The Making of a Mochilita

I live in a pueblo known for its artisanal products, especially beautiful bags and hammocks. The bags are called mochillas. While in Spanish class the word is used to describe backpacks, here it is used for a specific type of bag. See above. They come in all different colors, patterns, and sizes. As an avid knitter, I wanted to learn how to make one and started asking around. One of the English teachers I work with brought me two balls of gilo (the string they use) and a crochet hook. It took about two months where it takes an artist a few days to make a full scale one…but I finally finished my first mochilita!

Why a mochilita?

(Quick Spanish side lesson: in Spanish the endings -ita and -ito are often added for emphasis and on things being small, such as uno momentico (a little/quick moment.)

I decided to start with a mochilita as it would be small, give me good practice, and I hopefully would have enough gilo for the whole thing with what I had been given. My friend, Dalia, was my go to for questions, often crocheting a few rows as quick as can be while explaining something.

The making of the mochilita was a great start to integrating into my community. While I was working on it people would ask about it and crochet a bit. When I was not sure what to talk about, I could pull it out and we could start talking about that. Production and integration wound together, perfecto.

Here is what the process looked like:

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The plato (bottom)

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Finishing the main body

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Rolling the string

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Threading to pull the bag closed

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Complete mochilita with my mochilita mentor!

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Let’s GLOW!

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I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) this year, a Peace Corps program designed to empower, increase self-esteem, challenge traditional gender roles, and encourage girls to become leaders in their communities. It was a week of fun, challenges, new friendships, and new ideas.

Camp GLOW was started in Romania in 1995 and now is in Peace Corps countries all around the world. This year was Colombia’s fourth year with GLOW. A group of 15 volunteers, six junior counselors, and 28 campers made our way to Minca, a beautiful pueblo near Santa Marta in the Sierra Nevadas. The Sierra Nevadas, being mountains and all, made for really windy roads. Let’s just say many plastic bags were used in the process of transporting six of the girls to camp. Luckily, it seems to have been only in that one van. Well, lucky for everyone else at least. However, after finally arriving in a school with a dormitory, we set up base for 5 days. The girls were separated into teams based on a colored bandana. Carrie and I took on the Pink Panthers. Each team came up with the name and a cheer that could be heard throughout the week. We could take up to two girls from each pueblo and girls were placed in the different groups than their pueblo buddy. The girls made new friendships fast, finding connections with girls they might otherwise not have had a chance to meet. It was so fast in fact the first night as all the counselors met, the girls could easily be heard in the dormitories three floors up.

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Proud and Powerful Pink Panthers!

Each day was full of games, workshops, camp songs, exercise, team time, and more. The days started around 6am and ended around 11pm. There were workshops on leadership, community service, health, self-esteem, and more. The girls got to go to a waterfall to splash around in the freezing water, walk to a beautiful vista, and ran an amazingly successful mini camp. Kids from Minca came to the school for a few hours as the girls ran games and facilitated activities for them. They had a blast! It was amazing to see how quickly the girls stepped into a leadership role, starting up games and encouraging all of the kids to join in on the fun. The night ended with a bonfire where girls rid themselves of insecurities and insults by throwing them into the fire and finished it off by making s’mores. We went hours each day without water or electricity and made the most of it. The girls played hide and seek in the dark and observed the stars through a meditation led by Lindsay, one of the counselors. The last night was full of awards and a very active talent show. Non-stop, no kidding!

The girls also started to plan a project to complete in their communities. That’s the next big step to come. My girls want to paint a part of their school to make sure there is a strong impression made when someone walks onto campus. All the girls had interesting and unique projects. I am excited to see where they go.

Overall, a rousing success!

Island Living

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I had a chance to visit Isla Grande, off the coast of Cartagena. This group of islands are surrounded by coral reefs and have beautiful views and spots to visit. We have two CII-6 volunteers, Alex and Caleb, who live there and have been doing awesome work with eco-hotel owners there. The owners are native islanders who have small, unique hotels. Jo Anne, my site mate, and I were able to get a mini vacation and some work time in by meeting and hosting a workshop for the eco-hotel owners. Jo Anne used her extensive background in customer service and marketing to tailer an interactive workshop to the needs of the owners. Everyone was very friendly and excited to show their places and talk about how to strengthen their customer base. I was able to help and even take part in a skit about poor customer service where I played the realistic role of the confused, limited-Spanish speaking tourist.

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Jo Anne in action!

IMG_0603On the island, the strong sun has been put to work through solar power. Some people use solar power, including the volunteers, while other people use generators. To the right is the solar power bank in Alex and Caleb’s home.

As seasoned volunteers, Alex and Caleb would stick their heads in to check the power bank, occasionally coming out shaking their heads and saying that there would be no fan for the evening. It’s a toss up though, would you prefer a cloudy/slightly cooler day or a fan at night?

On the island we had time to walk, meet a lot of people, spend time at the beach, swim in bioluminescent plankton, make lots of tasty food based on what was on the island that day, and play lots of card games. I would highly recommend checking out the islands and staying in an eco-hotel!