En Barranquilla, no me quedo

Hola amigos! Can you believe January is coming to a close? Time sure flies when you’re having fun, or in my case reading books and spending hours watching Netflix. You may be wondering why the heck I haven’t updated about school and why I am STILL talking about Netflix. Well, about 3 weeks ago, right before school was set to start and I was going to be liberated from the boredom, I got “The Call.” Since Christmas Eve, some volunteers had been getting phone calls from the Peace Corps office telling them that, for various reasons, they would be pulled from their site and given a new assignment. Some volunteers were moved for safety and security reasons while others were moved because our new country director wants to change the post from primarily urban to primarily rural. So by the new year, 4 of my friends had gotten “the call.” A couple of posts ago, I alluded to the fact that big changes were coming or school was going to start. Well literally 30 seconds after I posted that, my phone rang. It was our deputy director saying that I would have to be pulled from my barrio and placed into a little pueblo, or village, town, whatever you want to call it, outside of Barranquilla in the department (state) of Atlantico. Unfortunately, the office did not have a placement for me and were scrambling around trying to find a pueblo that met the Peace Corps’ strict safety, security and medical standards.

I had no idea what to think. Part of me was relieved that I finally knew and I didn’t have to jump out terror every time my phone rang however, as you all know, I LOVE my host family and my school. I was absolutely devastated to have to tell them that I wouldn’t be able to stay. That, coupled with the fact that I don’t know how well I’m going to handle pueblo life and the uncertainty of the entire situation sent me into a very unhappy place, mentally. Does the Peace Corps even want me here? What the hell am I going to do without 24/7 access to my closest friend, Netflix? Do they have grocery stores in pueblos? Am I going to spend 2 years covered in dirt and sweat? I better not live with cats or birds! These are just some of the thoughts racing through my mind. I don’t consider myself a diva, but I really, REALLY enjoy things like electricity and running water. As if I wasn’t traumatized enough, the water to our house was shut off about an hour after I received “the call” and it stayed off for 3 days. You guys, I could barely stand the smell of myself after day 1. But, you know what? I survived. It was fine. And everyone else was smelly, too! Chalk that up to another humbling experience that reminded me of how privileged I really am. This is just the beginning of a whole new adventure. Plus, roughing it totally builds character, right? πŸ˜‰

So while I was sitting around, obsessively checking my phone and email for word from the Peace Corps, I google-stalked every pueblo in Atlantico. Obviously, I was hoping for a place right on the beach but I was regretfully informed that there will not be any spots along the coast. So, I started to find my second-dream destination. Let me tell you, it was slim-pickins’. As time dragged in, I became more and more despondent. I watched all of my friends go to school and chatted with my would-be coworkers and I was going out of my mind. This dark spiral led me to the conclusion that while I may love it, Netflix is not a healthy coping strategy for stress and boredom. I started working out every morning and spent my time reading, studying French and learning geography. I stopped feeling so worthless and began to enjoy my free time.

Today, I got “The Call 2.” Finally, I have a placement! I will be going to Rotinet, on the south-west side of Atlantico. I’m not TOO far from the beach and my town sits right in the edge of a reservoir! Hopefully it’s clean enough to do some swimming. According to google, Rotinet has a population of 6,000 and is near the site of the world famous egg arepa festival! Exciting stuff, huh? A small town will be a huge change from Barranquilla, which has a population of about 2 million. I will be about 2 hours away from my current home and to the west, is Cartagena, a super cool city that is only about 2 hours away. I’m feeling so excited to start my new Peace Corps experience and get to work! I’ll move next week so I’ll have more details about my host family and school then. A HUGE shoutout to my friends and family, Colombian and in the US who put up with my whining and mood swings. Mucho amor! ❀️

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So this is the department of Atlantico and that little blue star is my new home!

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That tiny blue dot is where I am, more or less, in relation to all of Colombia.

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Rise up, friends πŸ’ͺ

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My free entertainment for the day

This post isn’t an update or one of my awkward commentaries on life or the pursuit of happiness (sometimes I like to pretend I’m philosophical). This is just a little reflection on some of my favorite, funny or just memorable moments of life thus far in the Colombian coast. This mostly for my entertainment because it’s free and we are at the end of the pay period so my funds are low (actually nonexistent, whoops!)

