When the dog bites…

Hi friends! Great news! I am really happy! It’s great. I’ve been here for almost 11 months, can you believe it? I know I sure can’t. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog or I talk to you on a semi-regular basis, you know I’ve certainly had my ups and downs but for awhile now, I’ve been cruising at a pretty high altitude. (Omg that was so cheesy I almost deleted it but I figured what the hell, who doesn’t love cheese?) During training, the Peace Corps shows us this absolutely terrifying graph that outlines the emotional roller coaster that is PC service. By roller coaster, I do NOT mean the wimpy ones they have at Elitch’s or World’s of Fun. I’m talking not up to US standards, probably can only find it in Asia or Europe because it is too wild kind of roller coaster. Unfortunately, after climbing up and up during months 8-10, there is a HUGE drop around the 1 year mark. I’ve spoken to several veteran volunteers about this “one year slump” (sounds like marriage) and they all verified that this isn’t some PC resiliency test to scare the weakest into early-terminating. The one year slump is real, it is terrible and it is just on the horizon. So, because I am sometimes a planner, I decided to strategize some ways to deal with the inevitable doom that is headed my way. No one knows this, so keep it a secret, but when I’m feeling down I like to put on the “Sound of Music” soundtrack, sing and dance in my room while wearing this adorable scarf my mom bought me for my 25th birthday after she saw me admiring it in a hospital gift shop. For those of you who haven’t watched this cinematic masterpiece, 1) Do it immediately 2) there is a great scene where the VonTrap children are afraid of a thunderstorm and so Frouline Maria sings a little ditty called “My Favorite Things.” In this song, she encourages the children to list their favorite things to take their mind off their fear. This is something I periodically do while I’m resting after my Julie Andrews dance party. However, I am terrified that I soon will be too depressed to even think of favorite things so I am doing this in advance and will use it as a reference on those days when I can’t even get out of bed and put pants on. I figured it has been a while since I posted a list so I might as while make it a blog post. Here it goes…

*Coconut rice…duh

*My little pink bed and my little matching bedside stand. My 4 year old “nieces” have the same furniture in their room J

*The fact that my mom has no idea that Sound of Music is one of my coping mechanisms and now that she does know, she is probably crying.

*Speaking of my mom, I really love our Sunday night phone calls.

*Street animals: I will NEVER get tired of seeing pigs, goats, horses, donkeys and chickens walking along with me on my way to school.

*The generosity, kindness and helpfulness that I witness here every single day. I could start a whole other blog that is purely stories of random acts of kindness that have been bestowed upon me during my time here.

*My students’ smiles. More cheese, I know but I just can’t help myself. They are so dang cute!

*Seeing my students become more and more comfortable learning and speaking English.

*Dance parties during class, during recess or just during any downtime.

*The delight on the students’ faces when they see the gringa dance.

*The delight on any Colombian’s face when they see the gringa doing anything remotely interesting. For example, I am the talk of the town after riding a horse after the races last Sunday.

*Random Sundays filled with street horse races. As my bud Michael described it, they are drag racing but with horses. It is crazy and there are NO rules.

*The music: I was warned that in the pueblos I would hear only vallenato but I don’t even care because I LOVE it! That link is to one of my favorite vallenato songs about a Colombian who falls in love with a gringa and all the adventures they have. Every time it is played here, the kids go wild.

*My fully loaded external hard drive. My brother, John, hooked it up with my favorite movies, tv shows and music.

*My little group of work out buddies. EVERY SINGLE DAY they ask me if they can exercise with me. It used to drive me nuts but once I embraced it, I knew I couldn’t go back to boring work outs in my room.

*Random pick up soccer games that I am never invited to play in but always encouraged to watch. After my falling incident, everyone agrees that I make a better spectator.

*The snacks my counterpart brings me. Empanadas every day. Yum!

*The fact that I never have to get off my lazy butt, I just tell a child to get something for me and they do it with no complaint.

*All the fun questions I get asked about my country and the excitement the kids have when they learn something new about the USA.

*Visitors! I have been so lucky to have my mom, my brothers, and two girlfriends come and visit me. SO MUCH FUN! (hint hint, wink wink)

*Care packages filled with white cheddar popcorn, chocolate covered pretzels, pink lemonade Crystal light packets, Starbursts for the students (they are obsessed after trying the ones my mom brought!) and, most importantly, little love notes. (again, hint hint wink wink)

*Hearing almost every single student, and a good majority of adults, say “Hello Jessi” in beautiful English.

*My wild host nieces who love it when I swing them around while they pretend they are birds, read them stories and take selfies with them.

*My incredibly shy, quiet host nephew who says “Hi Jessi” with a big smile on his face every time he sees me.

*All of the free time I have to read because I have zero house responsibilities.

**Also the fact that our wonderful housekeeper does my laundry. I know, “house keeper” sounds so not Peace Corps but it is very common here and my host mom is elderly and doesn’t move around very easily.

*Feeling 100% safe all the time in my community.

*Cheap food from the tienda. I bought 8 eggs, 4 potatoes and a Jello cup for a little over $1.

*Wearing sandals every day.

