Tuesday, September 16, 2014

All Part of the PC Experience

The title of this blog just about says it all. These past few days have been nothing short of a true representation of what the next 2 years will more than likely hold for myself and my fellow 32 trainees. Filled with high and lows, making it through these last couple of days has further proven that I am in the right place! Here's the recap...


Casey, Alejandro, Lindsay, Jimmy, Erick, Christopher, and myself all convened at the Peace Corps office around 7:45 am and were picked up by Christian, one of the PC drivers. We were all headed to different sites near Barranquilla (Casey, Christopher, and myself to Puerto Colombia, Erick and Jimmy to Piojo, and Alejandro and Lindsay to Tubara) to spend a few days with a current volunteer for a few days to see what "A Day In The Life" was like. This activity was meant to give us a better idea of what we could expect once we are sworn in as official volunteers and receive our site placements.

The ensuing 2 1/2 hour drive took us through Puerto Colombia, picking up Shanna, and then up into the mountains surrounding Barranquilla to both Piojo and Tubara, where we picked up current volunteers Tiara and Brianna. We eventually wound our way back down to the beach, Playa Tubara, and set out to find a spot to set up camp. Unfortunately, Christopher and I were unable to drop our stuff of at our hotel because it was not open yet when we arrived, so we had to lug all of our belongings for the excursion with us the entire day (more on that later).

One of the things that I noticed immediately about the beaches here was that there were multitudes of little thatch roofed cabanas set up along the beach. Normally in the states you have the pay an arm and a leg to acquire a set up like that. Turns out that these cabanas are available to pretty much anyone to keep their stuff under and use while enjoying the beach. The cabanas are also "linked" to a restaurant just off the beach itself and it is possible to order food/drink as well. So as well settled in to our little cabana, food and drinks were ordered and conversation flowed naturally as we took advantage of having some current volunteers with us.

Cabanas ready to go!
Bring on the beach - ready to go!

Lunch finally arrived and another full, fleshy fish was sitting on my plate, just waiting to be devoured. I'm growing accustomed to attacking this new way of eating fish. I have yet to be disappointed (or swallow a bone), so let's hope that streak continues! As we were finishing up eating, a perfectly timed storm rolled through the area, causing up to dart through the raindrops to another cabana that was a bit bigger and better suited for our group. We waited out the rain for about another hour or so and decided to head off to this "secluded" beach that no one ever went to. This is where the real adventure began...

Lunch is served!!

We packed up our belongings (aka I slugged my duffel bag over my shoulder) and headed out for this new beach. Turns out this beach was a bit more difficult to find than originally anticipated. We trudged through brush, sticks/limbs jutting out into the ocean itself, and flat grassland areas before realizing that we were lost/didn't have enough time/needed to get back to the road to catch buses back to our respective cities. This realization caused us to change course and head for the main road. Only problem was that in order to get there, we had to cross some mud fields. Like literal fields of mud (at least that's what we're telling ourselves it was) that suctioned to your shoes/feet and wouldn't let you go. 2 hours later, complete with a sore shoulder and muddy feet, we finally found the road! Casey, Christopher, and I caught a bus to Puerto Colombia with Shanna, while the others successfully found their ways back to their pueblos.

Trekking through the sticks and limbs
They keep their buses colorful and are always playing music
We finally arrived at the house that Shanna has been staying at for the past 6 months or so, tired, dirty, and smelling ripe. We met her host mom, ate some delicious watermelon, and then headed over to the hotel to check Christopher and myself in. We walked along the beach on the way to the hotel and took in some pretty awesome views. We got to the hotel, checked-in, cleaned up, and then headed out to a meeting that Shanna had to attend with some local members of the community. One of the things that Peace Corps members are encouraged to do is to take on secondary projects outside of their schools. Shanna is currently in the process of helping establish a recycling program in Puerto that will hopefully help encourage the citizens to start recycling more frequently.

Wish the sun had been out!
The meeting was held at the house of one of the other people involved in this endeavor. The entire meeting was conducted in Spanish, which was really impressive. I was able to follow most of the conversation for about 30 minutes of the 1 1/2 hour meeting, but after a while, fatigue and hunger set in and I totally started to zone out. Christopher, Casey, and I were all struggling to stay awake after the long day that we had had and as the meeting ended, we all looked forward to getting some much anticipated food. Both Casey and Christopher are vegetarians, which is a bit tricky in a country that LOVES meat. So finding a restaurant to suit their needs was a bit tricky, but we finally were able to find a place near the city center. I had myself a big burger and it hit home a bit. While we were eating, it once again started to pour...and pour...and pour. Eventually, Shanna's mom came, picked us up, and dropped Christopher and I off at the hotel. Let's just say that it didn't take long for us to fall asleep (the AC in the room definitely helped...).

The neighborhood where the meeting took place

Being able to sleep in Monday morning ended up being a blessing in disguise. It was so nice not to have to get up at the crack of dawn to rush of to somewhere. Christopher and I were able to take our time getting ready and we walked from the hotel down to street to Shanna's house for an awesome breakfast of eggs, oatmeal cakes, and a green smoothie! I did some quality bonding time with her host dog, Dulce, while lounging around in her hammock. It was the perfect start to the morning.

