Hi friends! Today is a very special day, it is my one year anniversary in this crazy country. About a year ago, a veteran volunteer told me that in the Peace Corps, you experience your highest highs and the lowest lows. I didn’t really know what she meant at the time but now I completely understand that I, unknowingly, signed up for the craziest ride of my life. I am reflecting on the past 365 days and I honestly cannot believe this is my life. It feels like a dream (sometimes a nightmare) and I can’t believe I have made it this far in my journey.
I keep a list of blog topics in my phone for whenever an idea strikes me, however since it has been so long since my last post, I will stick to a basic update and keep the weird lists for a different time J
June, as you may know, was a month of vacation and visitors. Also, I had Camp GLOW, a week long female empowerment camp for girls all over the Colombian coast. At the end of the week, 37 strangers left with new friendships, skills to become leaders in their community and the self-confidence needed to improve their lives. It was a LONG, EXHAUSTING but REWARDING week. I am very proud and grateful that I was chosen as a volunteer, even though at times I probably wasn’t the most enthusiastic counselor. After camp, school started up but we quickly received another break for our town’s patron saint festival. It was a week filled with horse races, parades, music and food, culminating in a big vallenato concert and this gringa dancing through the night. Before the concert, some Peace Corps friends and I were walking through town (they were getting the grand tour so it was about a 10 minute walk) when we ran into my friend, Milagros. She invited us to sit on her porch and have a snack with her. One thunderstorm, a power outage and 3 hours later, I had a new best friend in the pueblo.
Later on that week, I had a slight mental breakdown due to various conditions in my home and I decided that I needed to move. I went to Milagros and asked her to be my new mommy and she welcomed me with open arms. Just a little glimpse of how wonderful she is: I was trying to discuss rent money with her and she was like “ugh I don’t care what you pay me, what is important is that you feel happy, loved and safe here.” I wasn’t unhappy in my old house but I really didn’t know what true happiness and belong felt like until I put all of my stuff in a little motocarro and moved down the hill to “Barrio Abajo” (Low Neighborhood). My new mom, grandma and sisters were so thrilled to have me and did everything to make sure I felt comfortable. My new sisters, Elsa (18) and Isabella (3) are already like my real sisters and we spend hours laying in bed in their AIRCONDITIONED room watching Master Chef Junior and Dora the Explorer. Sometimes, we even take “family naps”. My host sister, Isabella, loves to ask me “Jessi, who do you love?” and then I have to say “I love you, Isabella” and she giggles and says “I love you, too!” OMG I can’t. I spent the last week in Barranquilla and when I got home, she was at her aunt’s. She heard I was back and came barrelling down the street screaming my name and then jumped into my arms. It makes such a difference being around people who are happy that you are there.
The conditions of my new house and neighborhood aren’t as nice as where I was living before. We have no running water and get what we need for washing dishes, laundry, flushing and bathing from a well in the backyard. We don’t have an oven or a real stove, just a little camping stove. The road in front of my house is sand and we are at the bottom of a giant hill. Colombia is has a class system called “strata,” with the lowest strata being 1 and the richest of the rich are in strata 5. I was warned by PC that I would be moving to a strata 1 neighborhood and it would be very different from my previous spot. So far, besides the water, the differences have all been positive. The people here are generous, kind and so incredibly filled with joy. You always hear that money doesn’t buy happiness and see freaks like Donald Trump so obviously it’s true, but this barrio is a true testament to finding joy in the smallest things. I cannot imagine my life being any different than it is right now.
Another little story to demonstrate the awesomeness that is Milagros (which means miracles BTW): after a week in my new home, I invited two fellow volunteers over for a sleepover. We made popcorn and laid in my new (QUEEN SIZED) bed to watch a movie when someone moved and the bed creaked. I said “Oh my God if this bed breaks I will end…” I didn’t get to finish my sentence because we crashed to the ground. It was late and we couldn’t fix the bed so we just set the mattress in the frame and slept on the floor. The next morning, I felt sick to my stomach. Here this woman generously invites me into her home and within a week my fat ass is destroying furniture. I was sure she would kick me out. I told her she had to come see what happened and she walked into my room, saw my two amigas sitting in what appeared to be a giant crib, and burst out laughing. I was so relieved and I asked her “so you’re not mad?” and she said “of course I’m mad! I can’t believe you didn’t wake me up last night to laugh at you!” She was also very concerned that we didn’t sleep well on the floor and after they left, she made me take a nap. She totally gets me.
After I moved, Peace Corps hosted a project management and leadership conference for us at a resort outside of Barranquilla. We were able to invite someone from our sites and I brought along the fishing and agricultural teacher. We are hoping to write a grant and build a fish tank, chicken coop, pig pen and small farm on our school since the focus is agriculture and fishing. Again, I can’t believe this is my life. Chicken coops? Pig pens? WTF. But I love it. I get to see more pigs in my new barrio and I never get sick of them J
This weekend, all of my CII6 (remember, that is the name of our group of volunteers) buddies and I will be getting together in Cartagena to celebrate surviving a year in Colombia. We started out at 33 people and are down to 23 for various reasons but I feel confident that the rest of us will make it. It is amazing how much I rely on these people who were strangers a year ago. They are all extraordinary individuals and I, Colombia, the Peace Corps and the world are so incredibly lucky to have them. I feel proud to call them my friends. Stay tuned for more fun blogs, I know I took a little hiatus there but I am back!
Love you all and thank you so much for your support ❤ besitos!
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