Queen Jessi

Hi everyone! I am finally, almost feeling rested from the 2016 Carnaval celebration. Carnaval is essentially a 4 day Mardi Gras celebration. Each town and neighborhood elects a queen and after a coronation, there are parades, dancing, drinking and staying up all night until Ash Wednesday. A lot of the traditions are rooted in the country’s history of slavery and most of the dances and costumes you’ll see represent the Afro-Colombian population’s way of mocking the Spanish ruling class. Barranquilla, the capital city of the department I live in, boasts the 2nd largest Carnaval celebration in the world (Rio is first). Last year was my very first Carnaval and it was pretty tame because I had just arrived to Rotinet a couple days before. I didn’t know a soul besides my host-brother and sister-in-law. However, they are the best and they took me out and I got to see the queen coronation one night and went dancing the next night. Even though it is a 4 day event, I could only hang for 2 nights and called it quits.

This year, I knew it would be different because this place has become my home. I obviously know so many more people and have become a bit more comfortable dancing so I was preparing myself of 4 days of non-stop partying with my family and friends. Then, a couple days before the festivities, my host mom was talking about the coronation ceremony for Friday and she mentioned something about me. I wasn’t paying that close attention but I thought she had asked me if I wanted to crown the queen of our neighborhood (our town is split into two neighborhoods, Barrio Abajo and Barrio Arriba). I said sure, that sounds like fun! And then, later on she said “so, we’ll need to find a dress for your coronation.” And I said uhhh excuse me?? MY coronation?!?!? She was exasperated and said “you just agreed to be our queen! People here love how great you are with the kids and are always up and dancing even though you look confused a lot, you just go with the flow and have really adapted well here so they want you to be their queen.” I was stunned but also incredibly honored and excited. The next two days consisted of running around to dance lessons and costume fittings. Additionally, my neighborhood wanted to make sure everyone knew that the gringa was their queen so they planned a parade for Thursday night (remember, we are in rural Colombia, there is no need for permits or road blocks). I was super nervous to how people would react and I was terrified of leading a small little parade where all eyes would be on me. Traditionally, for the pre-Carnaval parade, it is just the queen, her family and some of her closest friends. By the end of the parade, I was leading over 100 people, a live band and multiple dance troupes. I couldn’t believe the support and love from everyone! One of the previous queens came up to me and said that I broke records and they had never seen that much support for a queen before. It was honestly the best feeling I’ve had in my 17 months here and I truly felt like a part of the community.

The next day was my coronation but before that, I had to go to another city about an hour away to march in the parade with my school. We had custom made dresses and a whole dance routine planned. After about 2 hours in the parade, I knew it was getting late so I snuck out and took a bus home. I arrived sweaty, hungry and exhausted but excited. The Queen Coronation of 2015 was one of the coolest events I attended last year and I remember thinking how it amazing it would be to perform in one of the dance troupes, never in a million years would I have imagined that I was going to be the queen! Even though I felt so much love from everyone last night, I was still incredibly nervous for my multiple costume changes and dance presentations. Obviously, I am not the traditional queen and with that comes a certain size difference and dance skill from previous years and I was eager not to let my community down. Plus, one guy expressed distaste when he heard I was queen, saying that all queens should be costeña and I was DYING to prove him wrong.

Once again, records were broken and people came from all over town to see my crowning, not just people in my neighborhood. I had 4 costume changes, countless dance routines and an interview in front of everyone. They even built a “palace” for me to sit and watch some of the other dance troupe performances. The best surprise of all was when Michael and Alejandra came from the next town over to support me and they made Michael my King. It was SO nice to have him up there with me and he made me the best dance partner. I also would’ve had about 12 meltdowns if hadn’t been for Alejandra running around, finding my outfits, fetching my water and beer and basically being super supportive as I was having some extreme self-esteem issues with one of my outfits… a shirt little skirt made of tied up ribbons and a crop top: the perfect outfit to dance “mapalé” a traditionl, Afro-Colombian dance which involves a lot of full-body thrusts. Previous queens spend their whole lives learning these dances and I had a quick, 5-minute tutorial before going out and shaking EVERYTHING in front of, essentially, the whole town. Once again, everyone was SO supportive and even though it was clear I had no idea what I was doing, they applauded me as if I were Shakira.

The announcer, another teacher from school, got up and gave a little speech about how much I mean to the community and how I have become a “Rotinetera” and a ton of other nice stuff that made me get all choked up, which was embarrassing because I was wearing about 3 pounds of make-up on my eyes and they had to redo my whole face before the actual coronation. As soon as the crowning was over, everyone went home to rest up for the next 4 days of parties and I was exhausted and actually laid down on someone’s porch until my host mom took me home.