*My tan

*Not washing my hair for 6 weeks and not feeling disgusting at all. I’m in the Peace Corps, this is the only time in my life where this behavior will be acceptable! Also, I swear it doesn’t smell and I don’t have dreadlocks.

*Being able to keep in touch with my friends and family back home.

*My AMAZING PCV family!

*Having Colombian friends, it finally happened!

*When my Daddy sends me pictures of my sweet baby Nala (for strangers, she is my dog).

*Finally getting over my extreme fear of chickens. I still won’t touch them but I finally don’t feel like passing out when one gets near me.

*Piglets! Oh so cute!

*Having adventures

*Falling in love with someone almost every day. Not like “OMG be my boyfriend forever love”, but just seeing a glimpse of their soul and recognizing what a beautiful person they are and feeling so happy and lucky to have met them.

*Being proud of myself in the knowledge that I am overcoming my fears, making myself vulnerable and following my dreams.

I could really go on and on but I am hungry and it is time for my bedtime snack. Today was the last day of school for the week as it is our Patron Saint festival. I am looking forward to sleeping in, parading through the street worshipping the Virgin Carmen (7 years of Catholic school and I’ve never heard of this lady) and lots of dancing! I hope you all had a fantastic 4th of July! I spent the day laying on a beautiful island with two of the coolest ladies in California. I miss you all lots and lots but I’m definitely where I’m supposed to be. Besos

P.S. The cute scarf I mentioned has a beautiful quote on it: In our best moments, we understand that our vulnerabilities are what connect us. That we can step into the power that is uniquely ours. Play hard, love bravely, offer comfort to our younger, broken selves, and soar, always soar on the brightness of being alive. Follow your true North.

Staci, Mandy, some of the kiddos and I. The boys are OBSESSED with these ladies.

Staci, Mandy, some of the kiddos and I. The boys are OBSESSED with these ladies.

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Staci and I on the 4th. Not pictured: Our fabulous friend Mandy and our cocktails served to us in pineapples and coconuts. Also #nofilter

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I might have been a little scared at first one this beast. But we became fast friends 🙂

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The whole crew: Natalia, Fabiana, Alesandro and I messing around with Photo Booth on our front porch.

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The twins. Get cuter. Oh wait, you can’t.

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Who runs the world? GIRLS

Hola amigos, last week I mentioned that I would be spending the upcoming week at an all girls’ camp in the Sierra Mountains. This camp is called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and is put on by Peace Corps volunteers worldwide. Since today is the eve my girl power week, I figured it is a good time to write a blog on something that is very near and dear to my heart, a topic that has been constantly evolving, in my mind at least, for the last 10 months: women’s rights. If you’ve turned on the TV or been on the internet in the last year, you know that FINALLY women’s rights are becoming a global issue with programs like UN Women and the He for She campaign. I knew that coming to South America, I would be submersing my girl power, feminist-self in a society that has, historically, been known for its “machismo” (masculine) culture. It didn’t take long for this fact to become evident and during my time here, I have had to grapple with some tough issues, including my own identity as a feminist, overt sexism and the problems my home country has with regards to women.

Colombian culture is one that celebrates masculinity and strongly encourages women to stay at home, raise their children and take care of the home and to follow more “feminine” avenues of study. I witnessed this in both of my homes in Barranquilla and in the pueblo. In this culture, it is not uncommon or even really looked down upon for a man to have a wife, children and then another woman and even more children on the side. I know several families where the man keeps two homes, one for his wife and children and for his mistress and their children. Is this right? In my opinion, definitely not. However, my old host mom said to me “what the heart can’t see won’t hurt it.” Basically, she was ok with her husband having his other family as long as when he was home, he was present and kind and loving. Some may see her as an oppressed housewife while others may applaud her progressive views on monogamy. What I do know, is that I have not met one woman who has a little piece of man candy on the side.

My biggest issue with the Colombian culture is the pirropos, or catcalls. It is now an expectation, whether I am in my pajamas or dressed up, that when I leave my little pueblo I will be hissed at, whistled at, asked to smile, asked to get in a car, followed, hollered and leered at just while walking around and going about my day. This happened to my friends and me every single day while living in Barranquilla. There were days where I literally did not leave my house because I just couldn’t face it. I tried to start training for a 10k but gave that up from the constant harassment I faced while trying to run around my neighborhood. It did not matter whether I was wearing old running shorts, a baggy t-shirt and dripping in sweat; I was still getting called things I would never want my grandmother to hear. One day, my eye was infected, swollen shut and actually dripping puss so I thought “alright! Today is the day, I am going to run in peace!” Wrong. Luckily, when I moved to my pueblo I quickly told a few of the men how uncomfortable these comments made me and *almost* all of the catcalls have stopped, even though they don’t understand it because, obviously, I should feel wonderful that I receive so many compliments. BARF. I’ve been told, “Oh Jessi, they are just being nice.” “Men just can’t control themselves around you.” “You have to understand, there is no one around here that looks like you so men are just stunned.” BARF BARF BARF. For my first few months, even sometimes still today, I consider this country to be the most sexist, misogynistic place in the world. It took a long time, lots of deep thinking on my long bus rides and countless conversations to realize that this issue, as with almost every other social justice issue, there are so many layers to this cultural behavior that to write Colombia off as a place overrun with sexist jerks would be a disservice to this wonderful place filled with warm, kind and generous people. (This is not to say that I still have, almost daily, conversations with my gal pals while we complain about the disgusting verbal harassment we face on the daily).

