I’m a Peace Corps volunteer! Goodbye to trainee status and all of the terrible rules that come with it! Last Friday, I, along with 31 of my amazing friends, took an oath (in front of the US ambassador!) to uphold the constitution and some other stuff I can’t remember. I’m not one for ceremonies since they are typically snooze fests, however this one wasn’t so bad. The ceremony began with a speech welcoming all of the important guests and press, then we were introduced by our program manager. We each had to turn around and introduce ourselves to the audience (in Spanish!) Apparently, I did such an amazing job, El Heraldo, the local newspaper snapped a picture of me and used it for their story, here is the link. Actually, I just think they chose me because, besides one other blonde dude, I’m the most gringa looking person in our group.
Introducing ourselves was mildly terrifying, but then we listened to a speech from the ambassador and the mayor of Barranquilla. I was starting to get restless but then we got to watch a 10 minute performance of native Colombian dances. It was absolutely mesmerizing and I cannot wait to learn how to dance just like them! There was a closing speech and then we watched this really amazing video about the Peace Corps’ history here in Colombia. The movie was called “Hijos de Kennedy” (because, as you all know, the PC was founded by JFK). It showed all of the work that the Peace Corps did during the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, PC had to pull out in the 80s and suspend the program due to all of the violence. Luckily, this beautiful country has made a turn for the better and in 2010, they reinstated the program. The current president was even interviewed about all of the work we are doing here. It was super inspiring and it also made me proud to part of such a respected organization.
The days of training leading up to swear in were rough. I think the realization that the training wheels were about to come off and our group would be split up finally started to sink in and we were all in a funk. However, on our very last day we completed the tradition of reading our commitments to service. This really reinvigorated everyone and reminded us all why we are really here. As some of you may know I did not have to sigma contract to join the Peace Corps, it’s not like the military where I have to complete X number of days of service and I get penalized if I leave early. Truthfully, I can leave whenever I want. Instead of signing a formal contract, the Peace Corps asks us to make commitments of service. These commitments, in my opinion, are more meaningful than a contract because I am the only one holding myself responsible for completing this journey. To be honest, I was kind of annoyed when I found out that not only would I have to write my commitment, read it aloud in front of my fellow trainees and other PC staff, but I was dreading listening to 32 other speeches because I had assumed they would all be the same. Shocker, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Seeing the drive, passion and commitment that my peers have for this work was inspiring.
Ironically enough, the day we swore in and committed ourselves to two years of service, Colombia played USA in soccer. Sorry folks, but I rooted for COL all the way! Some of us even went out and bought jerseys to wear on the chiva that night. What’s a chiva, you ask? Well, a traditional chiva is a rickety old bus that used to transport farm workers, ranchers, animals and anything else you can think of from pueblo to pueblo. There are still chivas like this, but in the concrete jungle of Barranquilla, chivas a party busses that take you around the city to different salsa clubs, which is actually unnecessary seeing as they have a live band playing on the bus. We had so much fun blowing off steam and celebrating making it through 11 weeks of training. On Saturday, I woke up and moved down south to my new barrio. My new host family is amazing, it is just an older woman and sometimes her husband (he lives out of town for work). My barrio is a lot livelier than my old one, hopefully one of these nights they’ll turn down the music so I can get some sleep. However, I think I’m going to be very happy here. I’m about 200 feet from my school and so far, all of the neighbors seem super friendly. Also, when I spent all day at the beach today and when I came home, my new host mom cleaned my room because she knew I’d be tired 🙂 I’m so lucky.
School is almost out for the “summer” so we have some relaxation time over Thanksgiving and Christmas and then school starts back up in January. I hear everyone back home is a little chilly? I sure felt sorry for you all today while I was splashing in the waves 😉 Talk soon, amigos. Stay warm! Xoxoxo
P.S. Here’s my commitment to service:
Before embarking on this job, I had no expectations or plans because I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to be surprised or let down. I did, however, have hopes. I wanted to find myself immersed in a new culture, helping others by sharing my experiences and learning from locals and other volunteers. I hoped to feel welcome, valued and supported by the Peace Corps, other volunteers and the community. I was scared to leave the comforts of home and being surrounded my friends and family but I hoped to find a new home in Colombia. Since this journey has began, everything I had hoped for has come true. There have been challenges we’ve had to face and there are many more to come but I feel confident and ready, especially because I know we will face them together. M short time here has taught me that I can stop hoping because I’m no longer taking a chance or a leap of faith. I’m committing myself to 24 months if service, learning, personal growth and adventure. I make this commitment not only to the Peace Corps. But to Colombia, CII-6*, my community and myself. I am far from perfect and I still have so much to learn but I promise to listen, be present, open and always humble. This the beginning of amazing journey and I promise not to take this privilege for granted.
*CII-6 is the name of our cohort. C=Colombia, II=the second time the Peace Corps has had a presence in Colombia and 6=the sixth group that has been here in the second round of volunteers. Last year’s volunteers are CII-5, next year we’ll meet CII-7. ¿Comprende?