In no particular order…

*Meeting my first host family and their bright, beautiful smiles and hugs instantly putting me at ease.
*Meeting my second host family and my new mom immediately calling me baby, sweetheart and my love while helping me unpack and set up my new room
*First time trying arroz de coco. Seriously. The food on the coast is less than impressive but coconut rice is completely life changing and never ceases to make me incredibly happy.
*Becoming BFF with a 15 year old boy with sparkly fake nails at English camp and bonding over our love for Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.
*Adele sing a longs with my host sister.
*Exploring Boca de Cenizas (where the river meets the sea) on a random Wednesday with my amigos.
*Being absolutely terrified to cross this “bridge” (slab of wood between two giant rocks) and a random fisherman coming over, telling me not be afraid and holding my hand while I cross. When I turned around to thank him, he had already gone back to his fishing spot.
*Cumbia dancing on the patio with my new family at our fiesta for Noche de Velitas and my quiet host uncle giving me a thumbs up when I had finally, semi-mastered the ridiculously easy steps. πŸ‘πŸ’ƒ
*First beach trip to Puerto Colombia. Not only was it a great trip, but it was also the first time I felt comfortable enough to leave Barranquilla without the PC help and navigate the inter-pueblo bus system. We also found a great lunch spot on the beach that serves my fav…arroz de coco!
*Dancing to Prince Royce live while surrounded by friends was a magical experience. Plus he is a total babe πŸ˜‰
*My host mom is constantly shocked at my strange eating/cooking habits and has taught me the “costeΓ±o” way to make things such as spaghetti, beans and rice, juice and….of course….arroz de coco!
*Eating my first Colombian hot dog was just the best. My old host mom, bless her heart, didn’t have a lot of variety in her repertoire of meals and one night I just could not stomach eating dried beef and plain rice so I told her I wasn’t hungry. She went out and bought me a street hotdog. At first glance, I was terrified. This giant bun was stuffed with two hot dogs, lettuce, shoe string potato chips and at least 3 different types of sauces, including a sweet pineapple sauce. However, it was love at first bite. 😍
*My host family surprised me with a pudin (cake) on my birthday and had the coolest candle ever for me to blow out.
*Spending Christmas Eve drinking wine on the roof of Hotel Caribe and watching the puny fireworks show with two fabulous ladies was the perfect cure for homesickness.
*Spending Christmas on a beautiful beach with my beautiful friends drinking beautiful beer and eating beautiful food 😊
*After being in my new house for about a week, I came down with a little tummy illness. My host mom told me to wake her up in the middle of the night if I was feeling sick and she would sit with me.
*Seeing lizards crawl on the walls in the kitchen and being happy that they are there (they eat the bugs!)
*Celebrating the start to Carnaval season and having foam fights in the street.
*Being incredibly hot and dehydrated at the Prince Royce concert and getting an ice cold bottle of water by the local police, who don’t always have the best reputation.
*Getting caught in an arroyo and then saved by MC who took me up to her apartment and her host mom made me my first homemade arepa. Yum!
*Finally realizing the comedy behind the treacherous heat on the coast by (unintentionally) making a sweat angel on my bed.
*Buying a delicious street arepa out the window of the bus while we were stuck in traffic and then having the driver wait for me to pay even though traffic started moving. Gotta have my snacks!
*Searching for soccer jerseys on the day of the big COL vs. USA game and our wonderful taxi driver not only taking us to a spot he recommend but bargaining with the vender to get us the best price.

Last but not least…
*Standing at the bus stop and watching a motorcycle fly by and realizing that the woman on et back was breast feeding her baby.

There are so many more wonderful memories I have made so far but for some reason, these little ones came to my mind today. I hope I’ve been able to show the kind, generous spirit that is so prevalent here on the coast. Thanks for indulging my cheap entertainment, friends! Big changes are coming, expect an update next week. Paz out, amigos!

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The fabulous Jassir, with whom I share a passion for female pop superstars.

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Exploring Boca de Cenizas

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The aftermath of our foam fight.