You see, I was coming into this situation with my holier than thou, American attitude. America is the land of the freedom and equality! Of course things like this don’t happen where I come from! How easily I forgot all of the honks I got while walking my dog, or the times my butt has been grabbed by strangers in bars or the times I’ve been called a “bitch” or “slut”. Forget about the time that on an airplane, I was asked to move to the middle seat so the men could be more comfortable. Never mind all the times on busses, trains, cars or planes that I tried to make myself as small as possible to give the men sitting next me more room. The teacher who told my 14-year-old self that I looked like a stripper with my off the shoulder top (totally the hot fashion in 2003) was just looking out for me, right? Dress codes? Well those are important so the boys aren’t distracted from their education! I was definitely in the wrong when a boss told me that I was “extra sensitive” to the C word because I’m a female and it really is the equivalent of calling someone an asshole. Girls should be required to wear dresses at their high school graduation, it’s tradition! White women make 78 cents to every dollar a man makes, and women of color have a wage gap that can go as low as 54 cents to every dollar but that is probably because more women choose low-paying jobs like teaching and social work, duh! (aauw.org) Obviously, I needed to take a good long look in the mirror before I judged my new home.

Colombia is a land that celebrates masculinity, yes. But is also a place that celebrates beauty. Women of all shapes and sizes are admired. I have never seen more chivalry in my entire life. A seat on the bus opens up; boom the group of men clears the way so I can sit down. I approach a group of people, instantly a man is up, out of his chair offering it to me. Oh, I don’t have a drink? Here is a water/beer/juice. It’s not all bad. However, this does not excuse the street harassment that myself, my friends and women all over the country face every single day. Male attitudes towards women have to change. The truth remains that women in Colombia only hold 12% of parliament seats, (data.un.org) and men generally earn 28% more than women *not much more than the 22% American men make*. The legal marriage for girls is 12, while for boys it is 14. Studies indicate that 41% of women between the ages of 15-49 have experienced physical violence and 11% have been sexually abused (Violence Against Women in Colombia: A Report to the Committee Against Torture). These statistics, combined with my own observations prove that this country has a long way to go before gender equality is achieved. This is what makes female empowerment camps like GLOW and girls groups so important. These programs focus on gender, leadership, self-esteem and professional development to mold strong girls into stronger, capable women who become change makers in their communities.

For comparison, women in the US hold 20% of government spots, making us #71 in the world, right below Kenya and Saudi Arabia (www.ipu.org). 1 out of every 6 women in the US has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (rainn.org). 5 US states have lower legal marrying ages for girls than boys (globaljustiveiniciatie.files.wordpress.com). Clearly, women’s rights are not merely an international issue and we Americans have a lot of cleaning up to do in our very own backyard. The experiences of girls and women are different in every country and sexism and discrimination manifest themselves in different ways but they are still there, whether we choose to ignore it or not. Feminist is not a dirty word for crazy radicals or lesbians who don’t shave their armpits. Feminism is the belief in equal rights for EVERYONE: men, women or in-between. It is time for all of us, including myself, to step up and do better. Every time I make myself smaller to accommodate a man, I am telling him that he deserves more than me, that he is better than me. It stops today.

Thanks for reading, amigos! Truth be told, I was kind of dreading camp. Five days, in the mountains, supervising teenage girls was starting to seem like a big punishment. Now, I feel motivated and ready to make this week a, hopefully for the better, life changing experience for these jovencitas. I’ll try to update ASAP. I am spending the weekend with my girl, Staci, in Cartagena and am so freaking excited I might just burst into tears the second I step off the bus. Ok, now please go listen to some Beyonce and watch “Orange is the New Black”!