Saturday, the first official day of Carnaval, we had the big parade called the “Batalla de Flores.” Somehow, I became the queen of Rotinet, not just Barrio Abajo and so once again, it was my duty to lead the parade. However, this time I had an “armed” guard (one man and 6 little boys with sticks) and they made sure no one crossed the parade perimeter to bother me. I try to be a cool, down-to-earth person but quite frankly, I was made for this. I LOVED being the center of attention and hearing throngs of people chanting my name. I know, I know it is so pretentious but hey, we all have our flaws right? After the parade, I went home to change and then went to the “club” in our neighborhood to get the party started. Other than a couple of dances and some speeches on the microphone, the responsibilities were limited and I was able to just dance and enjoy being around my friends. The next two days were a blur of dancing and partying and tons of picture taking. On Tuesday, we had ANOTHER parade to “mourn” the closing of Carnaval and then I was to play hostess at the final party of the season. At this point, I was deliriously tired but I made it through the parade and a few hours of partying but I gave a speech thanking everyone for their support and for making these some of the best days of my life and took my tired butt home at midnight.

Wednesday, I woke up with a sore throat, body aches and a fever but also countless memories so it was totally worth it. The love and acceptance I felt over the last week is something I will carry with me for as long as I live. I am forever grateful to the people of Rotinet for opening their hearts to me and helping me to make Colombia my second home. They are already concocting a plan to get me back here for next year J

P.S. The one nay-sayer who believed all Carnaval queens should be costeña came up and apologized to me and said I was one of the best queens the town has ever seen. VICTORY!

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Some of the neighborhood kiddos and I before the parade announcing I was queen

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My host mom and I standing in front of the speakers. They were playing music at the time and it was so loud, the sound waves were moving my skirt!

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A big tradition of Carnaval is the throwing of “maizena” or cornstarch in people’s faces. I don’t really get it but people LOVE it.

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Dancing queen

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My host sister, Isa and my host nieces from my previous host family. They’re all just the cutest!

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The head of the “guard.” He was very intimidating and smoked a cigar for the entire parade!

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My acceptance speech at the coronation. Next to me is the “Reina Infantil” or the child queen. She was the queen of the school.

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Dancing with my neighbor’s dance troupe during the parade

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Holy crap, that year went fast

Hi friends. Remember me? Your friend, Jessi, who is living in Colombia and working as a Peace Corps volunteer? I don’t blame you for forgetting about me. I forgot about this blog for a really long time. It’s not that I’ve been overly busy or suuuuper bored with nothing to write about, I’ve just gotten so used to life here that I sometimes forget it is still adventure and a couple people (my parents) want to hear all about it. Time really got away from me but I’ll try to do a quick recap of the last 3 months of 2015 and I shall try and write more in 2016, promise!

Last time I wrote, I had just celebrated my 27th birthday with my amazing host family and I was on top of the world. WELL, that didn’t last long let me tell you. To celebrate my birthday, my best gal pals and I decided to meet up in the mountains outside of Santa Marta for a weekend of wine, hiking and good food before our final Peace Corps training. My friend has a cat so I opted to sleep outside in a hammock. It was actually really comfy and I was a tad chilly so I snuggled up in my hoody and blankets. The next day I woke up feeling really crummy and as the day went on, I realized I was having an asthma attack. My friends convinced me to call the Peace Corps Medical Officer who told me to get my butt off that mountain and to the urgent care clinic. Luckily, I have the best friends ever and one of them, MC, accompanied me down to the city in some random stranger’s pick up truck. At this point, we were both pretty certain I was toast. Anyways, long story short, the ER that I went to was awful and I was so miserable and sad AND they gave me two shots in my butt so I was pretty much ready to end it all. I called my mom the next day crying and she decided I needed to come home for Christmas and escape my endless stream of illnesses for a couple of weeks.

The rest of September passed uneventfully and I spent the first week of October touring Medellin and the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Region) in the interior of Colombia. I had an absolute blast even though my friends forced me to do an 11 mile hike. It ended in a gorgeous valley of some of the highest palm trees in the world and then they made me rice krispy treats so I suppose it was all worth it 🙂  One thing that kind of surprised me was that I found myself really missing Rotinet and my awesome host family and was happy to return to site. I missed them so much, in fact, that I took them as my guests to the 25th anniversary celebration of Peace Corps Colombia. Isabella dazzled all of my friends with her charm while my other sister, Elsa, and my mom learned about the history of Peace Corps Colombia. That part was cool but I just really liked having a chance to show off these wonderful people who have saved me from several mental breakdowns.

 

As some of you may know, I detest all things scary and as such, Halloween is one of my least favorite holidays. I’m obviously only in it for the candy. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that in Rotinet, the tradition is that children dress as little angels and go around trick or treating for candy and the ingredients to make sancocho, my favorite Colombian soup. We celebrated at school and all of us teachers pitched in to buy the ingredients and the kids made a big ol’ cauldron of soup for everyone to share. They even butchered and plucked the chickens! It was so cool to see these kids step up and be leaders. The older ones took charge and helped teach the younger students. They were doing things that I’ve never in my life imagined doing (plucking chickens?!?!? WHAT?!?!?) and they did it all so expertly, I was truly impressed and felt so lucky to share this fun tradition.

