Mango Verde

Colombia opens up many opportunities to try new foods. There are a lot of delicious fruits here we don’t have in the States, as well as soups, queso costeño, and more. Some things I enjoy more than others.

Today, I want to share my appreciation for one of my favorites: mango verde.
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You can eat ripe mangos or green mangos. There are many people who walk around the streets selling mangos, but I tend to buy from Nestor Miguel, who travels to all the schools during break times. He has been selling mangos for about 18 years and has an identical brother who also sells mangos! This was the latest fun fact I learned. With so many years of practice, mangos are cut at a rapid pace, turning them into flower-like creations. This is very different from my sad attempts that easily take 10 minutes, while wasting precious mango. For anywhere from $500 pesos to $1mil (roughly $.35) I get this delicious treat with some lime, salt, and pepper.

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Mangos grow on trees and my host family during training had a large mango tree in the backyard. It’s not uncommon to look up and see someone with a giant stick in a tree knocking down the good mangos to snack on.

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Mango season starts back in full force around January. Here’s to another great season of yummy mangos, green and ripe!

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Representing the United States

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As a Peace Corps volunteer, we represent the U.S. to our host countries. That’s no small task. It is something to be aware of anytime we are out and about in our communities, when we travel, or if we spend too long having down time in our rooms without getting out and getting involved. It’s part of the job.

I have been very aware of this part of my job throughout my time here in Colombia, through the tragedies of multiple shootings and most recently, the drama around the elections. It’s nice to know that many people in my community, even some of my students, keep up with the news and the political situation in the U.S. Definite plus.

My takeaway message to curious questioners was that I voted, as well as many people in the U.S., and our democratic system is one I respect.  Are there issues and flaws in that system? Definitely. Are there parts to be reconsidered and updated as we live in a much different world than the Founding Fathers? Yes. Am I glad that there is not just one person with all the power? Yes. However, what I hope is that people start to truly see and understand how deep some issues in the U.S. run and how drastically we need to take care of each other, respecting others who are working towards a better tomorrow. I also hope that people see where there is good happening and continue to nature and grow in that regard.

Respect. I believe in my country and I am proud to portray what I hope is a caring, thoughtful, inclusive, respectful, open-minded individual from my country. I hope people get a feel for more than what is portrayed in the media, as, there is always more to the story.

Cultural Week

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The school year in Colombia runs from January to November. As such, we are winding down here, and that means all the schools in my pueblo celebrate cultural week. Each school had their own week, where students danced, had parades, presented dramatic skits, played music, competed in sports games, demonstrated cultural dances as well as some dances that would be deemed inappropriate in a school setting in the States. While that is something I will continue to struggle with, overall, it was a fun and educational few days.

The main high school I work with allows students to choose an area of study, art or agriculture. The art students had all of their items out on display, as well as baked goods. The small auditorium was full of students watching presentations and dances. Students and teachers milled about and enjoyed some time to relax together. The last day was sports day, where some of us teachers had a volleyball match on the sunlight filled court.

I have found Colombians to be very proud of their culture and they enjoy sharing it with others. One of the specialties on the coast is cumbia, a traditional type of dance where women wear large skirts and men have full-white attire, complete with a special type of hat. Cumbia is a silent conversation between the dancers, the men beckoning the women and the women responding with beautiful body and skirt movements. There are also dances just for women, as seen on the left. Seeing small children in their traditional outfits dancing cumbia is adorable.

With the school year winding down, it’s a reminder that I have almost hit my one year mark in Colombia. It’s amazing how much can happen in a year. I’m grateful to have this opportunity and I am excited for another school year!

A Giant Rock and a New City

After the English Immersion Week in El Carmen, Alex, Michael, and I traipsed to Medellín for a few days. As much as I love my site, I could have stayed.

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Friday night we overlapped with some other volunteers, so met up to find good food, drinks, and music. The area we ventured to had streets lined with lights. We were not disappointed.

Saturday morning I ventured to Guatapé and La Piedra (the rock.) It’s about two hours out of Medellín and worth the visit! La Piedra is exactly as it sounds, a rock. A giant one to be exact. Why is it there? No one really knows. Luckily, someone knew that they should climb it and then build a staircase so those with minor rock climbing abilities (me) could enjoy it as well.

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Stairs zig zag up one side leading to an amazing view. On the bus there I sat next to Stephanie, a lovely French woman who has traveled extensively, teaching French. We ended up taking on La Piedra together and exploring Guatapé together. There’s something to be said for traveling alone and who you meet along the way!

As we walked up the road to get to La Piedra, while everyone else was swooshing by in a car or motocarro, we got to take in the views, even from the ground view. As we started our climb I was reminded how little I have been working out. Don’t get me wrong, I walk all over my pueblo, but something about stairs always gets me. And these aren’t just a few stairs, we are talking lots of stairs, 740 to be exact. Luckily there are a lot of views to take in along the way (also giving an excuse to stop and breathe.)

At the top is an observatory tower, getting in the last 100 steps or so. It’s worth the extra stairs.

The descent is on an inner staircase, much sharper turns than the outer staircase. We got to the bottom and proceeded on to the pueblo Guatapé. Sitting on the water, Guatapé is full of beautifully colored houses with designs of llamas, horses, flowers, and more. The cobblestone streets weave through the different neighborhoods.

I arrived back in Medellín to find Alex and Michael preparing a delicious, macaroni-and-cheese with bacon dinner, complete with cucumber salad, and all the midwestern hospitality they embody. Not a bad way to end the day!

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The next day we headed to the Metro to see the cable cars, a transportation system set in place to connect people in the neighborhoods to the city center. Now it’s used for general transportation and tourists. Having lived in Boston, I felt for the people who were just going about their lives. But being a tourist, I still took lots of pictures.

We traveled on to see the botanical gardens and the Botero Plaza. Botero is a famous Colombian artist and sculpture.  Medellín now has a plaza with some of his large, rotund sculptures of people and animals.  From there we enjoyed Otra Parte Café, which had been recommended. Yummy appetizers and fancy teas and coffees in a area surrounded by trees.

Through all this, one of the most exciting things (get ready for it), was the fact that we had a washer and dryer in our apartment! We live big here in Peace Corps. Laundry was done, pizza was eaten, and a successful vacation was had.

When will I see you again Medellín? Hopefully soon.