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We’re going to be fine

Hi friends! Long time no talk. I’ve been pretty busy with little projects and things and then, I spent the last 8 days with my family! I was so lucky to have them come visit. It was an amazing week. Wanna hear about it? I hope so because that’s really all I’ve got for this blog. 
They arrived on a Friday and were brave enough to make the journey to the pueblo. After a wild bus ride, complete with broken seats and being trapped in the aisle by a washing machine, we arrived to a small town about 30 minutes away from Repelón (the mother town of my little pueblo, Michael’s site and where we were staying since my house cannot accommodate 3 extra visitors). I didn’t want to wait for the bus and I also wanted my brothers to have an authentic experience so we piled into a little motocarro (a motorized tricycle with a seat attached to the back). We were crammed in there like sardines and my poor mother was a great sport and sat on the floor. We dropped off our stuff at Michael’s house and then hopped into another motocarro to head to Rotinet. My brother had his eyes closed the whole journey and said he felt like Paris Hilton on the “Simple Life” and was imagining he was somewhere else. As you can see, drama runs in the family. After a quick tour, they were ready to leave and start the festivities. You see, Repelón was celebrating its annual patron saint festival and Luke was eager to watch some drunk Colombians run around and fight a bull and everyone wanted a few Costeñitas before the vallenato concert that night. Some other volunteers came for the festival and my family got to meet some of my PCV family as well as my new Colombian friends. It was a great night but the gringos tapped out early and hit the hay at about 1am but the party went well into the morning.
After experiencing the pueblo, the family was ready for some R&R. We went to Cartagena (we hired someone from the pueblo to take us, my mom couldn’t stand the thought of getting back on that bus). I had found an apartment online to rent and the posting title was “nice apartment near the beach” and they did not lie. This apartment was HUGE and my mom and I were thrilled that we didn’t have to share a room or a bathroom with my stinky brothers because, as every lady knows, boys are gross. It even had a full kitchen and my mom cooked up some of my favorites: nachos, seafood pasta and mac&cheese. We spent the week exploring downtown Cartagena, relaxing poolside, drinking coffee and hanging out at the beach. We explored the old fortress that protected the city hundreds of years ago and watched a sunset from the famous wall. It was the perfect vacation until it ended. 
Friday night I tossed and turned in my bed because I was so anxious at the idea of my family leaving me here for another 16 months. All Saturday morning I felt like there was a brick on my chest and I couldn’t catch my breath. We took a taxi and the second we pulled up to the airport, my mom burst into tours. I tried to stay calm but the second the driver pulled away, I started to cry and I spent the 15 minute ride to the bus stop fighting the urge to tell him to turn around and take me back so I could climb into my brother’s suitcase (or more realistically have my mommy buy me a one way ticket home). I really had no idea I was so codependent-it’s kind of embarrassing . I decided I couldn’t face going to my pueblo so I hopped a bus back to Barranquilla where I stayed in the hotel for one more night of AC and, more importantly, privacy while I got out all the tears and tried to convince myself that I can stay here for the next year and a half. 
I gorged myself on chocolate and a marathon of Law and Order SVU until I passed out. Today I woke up, still not ready to come back but I grit my teeth, checked out of the hotel and trekked down to the south side of town to wait for the bus. I spent over an hour waiting in the sun, ignoring the obnoxious cat-callers and thinking “what in the hell am I doing here?” Unfortunately, I quickly fell back into my spoiled, diva habits during my week hiatus in paradise and even briefly considered hiring a car to take me home. I mean how ridiculous is that? As if any normal citizen needs a private chauffeur service let alone a Peace Corps volunteer. Luckily, my good pal MC stayed on the phone with me for an hour while I complained about the heat, the wait and the endless stream of “compliments****”. At one point I even said “I hate everywhere and everyone. I will probably die here on this corner waiting for the bus.” Remember, I’m never lacking the drama. However, about 30 seconds after my pathetic mental breakdown, a nice young man came up and asked if I was going to Repelón. I said yes and he grabbed my bag and said come with me. Ok, stranger danger is real and I know that but I was desperate. Thank goodness he led me to where the bus was waiting a couple blocks of way. He found me a spot in the shade and said to wait here, we would be leaving in a couple of minutes. I asked how he knew where I was going and he said he recognized me from when I rode the bus a couple of months ago (thank you, blonde hair!) 
Finally, for the first time in over 24 hours I felt like I could breathe. This tiny gesture reminded me that this is my home, even though it doesn’t always feel like it, this is where I belong. This feeling was only solidified when a little girl fell asleep on my shoulder during the bus ride and again when I got into town and was immediately invited over for beers at a neighbor’s house (I declined as I figure I need a couple days of detox from vacay). 
As my friend MC says “we’re going to be fine, we have to be.” Sure it sucked having to say good bye to my family but I am privileged enough to have had the opportunity to see them. Many volunteers aren’t as lucky. While I wish it was a little cooler, that we had running water and that there weren’t bugs crawling on me as I write this, I am more privileged than I’ll ever be able to realize. 
It’s back to the grind tomorrow and next week I’m off to the mountains for a week long girl’s camp…more details to come. Happy Father’s Day to all the awesome dads out there and a special shoutout to my daddy who makes it possible for me to follow my dreams. Love you all and thanks for reading! 
*Catcalls are NEVER compliments. If you think this, you are wrong. Fact. Just don’t do it. I cannot stress this enough. 

In case you haven’t realized it yet, besides the fact I speak Spanish and live in a tiny village in Colombia, I am your stereotypical white girl. As further proof, I give you my stereotypical girl power song that I’ve listened to about 78 times in the past 36 hours. Thanks to John for fueling my passion for power ballads featuring strong female singers. But seriously, listen to this if you need a pick me up.

  

Family (minus dad) sunset☀️

   

  

Beach time! Mom loves the mangos 🌴☀️🌊🌈
  Cheering on Colombia in the Copa!