 

November was a pretty chill month. School was wrapping up so there wasn’t a lot of work to do. I got diagnosed with an ulcer so my theory that Peace Corps rapidly ages us was proven true. All of the volunteers got together at a hotel on the beach a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving to celebrate and stuff our faces. The organizers even managed to find a little turkey! I made 10 pounds of mashed potatoes that I smashed using a tiny pot, as we had no mixer. It was a good work out so I really felt like I earned my meal :)It was fun to celebrate with my amazing friends and reflect on all we had accomplished in the past year.

Once December hit, I had extreme vacation brain. School was out, no one wanted to learn English or talk about building fish ponds and chicken coops so I took a hint and spent 2 weeks relaxing and spending time with my host family. I did take some time out of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer binge to work on a grant for Camp GLOW 2016. I am lucky enough to be one of four co-directors of this amazing leadership camp for teenage girls on the coast. It is quite an undertaking but we have a solid team and are all very motivated to make 2016 the best camp yet.

FINALLY the time came for me to go home! I was so excited I barely slept the week leading up to my trip! I arrived on John’s birthday and my whole family was at the airport to pick me up and then we went out to celebrate our little Johnny turning 25. My mom sporadically broke out in tears, typical. I got my hair chopped off on Friday (I hate it, I look like a surfer bro) and then spent the next two days basically attached to my mom at the hip. My dad couldn’t believe how quickly I reverted to my 13 year old self. I hope he found it cute and endearing and not pathetic and weird. We celebrated Lukey’s birthday early because obviously a cool, hip and social 20 year old can’t possibly be expected to stay at home with his lame family for his birthday so after he went to a party, John and I locked ourselves in the basement for a Law and Order SVU marathon. I spent the rest of the week relaxing and just being a normal American. It was nice but it got pretty boring. The day before New Year’s Eve, my best friend Sam flew out to spend my last few days in the US with me. We had SO MUCH FUN! I am so lucky she took the time to come see me and it reminded me why I’ve been friends with her for so long. She even booked the latest flight possible out of Denver so we could go to the airport together (my flight left at midnight) and she didn’t chastise me when I threw a temper tantrum when it came time for her to board her plane and leave me. I actually handled leaving a lot better than I thought I would. I was ready to come back to Colombia but I hate good-byes more than anything and avoid them at all costs so it was really tough when John dropped us off at the airport. But, I lived. Especially because I knew that in less than one week my parents were coming! Oh, and I guess it didn’t hurt that my mom was so exhausted after searching for the best flights that she accidentally booked me first class the whole way back! I have never felt like more of a queen and I hope to travel like that forever and always.

It was my dad’s first trip to Colombia and my mom’s second time out of the US. We had an absolute blast! We ate, drank, shopped and burnt ourselves to a crisp on the beach. My dad was surprisingly relaxed with the crazy driving and he actually enjoyed Colombian food. We spent some time in Rotinet and they absolutely loved meeting my host family and people in town. I think they especially loved it when, every time they met a new person, they would exclaim “OH MY GOSH JESSI YOUR PARENTS ARE SO YOUNG!!!” I actually took offense because this means they think I am too old to have such good looking parents but my mom was in heaven when people mistook her for my sister. After our pueblo visit, we spent the rest of the week in Cartagena and my parents got to meet a bunch of my PC friends. It is really just embarrassing how much my mother thanked them for being my friends.

As always, I was dreading the moment that I would have to say good bye to my parents for another ten months. My mom and I made a huge scene at the airport, which I continued in the taxi and then on the bus home. My dad was the tough guy and only got a little choked up. However, they loved it here so much they are going to try another trip before I leave! I am so lucky to have adventurous parents who are willing to visit their wild daughter as she muddles through her journey of self-discovery.

I really do love it here but every time I have to say good-bye, I hate it and want to just book a flight home so I can avoid the whole situation. However, the second I got off the bus, I ran into my friend who I haven’t seen in months. She was super pumped to see me and made me promise to come visit her ASAP. When I walked into my house, everyone shouted “Jessi’s home!!!” and showered me hugs and kisses. I even got a nice little grunt from the newest member of our family, Esperanza the pig. My host mom said how much she enjoyed meeting my parents since they are also a part of her family, as I am her adopted daughter. I know I say it all the time, but I am SO LUCKY! I spent the afternoon laying in bed with Isa watching Frozen for the millionth time. When she finally got sick of it, I decided to book a flight to Peru for our Easter break. All in all, it was not a bad a way to come home after a rough morning.

It’s back to school next week but I promise I will try to update my blog more consistently this year. In fact, I will add it to my very short list of resolutions. My other one is to not just b**ch about things that bother me, but actually try and change them. So far, I’ve been sticking to it!

Exciting things are coming this year, I can just feel it. As always, thanks for reading. I hope 2016 is the best year for you all! Besitos

 

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We made it!

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Taking a well-deserved rest

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My sweet Isa

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My mamas are so tiny! This is us in front of the “club” in town

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Elsa loves to do nails and she gave my mom a pedicure

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Island life

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I wasn’t exaggerating when I said they made a cauldron of soup

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Hating every second of my life whilst crossing this bridge

 

 

 

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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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! ❤

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? 😉

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 💪