Following breakfast, we embarked on a walking tour of the city. We started out down by the beach and walked along the road that passes right by. Lining the street are various statues and other works of art that were created by local artists in an attempt to help beautify the city. As we meandered down the street, we came upon a wooden walkway that led to the beach. Naturally, we followed it and ended up walking along the shoreline for a while until we reached the pier that stretched out into the ocean for a ways. The pier, which was partially destroyed in a storm a few years ago, was teeming with local fishermen. We walked out to the end, sat down, and carried on a conversation with one of the men, Larry. He showed us his catch of the day (including a baby catfish) and showed us how to effectively fish. Here, they don't use fishing poles - just a spool of fishing line that they cast out into the water. It was pretty neat to see! After awhile, our stomachs starting getting the best of us, so we headed in, searching for food.

A collection of the artist statues near the beach
Looking at Puerto Colombia from the pier
Larry's prized catch of the day!
Chatting it up with Larry
The fishing crew hard at work
Our search for food led us to a market that sold fruit and a delicious panaderia (bakery). We collected some goods and headed to the neighborhood where Shanna used to live to visit with some of her old neighbors. Everyone in the town greeted us with a smile and a warm embrace. It is definitely one of the things that I really like about living here so far - the people are undeniably genuine and nice. After making the necessary rounds, we headed back to hotel. The sun and heat had definitely zapped any form of energy that we had in our systems, so we all ended up taking some much needed naps to prepare us for the rest of the day.

When we all reconvened, we headed off to Shanna's school for a class that she was scheduled to have at 4:30 pm with her 11th grade students. Upon entering the school, we made our way to the principal's office and ended up chatting with him for about 30 minutes. He was a super nice guy who spoke English and Spanish, so we were able to help him a bit with his English and he helped us with our Spanish. We were treated to a snack and a Coca-Cola (definitely not the norm in the States), along with a plethora of travel experiences that he has had. It was a really nice welcome to the school. We then headed up to Shanna's classroom and waited...and waited...and waited. No students showed up, but it turns out that most of the 11th graders (remember this is their last year of school) are currently completing internships, so Shanna was not surprised by the lack of attendees.

This is actually a really nice sized classroom by Peace Corps standards!
We left school and once again headed back towards the hotel. We passed through Shanna's old neighborhood again, meeting more people along the way that she has gotten to know during her time in Puerto Colombia. Seeing the connections that she has made in such a short amount of time really has helped inspire me to do the same when I get my final site placement. The original goal was to find food and then attend a Zumba class at the local town concha. However, plans quickly changed (as they tend to do here) and instead of Zumba we actually ended up running into a friend of Shanna's that spoke amazing English. We sat and talked with Valentine for almost 2 hours and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! He invited out to his home in Santa Marta whenever we want, so I'm definitely looking forward to taking him up on that offer!

As we made our way back to the hotel, Shanna realized that she wasn't quite prepared for the next day's class and needed our help. As the final project for her 10th grade students, she is having them create video projects of legends/myths of a certain region/department of Colombia. She was conducting a small workshop to get the students excited about the project, but needed an example to show them. Enter the three trainees visiting her. We ended up creating a real simple, quick version of a local myth here on the coast that deals with a woman that died on her wedding day and supposedly haunts empty buses/taxis at night that drive by where she died. Let's just say that it was some of the most entertaining material that I've seen for a while. We had a great time putting together this short little 45 second clip before calling it a night and turning in.


6:00 am came super early this morning. Christopher and I met up with Shanna and Casey and made our way to school. The workshop that she was running started around 7:00 am and the turnout was very impressive. There was supposed to be a guest speaker, but she ended up cancelling the night before, so improvisation was implored to help pull this workshop off. The whole things went really well. It was a lot of fun for me to be back in a theater setting. The four of us did a short demonstration of drama with the skit "The Dog is Dead." Basically, a daughter/son informs their mother/father that their dog has died. The mother/father then calls the doctor, who then comes and states that the dog is indeed dead. The play is then done in different styles (i.e. comedy, drama, horror, etc.) to help with portraying different types of theater. The kids (and the four of us) really enjoyed that activity.

Once all of the basics of the activity had been explained to the kids, they were broken up into four groups. I had about 25-30 students in my group. We did some more drama-style activities to help get them used to acting in front of others. The first activity was the FREEZE game. The students walked around the circle and when someone yelled "FREEZE," they had to stop what they were doing. If they were called on, they had to say what they were doing (i.e. throwing a football, painting a wall, etc.). The next activity was "The Dog is Dead" skits within the group. The students in my group had a blast with this activity. The final exercise was scenes from a hat. This was hands down the highlight of the morning. I ended up showing off my mad dance skills with a couple of popular dances here in Colombia (Ras Tas Tas and El Serrucho). Needless to say, I was the talk of the workshop after that! :)

Great group of kids!
The rest of the morning was spent chatting it up with the principal once again and enjoying one last meal in Puerto Colombia before heading back to Barranquilla by bus. It was an awesome site visit! I definitely took a lot away from these past few days in regards to how to properly integrate myself into the community that I will be placed in for the next 2 years, along with some ideas for things to do with my students once I get to my site. I honestly just want to jump into the classroom and start teaching right now!

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