  Friends and family at the vallenato concert in Repelón 🎤

     Trying to fit in the motocarro

  Mommy was just a little excited to see me 😭❤️ 

  Such a good reminder that we’re all in this together 💕 (yes I just quoted “Highschool Musical)
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Lose yourself

Some of you may know that my decision to apply to the Peace Corps was impulsive. I believe it was the day after Halloween, I just had a terrible friend break-up (which is obviously WAY worse than a regular break-up), I went to a party with the same people from high school, which was fun, but I realized that just wasn’t who I was and I needed something more. I woke up on Sunday morning with a killer headache and the travel bug. I ordered a pizza, went down to the basement (the darkest place in the house, lights were the enemy that day) and I spent hours applying to the Peace Corps. Just like that, I had made the first step in changing my life. What none of you know is that after I sent in my application, I became OBSESSED with internet-stalking everything to do with the Peace Corps. I was so obsessed in fact; that I created a secret Peace Corps board on Pinterest. I pinned links to different PC blogs, recipes, remedies for bug bites but mostly I pinned inspirational quotes to keep me motivated on this long journey. Cliché, I know, but it helped. Anyways, one of these fabulous quotes is by this dude Gandhi, maybe you’ve heard of him? He says “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. I didn’t really know what that exactly meant when he said “lose yourself” as I felt pretty confident in my identity and the knowledge of who I was. However, over the past couple weeks, I realized that my “identity” or at least my silly concept of the word had been ripped out from underneath me and I felt truly lost.

Colombians are quick to label and I am constantly reminded of my more visible identity components as I am called Gringa, Mona (blondie), Teacher, Blanca (white girl) or, once after a large portion of salchipapas, Gorda (fatty). Up until this point, I have accepted this. The labels are who I am, they will not change (well hopefully the fatty one does) and that is ok. I will always be a heterosexual, Irish-Polish-Czech-German-Catholic, middle class, white girl, but there is so much to me that isn’t as concrete. The other pieces of our identity that aren’t so visible are the ones that are constantly evolving. If we allow them to remain stagnant or if we trap ourselves in one box, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, failure and a pretty dang boring life.

As volunteers, we come here knowing we are going to have to give up little pieces of ourselves in order to integrate into our new home and culture. I didn’t realize how big of a sacrifice it is to truly lose yourself in a new culture and succumb to all of the labels forced upon you, whether you like it or not. If you aren’t careful, you really do start to forget who you are and who you hope to be and you just accept what you are told and put yourself into that box. I started to see myself as only the blonde, American, sometimes fat, teacher and nothing more. Then, all of a sudden, the teachers went on strike, school was closed and I was no longer a teacher. I was just the fat, blonde American who was sitting around her house with nothing to do. I tried thinking of other things to do to occupy my time and contribute to my community and I came up with nothing. All of my ideas centered around the idea that I am a teacher, that is all I can do, if I can’t teach, I am worthless and I should just stay in my house until this strike business was sorted out and I could go back to being me. Obviously, this is not the greatest place to be, mentally and I started to be big grump.

I believe it was my Dad who told me that just by being here, I am making a difference so I should just give myself a break and know that change is happening, whether or not I see it. I realized that I could be much more than a teacher to my community. I can be a friend, learner, neighbor, explorer, mentor, “aunt”, “daughter” and just a plain ol’ fellow human. With the help of my super awesome site mate, Michael, I started participating in more activities. We visited a farm, picked fruit, went to a dance class, learned to play a drum and made friends with the local police. By allowing these people to share their culture with us, we empowered them to become the teachers which probably makes much more of a difference than directly teaching them English. I just had to realize that my identity is constantly developing and that I am much more than the labels others were placing on me. While I still accept the labels and the names they call me, I try to remind people that first and foremost, I am just Jessi. And that is pretty great.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe identity and truly “finding yourself” is something that every person struggles with throughout their entire life. A lot of people probably never discover themselves and just live their lives going through the motions. I think that Gandhi guy was on to something because even though I am still looking for something within myself, I feel much closer to finding it as each day passes.

Pueblo life is still going, more or less, smoothly. We haven’t had running water for about a week so I have been taking bucket showers with brown water. One day, I hope to feel clean again. Our power is out so this means extra sweat without the fan and a dark bathroom to use for a blind bucket shower. The teachers have been on strike for over two weeks but it looks as though the end is near. I, along with Michael, have begun teaching classes to the local police three nights a week. It is super fun to teach people who actually want to learn and aren’t just forced to be there. Plus, they feed us and let us hang out at the station and we kind of feel like we have friends. I’ve also been travelling about the department (state) and visiting my friends. My neighbor is extremely impressed with my knowledge of the inter-departmental bus system and says I know more than her!

It has been extra hot lately and I’ve been getting even more comments than usual about my excessive sweating. I even considered calling the doctor to see if something is wrong with me. Does anyone know if they have invented a face cream that stops your sweat glands from working? I would pay big money for that.

It’s way past my bedtime but I do believe this writing sesh has cured my insomnia. Thanks for reading, friends!

Michael, our awesome cumbia band and I after dance practice. Michael's awesome photo editing skills hide how drenched in sweat I am.

Michael, our awesome cumbia band and I after dance practice. Michael’s awesome photo editing skills hide how drenched in sweat I am.

