, my severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) or the cough that began as my throat started to swell shut. After a brief internal debate, I decided I did not need to have the cab driver take a detour to the emergency room and all was cured with the trusty PC medical kit. Thanks, American tax payers 🙂

I relaxed all day Sunday and after 4 hours of being alone, in the dark, in my room I decided to go for a run. It was about 150 degrees so it obviously seems like the perfect time. I made it about 100 yards before I wanted to turn around, however something magical happened! The temperature suddenly dropped and I was able to run like the wind! I got further and further away from my house when it started to rain. I turned around, sprinted through the torrential downpour, feeling like a champ as I approached the last street before home. That’s when I saw it: my first arroyo! (Crazy street floods that will take out busses, street lights and unsuspecting white girls who go on runs at the wrong time). I hovered under a drug store roof for about 5 minutes until I got impatient. I told myself, “girrrrrl you got this! It’s just a little bit of water, you used to be a life guard!” I walked down the sidewalk and stuck my leg into the water, yes not just my foot, my whole leg because that’s how freaking high the water was. I immediately turned around and sprinted to the safety of the drug store. Luckily, one of my friends happened to see my attempt from her apartment window and she ran down with her umbrella to bring me upstairs where her mom cooked me a bomb.com arepa. I consider the whole experience a win. If you think I’m being dramatic, I dare you to go to my Instagram _jessi88 to see the video!

Tomorrow we finally get to go to an elementary school where we will have practical teaching experiences every Wednesday until we swear in. I didn’t realize how much I missed being in a class room until we got our assignments today. I will be with 7th and 8th graders and I’m actually excited about it! After class, I plan on celebrating my birthday with my amazing new friends. This weekend, vamos a bailar and on Sunday, I get to go with some of my favorite people to visit some volunteers in Santa Marta until Tuesday! Life is good, friends.

I hope you are all doing fabulously! I love each and every one of you, even if you’re stranger 🙂 thanks for reading!

P.S. I realize this is not my best work. It has been soooo not here at night that I have not been sleeping. I literally wake up around two just to dump cold water on my skin to cool off. I’m delirious which means I’m loopier than usual. Next time will be better, promise! Un abrazo ❤

¡Estoy en Barranquilla!

This last week has been a total whirlwind! I can’t believe it’s only been 8 days since I said good bye to the fam bam and I flew to Miami to meet my new BFFs for the next 27 months. I arrived at the hotel Monday night and was instantly greeted by a fellow volunteer who helped me take my bags to my room where I met my fabulous roommate. The next morning, we went down to meet our fellow trainees and begin our staging event. It was a long day but I really enjoyed getting to know everyone. After training, we went to little Havana for some bomb Cuban food and then went out in south beach to celebrate our last night stateside. I even got to stick my toes in the ocean one last time!

The next morning 33 volunteers armed with approximately 130 lbs. (you do the math) of luggage each made their way to to the airport and said good bye to America…at least for awhile. The flight was surprisingly quick, just under 3 hours, and when we arrived to the airport we received the wildest, warmest and LOUDEST greeting from the current PC volunteers. It was such an incredible feeling and definitely solidified that I am where I belong.

We were whisked away to the hotel where we began 2 days of intense training. We had language interviews, medical interview, vaccines, safety training, PC expectations training and probably a lot more stuff that I’m forgetting. Don’t worry, we found time to go out dancing…2 nights in a row…whoops! I was pleasantly surprised when I tested into the advanced language group, this means that instead of 11 weeks of language class, we get to begin service projects in less than a month! My class mates are amazing and our instructor is basically the coolest guy in Colombia, I actually look forward to class! Now I know how all my students at Lewis Central felt 😉

On Saturday I woke up with butterflies in my stomach (I think that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that!) It was host family day! I was standing in the lobby with my giant suitcases looking like little orphan Annie when two beautiful Colombian woman with the biggest smiles I had ever seen walked into the hotel. I crossed my fingers and hoped they were there for me. It turns out, they were! My host mom, immediately grabbed my hand and said welcome to our family. I thought I could cry. My host sister took me back to our house while her mom went back to work. She’s a family rights lawyer, how cool is that?!! I met my other host sisters and they showed me to my adorable room, which the youngest had given up so I could have my own space. The house is one story, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a whole lotta estrogen. We spent the night listening to music and comparing American/Colombian culture. I already love them all so much. The 16 year old is basically my bestie, we are going to the movies this weekend. Who woulda thunk that I would fit in with the teenager?!?

The first fay of training was spent learning the totally complicated bus system of Barranquilla. I still have no idea how it works except that I take the green bus. Public transportation here is very popular y por eso, there are SO many people that cram onto this rickety old rig. I’m not being dramatic about it being old. I saw a sign in the window saying it was last inspected in 1994. There are probably enough seats to fit 50 people and I would say they cram at least 75 in there. Oh, and you have to hang on tight because the second the last boarder’s foot is off the ground, the driver takes off while the unlucky person who as last to get on hangs for dear life as he almost flies out the door. Bueno, cada día es una aventura 🙂

Today we went to the Colombo center to begin our first official day of class. We have Spanish class from 8-12, meaning I have to leave the house at 6:50! After lunch, we have technical training with our program managers until 5 and then it’s back on trusty ol’ Sobusa to go home. Like I said earlier, Spanish class is totes mcgoats the best part of my day, however tech training is made easier by my hilarious classmates. Seriously, words can not describe how amazing this group of people is. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this cohort.

There is so much more to say but for now, like my main dude Porky says….that’s all folks! Love you all! ❤

P.S. Pics to come!!! Due to technical difficulties and the dump that is the Miami Best Buy, I am without a computer right now and thus having to post from my iPad.