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Our first beach trip! The beautiful pier, our view from our lunch spot and our yummy meal of sancocho (the soup), patacones (fried plantains), pescado frito (fried fish) and, of course, arroz de coco!!!!

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Christmas on the coast πŸŒ΄β˜€οΈ

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Hotdogs in Colombia>hot dogs in the US

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Dancing Queen πŸ’ƒπŸ‘‘ (I promise my top didn’t fall down)

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Mis hermanas πŸ’—

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Don’t worry, be happy :)

As many of you know, I have been living in a state of perpetual boredom since our swear-in back in November. I’ve had some adventures sprinkled here and there to spice things up but my daily life is super dull. A few weeks ago, I decided to watch the documentary “Happy” on Netflix. The producers filmed people from all over the world trying to discover the root of happiness. There was one story that really stuck with me. There was a man living in a shanty town in India who drove a rick-shaw, taxi thing for a living. By American standards, this man and his family live in extreme poverty, however he identifies himself as a happy and successful individual. He says he is surrounded by family and good neighbors, what more could he possibly need? Since I heard his story, this man has been on my mind as I explore my way through the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

On my last post, I spoke about my trip to “Boca de Cenizas,” a narrow peninsula where the Magdalena river meets the Caribbean sea. Along this peninsula are tiny little shacks with makeshift walls and tin roofs. It is clear that these people have next to nothing, however on their houses they have all hung signs saying how they enjoy their simple life living on the edge of South America. During our hike, we encountered several fisherman who live on the peninsula and make a modest living by selling their daily catch to the local restaurants. They were some of the cheeriest, smiliest people I have ever seen. We also saw children playing amongst the rocks, squealing with delight as a wave crashed into the side of the peninsula creating a little puddle from them to splash around in. To an outsider, this community appears to be devastated by poverty, buried in garbage and in desperate need of intervention. However, once I took a closer look, I realized that these people need nothing from me yet I have so much to learn from them.

That was not the only time my privileged-American self has been humbled in this country. In December, a few volunteers and I signed up to do a mass emergency housing build in a pueblo outside of Barranquilla. We were broken up into small teams and each paired with a local family who was in desperate need of housing. We spent two days building a sturdy house with four walls, a wood floor, poly glass windows and a tin roof. Again, my privileged self was shocked at the poverty that these families were living in but the smiles on their faces, their generosity and pride when they fed us and their joy when they cut the ribbon on their new home were priceless. These are people who are truly grateful for everything they have and are surrounded by love.

These lessons on happiness have been paramount to my mental health because, truthfully, I have not been doing so well lately. I feel stuck and utterly useless. On one hand, I am living in a beautiful country with my amazing friends but on the other, I am missing my family and all of the comforts of home. The real issue is too much free time. I am anxious for school to start and the real work to begin. This, coupled with the fact that our program in Colombia is rapidly changing due to people being moved out of their urban sites to rural pueblos has everyone on edge. I think things will improve next week, either a big change is coming my way or I start work. Either way, I’m excited for this adventure to continue!

The holidays on the coast were wonderfully warm. My buddy MC came in from Santa Marta on the 23rd and after a soccer game with our homies, we had a sleep over. On Christmas Eve, we spent the night basking in the air conditioning in our friend’s hotel room and Christmas Day was spent lounging on the beach. Not too shabby, eh? I went to Cartagena for the Enrique Iglesias, Daddy Yankee and Prince Royce concert on the 28th and stayed there through the new year. Besides having my lifetime dream of seeing Prince Royce fulfilled, I spent time exploring Cartagena, chilling at the beach drinking rum and coconut lemonades, watching fire works on NYE and spending the 1st on a little farm outside of the city, once again being humbled by the generosity and kindness of complete strangers.

I’m trying to remember that happiness is a choice that we must make every day and it comes from being grateful for this beautiful life we’ve been given. I truly appreciate my family and friends who have been here to remind me of this as I’ve struggled the past couple of weeks. Good things are on the horizon, I can just feel it. Β‘Feliz aΓ±o, amigos! I hope 2015 is full of love and adventure for you all ❀️

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