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There’s no place like home

No, I am not talking about Ralston, Omaha, Fort Collins, Castle Rock or Barranquilla…I am talking about Rotinet. Finally, after two months, this little town is starting to feel like home. I have settled into a nice routine, I’ve made a couple of friends, people know my name and I finally convinced my host mom to let me cook some of my own meals! Not only that, but one of my biggest challenges of my house was not having a ceiling. Remember when I told you that my walls stop and then there is just empty space up until the roof? Well this was starting to have a major effect on my quality of life. I felt like I had no privacy because my host parents could hear everything I was doing, as they didn’t have a ceiling either. Also, the bats were keeping me up at night, when it rained, it rained in my room and everything was just covered in dust. I finally spoke the housing coordinator at the PC and she worked it out with my host family and I paid for my ceiling, but they are giving me a discount on rent. I was so worried about it, I thought it would be such a pain and would cost way too much money. I was so wrong. I went away to Barranquilla, enjoyed the hotel life for two days and when I came back, I paid about $160 USD and BOOM, I now have a ceiling. The only downside is that it traps in all the heat and I now have a sauna. I think a read an article that sauna-sitting is how Britney Spears lost a bunch of weight…here’s hoping!

In addition to teaching secondary students, I began direct teaching primary…K-5. It really isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I don’t really like the younger grades because they can’t do anything and they cry and stuff so that’s annoying. In fact, I am not going to teach Kindergarten anymore because they just aren’t ready. But grades 2-5 are just adorable. For example, a 4th grade student came up to show me that he had written all of the vocabulary words in his notebook. I told him good job and instead of going to sit down, he gave me a big hug! Get cuter, right?!?! So things like that are adorable but I still prefer secondary.

Outside of school, I have my run club and apparently I am on the girls’ soccer team. I have no idea why all my extracurricular activities are athletic, that’s definitely not what I’m all about in the States. I think the last post I promised to tell you how I got started doing a “run club” so here you go….One day, my host mom asked me to go to mass with her. I said no, because I was planning on going on a run (which is obviously really unusual for me). So I’m running down the big hill in the middle of town and I see a bunch of people in the middle of the street. As I get closer, I realize that the church service is going on right there, in the middle of MY running path (how dare they!) It was too late to turn around so I just kept going, right through the middle of service. People were waving to me and I tried to wave back as inconspicuously as possible. It was so embarrassing. Then, I encountered a herd of cattle on the path I like to take along the basin so I couldn’t go there, but I didn’t want to go back up the hill through the service. I ended up crawling through a pig sty, a chicken coop and climbing a rock wall to get back to my house. Total running time: 4 minutes. Anyways, the next day at school, the third grade teacher came up and said she saw me running, I was like uhhh yea so did half the town. And she scolded me for not inviting her. This woman is about 40 years old and on the first day of school was introduced to me as “La Gorda Bella” (The Fat Beauty). People are constantly making jokes about her weight…which is offensive and terrible in the US but it is part of the costeno culture which I will address in another blog. So I told her, I’m sorry I didn’t think you were interested and she said well I am! So I told her to come by the next day and we would start running. Now, you can find us every Monday, Wednesday and Friday out and about town, usually with a gaggle of children following us. She said she is already starting to feel better about her body and people have come up to me and said they have noticed a weight loss in her ever since she started running with me. So far, this has been my most rewarding experience.

Now, on to my soccer experience: One day, the PE teacher came by my house and said he knows I like to work out (I don’t) and I probably don’t get a great work out with the run club and would I like to work out with him some time (I didn’t). I said yes because I am desperately seeking friends and any sort of social interaction. He said that tomorrow, after he coaches soccer practice for the school girls’ team, we would run hills together (what a punishment). Now, in my attempt for further social interaction, I asked him if he needed help coaching. He asked if I played soccer before and I was like oh yea I played for years when I was little and I played on a team in Barranquilla. LIES LIES LIES! I couldn’t help myself. So the next day, I go to practice and I just hang back to wait and see what he needs me to do. Apparently, my espanol needs a bit of work and instead of helping coach, I agreed to PLAY on the girls’ soccer team. OMG So now it is me and a bunch of 13-15 year old girls running around on a concrete soccer field trying to kick the ball. I obviously look like a giant ogre compared to these dainty little teenagers and I was playing terribly, so of course half the pueblo came out to watch the gringa play soccer. I was trying to act all cool and said I was holding back because “I don’t want to hurt anyone.” I started jogging towards the ball and the next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground with a bruised ass, scraped up elbow and hands and an irrevocably damaged ego. We actually have soccer practice today and I am hiding in my room writing this blog post instead. I just can’t bring myself to go out there again. We all know I am no stranger to making a fool of myself but that had to be one of my top 5 most embarrassing moments of life.

I finally found the super, secret internet connection in school so hopefully my posts will be more frequent. While I currently consider Rotinet my home, they say home is where the heart is and my heart is back in Castle Rock, nestled in my bed at my mommy and daddy’s house, with my puppies laying next to it. My mom and brothers are visiting in May and as excited as I am, I’m already dreading the thought of their leaving. Thank goodness I have fun adventures planned for this summer! I’m sending you all a big, sweaty, virtual hug! ❤

The one about school

Hola amigos! I’ve rewritten this introduction 4 times because I feel awkward that’s it’s been so long since my last post and I don’t know what to say! I kind of forgot how to write a blog in my 5 weeks of being in my new site. I honestly haven’t written because I felt like a loser because I didn’t think I had anything cool to say but now that I’ve started writing, my brain is going crazy with ideas and I’m pretty sure this post is going to be one of my long rambles.

