January 11, 2016 I headed to Miami for Staging, the official start to becoming a Peace Corps trainee, or as our staff called us, aspirantes.
January 12, 2016 we flew from Miami to Barranquilla, a trip shorter than the trip from Boston to Miami. In about 2 hours we went from U.S. soil to Colombia, from the cold of Massachusetts to the warmth of Florida to the heat of coastal Colombia.
While I knew I was heading into an education program in coastal Colombia, I tried to have as little expectations as possible. This was some great advice I got from some RPCVs. Coming in ready to take in whatever came at me has led to a year full of interesting, funny, challenging, exciting, frustrating, and great experiences.
Some top things that come to mind (sorry, it got a little out of control but I stopped eventually):
- Being driven to my host family’s house in my training pueblo. There was a welcome sign and friendly people with hugs and smiles ready to greet me and have me in their lives.
- The first day after being dropped off to my first host family and them having no idea my Spanish level was so low. My host sister and cousin sat me down and pointed out objects and their names (tree, leaf, rock). Their patience and interest in interacting with me even with such a language barrier was overwhelmingly kind.
- How close our cohort became from the second we arrived at staging.
- Having my interview about site placement and knowing exactly (ok, 99% sure) where I would be going…just the place I was hoping for.
- Going from a beginner mid to an intermediate mid level in three months thanks to my host family, community, and my amazing language teacher, Carmen, who continues to support me as a teacher and a wonderful friend.
- Spending five months in my site with my great site mate, Jo Anne, who introduced me to many awesome people who I continue to work and play with now.
- Traveling to Medellin to explore and El Carmen for a conference. Hot showers and blankets, folks! Need I say more?
- Sitting on the wall at sunset in Cartagena. My happy place. Made even better with friends and wine.
- Mango verde. Greatest snack ever.
- Having an awful day at school where everything goes wrong and then having a friend offer a sweet lemonade without asking questions.
- Carnival with the parades, concerts, dancing, and lots of water, flour, and shaving cream being thrown around. I continued to find flour for a long time.
- Camp GLOW and all the amazing women who took part.
- Connecting with someone new.
- Seeing my community class students smile as they make learn and make strides and cheer when they earn their certificates of completion.
- The comments and questions about what snow, the United States, and my family is like.
- Successfully co-planning and teaching a class.
- Drinking juice at Alfredo’s. He makes them best.
- Hiking and occasionally biking. Usually followed by juice. Thanks Sam!
- Welcoming Yadezi, my new site mate, with friends.
- Arriving to set up for a class, workshop, or event, and then waiting for people to attend said class, workshop, or event. Then waiting some more.
- Sunrises on the top of the hills.
- Check in’s with PCVs.
- Learning how to crochet mochilas and weave straps for mochilas.
- New norms: bucket baths, mosquitos, constantly sweating, kissing people hello.
- Dancing. Music. Gaitas. Cumbia. Vallenato. Champeta.
- Sitting at Cerro Maco watching the heat lightning. Really any time sitting at Cerro Maco with friends.
- Making pizza.
- Jumping into games with kids, any game, any kids.
- Getting to visit home and see family and friends and celebrate together.
This of course just encompasses some of the things that these 365 days have held. I’m grateful for the relationships that have formed, the friends I have made, the things I have learned. The things that have made me frustrated and doubt my choices, forcing me to reflect, and the things that have brought excitement and joy. Missing my family, friends, home, and access to all the cheddar cheese I can eat. Learning about new dishes and exploring new places. Colombia has a lot to offer and I’m excited to have more time.
Here’s to what’s to come!