Ok, I’ll start by telling you about my school since it’s my main job. As I think I’ve previously mentioned, my pueblo is an agricultural/fishing village and as such, the school is a technical school that focuses on these two professions. The students were trying to explain it to me one day and apparently upon graduation, they will all be certified “farmers” (for lack of a better word). So that’s pretty cool but many students also plan on going to college after graduation. Colombian schools are very different than schools in the US. For instance, there aren’t really elementary schools and high schools, one institution hosts grades K-11 (most schools don’t have a 12th grade). However, there are usually too many students so the school day is broken up into “jornadas” and half the students attend school from 6:30-12:30 and the other half from 12:30-5:30. At INETAR, my school, the bachillerato, or grades 6-11, go in the morning jornada and K-5 is in the afternoon, however there are some exceptions to this. Because the high school students have more than 6 subjects, they don’t see every teacher every day. Most subjects are taught only three times per week. This is fun for me because that means every day is different. There are no English classes 1st period so I don’t go to school until 7:50, thank goodness. If you think all that’s weird wait until you here the next part….

TEACHERS DON’T HAVE THEIR OWN CLASSROOMS!!!! Instead, each grade has their own classrooms. This means that the students are together all day long and the teachers flit in and out throughout the day. Grades K-9 have two sections each and 10-11 only have one due to drop outs. When I first discovered this fact I was blown away, however now having my own classroom seems absurd. It’s kind of nice moving around and getting to see the two different buildings. However, the building for grades 6 & 7 is honestly the hottest place I’ve ever been in, including tanning beds, hot tubs and saunas. One day I wore khakis and I sweated so much it looked like I peed my pants. TMI???

Right now I am just working with one English teacher and grades 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 (interesting because 8th grade was my least favorite in the US). I hope to start working with the primary kids soon, partly because they need English but mainly because they think I’m cool. While the set up of schools may be different between countries, the behavior is the same and these high schoolers make just as much fun of me as the kids at Lewis Central did. I really don’t get it because I think I’m essentially the coolest thing since sliced bread, I guess people just fear awesomeness 🙂

Even though I’m mocked in both countries, I will say that the respect that kids here have for adults is literally jaw dropping (I’m not kidding, my jaw dropped at least 3 times in my first week). For example, students passing you in the hallways don’t look away or suddenly become interested in the floor. They stop, look you in the eye and greet you. Some even shake your hand! It’s incredible! Also, if you ask a kid to do something, i.e. erase the board, grab a chair or give you some chips, they don’t scoff in your face. THEY JUST DO WHAT YOU ASK OF THEM! Can you believe it?! Ok, here’s the kicker, if a student sees me standing, whether it be in class or in the hallway during recess, they run away for about 10 seconds and come racing back carrying a chair for me. I’ve never been treated like this in a nice hotel let alone a school! It’s mind blowing but I love it. Not only are the kids respectful, they’re just so dang affectionate! This is taking me A LOT to get used to because I’m not even affectionate by US standards (as my father points out every chance he gets). Here they take things to a whole new level and come up and hug and kiss you. It’s not at all inappropriate for a student to just grab my arm while I’m walking or run up and kiss my cheek. I mean, I guess it’s sweet but it still freaks me out. Especially with the heat! It’s already 100 degrees and I’m drenched in sweat? Why in the world would I want you to touch me? But I just have to remember it’s how they show they care and appreciate me.

With that being said, the kids’ behavior outside of class is pure wild. I’ve seen children climbing on the roof, running and diving through windows and hanging on the rafters. How they have so much energy in the sweltering heat is beyond me. The government has really got to put in some fans or something. Some of the rooms don’t even have lights. It’s been very eye opening seeing how much learning can happen in miserable conditions with nothing more than a whiteboard, a marker and a motivated teacher. It also has made me realize how lucky even the poorest schools are back home.

In addition to teaching during the day, I’ve started outside English classes per the request Of the adorable 6th graders. By request, I mean students showed up on my doorstep one day armed with pencils and paper (don’t get me started on personal boundaries).I was also surprised to see that some of the students who wanted extra learning opportunities were the ones described as “nightmares” by the teachers. I’m not saying that’s not true, but they are pretty cute regardless and how could I possibly say no to kids who are eager to learn? I also just started a running club. Those who know me may think that “running” is code for tv watching and chocolate eating but I promise, we are actually running around the pueblo sweating our butts off while people laugh at us. The story of how run club got started is pretty hilarious but I’ll save that for another day…

There’s a lot more to say but my friend let me borrow her external hard drive and she has the first two seasons of The Mindy Project so I’m going to cut this short. I also don’t even know if I’ll be able to load this with the data plan I’ve purchased for my phone. It took me 3 days to upload a 6 second video to Instagram. That’s why there’s no pictures this time. No wifi=no pics. Sorry amigos but that’s the pueblo life. Hope all is well and you have a very happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’ll be visiting friends, eating Colombian food, wishing it was corned beef and cabbage and dreaming of green beer. Love you and thanks for reading! ❤

PS shout out to the homie MC for yet another blog post title. Check out her blog that is way more organized and actually contains pictures!

https://mcrosher.wordpress.com

That pueblo life

I’m finally in my new home! I arrived Saturday morning and let me tell you, I’ve never been so nervous in my life. Not be dramatic, but the whole drive here, I felt like I was on my way to the Hunger Games (when I told my mom this, she responded “well you basically were!” This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am the way that I am). However, my fears melted away with the the sight of a the big welcoming smile on my new host dad’s face as he showed me where to put my things and told me if I need anything at all, I shouldn’t be afraid to ask. I unpacked, took a nap and woke up to a yummy lunch. They insist in feeding me every meal and who am I to turn down food? I’m a little disappointed because I imagined myself hiking up mountains to get to school and sustaining myself on half a cup of rice and a small slice of fish a day. However, this is not the case and I am constantly having to explain to them that I do not need to eat 3 large potatoes with every meal. Slowly but surely they are discovering smaller portions. The town is so small and quiet and there is not a whole lot going on, however on Sunday my host dad (more like my host grandpa because he’s 74) took me to the “cancha” or soccer field to watch the local teams play. The games were exciting but my favorite parts were when they had to take a time out to catch the wild pigs, donkeys, dogs and cows that ran out on the field. I thought it was hilarious but no one else seemed to get the humor.

On Monday I woke up at the crack of dawn, literally because we have roosters, and walked over to my new school. There are two buildings on opposite ends of town, so they take about 5 minutes to walk in between them. I went to the primary building first because that’s where I heard the office was but the principal kindly told me that my English counterparts are in the secondary building. So I marched over and even though it was a short walk, I arrived absolutely drenched in sweat. Barranquilla is like Siberia compared to the heat that I’ve experienced here. I walked into a random classroom, interrupted a teacher and asked where the English room was. Lucky for me, I had picked the right room! I was introduced to the 9th grade class and then she took me around and introduced me to the other teachers who were all very welcoming. We went back to class and I got to know the students and we practiced some adjectives. It’s funny how even though they grew up thousands of miles apart, teenagers are all the same. They were shy and giggly at first but as they got comfortable, they crowded their desks around me and asked me questions about life in the States. After class, we walked over to the primary school where I met more staff (so many names!) and spent time in the principal’s office as it is the only place with AC. They just kept feeding me and giving me pop all morning. I’m going to leave here diabetic and weighing 400 pounds if this behavior continues. Regardless of the inevitable weight gain, I feel very lucky to have been placed in a small community where it is clear that everyone takes care of each other. The principal even asked me if I wanted one of the students to escort me home at the end of the day! I assured him I could make the 3 minute walk on my own. When I arrived home, my host family immediately bombarded me with questions as they wanted to make sure I had a good first day. I can’t express enough how friendly and caring everyone here is!

Ok so here are some of the logistics of my living situation. Rotinet, my town, is right off the high way on the way to Repelón, a bigger town of about 15,000. Technically, Rotinet belongs to Repelón and we don’t have our own mayor, hospital or police force even though we are about 30 minutes away. I have electricity! Hallelujah! Also, most of the time, I have running water that comes from a huge container that looks like a giant trash can. However, when the water level gets low, it won’t pump through the pipes and we have to go out and fill up a bucket. The water is mainly rain water or comes from the basin. It’s untreated so definitely not drinkable. I have a water filter provided by the Peace Corps and it’s already filled with algae. The electrical situation is a little dicey and after my first shower, I touched a loose wire and gave myself quite the shock. I had to lie down for a while after that but it was pretty funny. I no longer have my own bathroom which is obviously a bummer but not too big of deal because I only live with my 2 host parents. Their son lives down the road with his wife and 4 year old twin daughters so they are over often. I’m about a 15 minute walk away from the water and our town is surrounded by “mountains” that are really more like bluffs but I can pretend. It’s actually quite a beautiful view. I saw a trail on my walk yesterday that I’m pretty sure belongs to some cattle but never less I plan on exploring it this weekend. There’s never a lack of local “wild life” in the streets and it is not uncommon to see a dog chasing after a loose goat or pig. I’ve learned to distinguish the sounds between crying children, squealing pigs and screaming (?) donkeys. As I think I said earlier, the main industries in this town are fishing, farming and sand gathering for cement making. My school is called Agrocuicola which apparently means agricultural and fishing. The fishing teacher promises me to take me on the field trip where the kids learn to breed the fish and let them loose in the basin. Life certainly has changed but I’m confident that this change is for the better.

The Peace Corps had the foresight to realize we all might be a little traumatized after experiencing pueblo life and arranged a short training in Barranquilla to better equip us to work in rural settings. That’s all good and merry but I’m using this time to soak up as much AC and internet as I possibly can before I return home. This weekend is Carnaval and my counterpart promised to have something for me to wear so I can participate in the dances. We all know I dance like a white girl so wish me luck, friends! Sorry for the lack of pictures, next time, I promise! Whenever you’re feeling down, just remember that a lizard crawled out of my suitcase as I was unpacking, I’m not sure if he’s from Rotinet or if he hitched a ride all the way from Barranquilla. I’m becoming such a wilderness girl 🙂