Monday, October 27, 2014

El Campito

With the stress and excitement of last finally calming down, we moved into this week with lots of new experiences and journeys ahead of us.

Monday and Tuesday was our counterpart conference. We all were introduced to our main counterpart that we will be working with for the next two years. At the conference, we did various activities that allowed us to get to know each other and the schools/communities that we'll surrounded by. My main counterpart's name is Karina and she was very nice. She has a really good level of English and we hit it off well from the get-go. At the conclusion of the conference on Tuesday, everyone headed off to their respective schools in their cities. Karina and I hopped in a cab and headed south to my new barrio and home!

The school, IED El Campito, is in the neighborhood El Campito. This neighborhood ("barrio" en Spanish) is near "The Ocho," a popular street filled with restaurants, malls, bars, clubs, and about anything else anyone could ever want. I was instantly captivated by the neighborhood. The houses are painted with vibrant colors. There were people out and about. Some kids who had just finished school for the day were out playing soccer in the streets. It was a bit of a different scene than the barrio that I currently live in.

The school itself was really nice. It's very small compared to other schools that I have seen here in Colombia (especially my practicum school). There are about 900 students from grades K-11 (remember 11th grade is the equivalent of "senior year" in the states). There are two "jornadas" or "schedules". Secondary (grades 6-11) are in session during the morning jornada and primary (grades K-5) are in session during the afternoon jornada.  I will be working the first jornada with the secondary students! One of the really nice things about this is that all of the English classes are divided up by level (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced). This means that there are 18 different classes (6 grades x 3 levels) that I will be able to choose from and work with! I couldn't be more excited about this!

When we got to the school, I was greeted by a few students that took me on a quick tour of the entire school. The school itself is pretty small. There are only about 18 classrooms spread over two floors, with a bilingual room, auditorium, computer lab, "library", and a soccer field out back for the kids to play on during recess. One of the nicest features of the school is the bilingual room. This room is equipped with about 20 computers, a TV (used as the projector), and WiFi! I couldn't be more stoked for this set up! Plus, I found out that the computer lab has a SmartBoard in it! None of the teachers know how to use it, so it's just been sitting in the lab, unused for the last couple of years. I see some helpful tech workshops in my near future!

I have three counterparts in total that I'll be working with over the next two years. I was able to meet the other two during my visit and am beyond excited to start working with them! They all speak English and are very ecstatic about our upcoming time together. All three (Karina, Mireles, and Yilina) told me repeatedly that they hope that I don't leave early! Luckily for them, that's not part of my plan. There is currently a volunteer at the school, Tom, who will be leaving in about 3 weeks to return back to the states. During my visit, I was able to sit in on a Basic 6th Grade class, Intermediate 7th, 8th, and 11th Grade classes, and Advanced 6th and 9th Grade classes. It was a nice way to see the different classes and what level the students are at that I'll be working with.

An acrostic poem that one of the students wrote for me
 All in all it was a great visit! With only three more weeks of training left, I can feel myself getting anxious to get started. We all become official volunteers at our Swear-In Ceremony on November 14th. This is definitely going to be a bittersweet day! On one hand, we're all going to transition from Trainees to Volunteers. We'll finally be able to put all of our hours of technical trainings and Spanish skills to use in the Colombian classrooms. However, it also signals the moving on to our permanent sites and the leaving of certain friends to other sites outside of Barranquilla. It will definitely be hard to see those people leave, but I will be super excited to go visit them in their new homes!

To celebrate our week of new beginnings, one of our trainee's families decided to host us all over to their house for a celebration! It was so much fun to have a majority of our group in one place, enjoying each others company. We had music provided by our very own DJ Alex and spent a lot of the night dancing and living the Colombian life! I'm looking forward to these types of get togethers as we count down the days until November 14th!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Results Are In...

Stress is one of those things that's unavoidable. It comes in all shapes and sizes and presents itself at the most inopportune times in ones life. Whether it's making decisions like where/when to buy a new house/car or deciding on what to eat for breakfast, stress constantly rears its nasty little head in our daily lives.

To say that our PCT group has been feeling slightly stressed this past week and a half would be a grand understatement. This past Friday, we received our site placements and the tension was pretty high leading up to those big announcements. To help us try and relieve some of that pent up stress, we partook in some "de-stressing" activities...

Paintballing Like A Boss

Last Saturday, following our morning training, a group of us headed out to a paintball course on the outskirts of Barranquilla for a friendly, stress-reducing round of paintball. Here's the catch - I have never once played this game in my life. The thought of being shot at with little pellets of paint has honestly never really sounded appealing to me. I'm also not the biggest fan of purposing inflicting pain on myself or others, so I've honestly done my best to avoid this all together. But I figured that I'm in a new country, so might as well try out some new things.

So 16 gringos piled onto a bus and headed out of town. We weren't sure where we were going and found out while on the bus that we were going to have to walk about 20 minutes from where the bus was going to drop us of at. No big deal minus the fact that as we disembarked from the bus, it started to pour. As our luck would have it, it poured for the entirety of our walk and then stopped when we reached the paintball place. Typical.

We got changed, geared up, and I attempted to psych myself up and convince myself that this was actually a good idea and that I wasn't going to die or walk away with some horribly inflicted flesh wound. We were given a safety briefing, had the rules laid out, divided up into teams, and headed out in the course. The course that we played on was multi-leveled with a plethora of obstacles and barriers. The game itself was actually a lot of fun. You were officially out when you got hit twice or ran out of ammo. The first go around, I took a paintball to the eye (luckily my helmet and eye shield prevented any major optical damage) and one to the upper thigh, courtesy of Christopher. Needless to say, I didn't make it to the end of that game and neither did my team.

The second team was a bit more competitive. I never got hit, but ran out of ammo about halfway through the game. We ended up losing that game as well, but all in all, it was a lot of fun. It also really helped us blow off some steam and think about something other than the upcoming site placements. I'm really hopeful that we'll be able to play this again before we all split up and head off to our respective sites.

First soccer. Now paintball. What is Colombia doing to me??

Secret, Personal Encouragers

Another thing that we did as a group was to assign every member a secret, personal encourager. Jessi had this awesome idea and it really helped qualm a lot of stress throughout the group. Basically, this was just like Secret Santa - everyday, every member of our group received a little gift (bus money, food, encouraging note, etc.) to help them get through the week. At the end of the week, we all stood around in a circle and revealed who we had by stating positive qualities that they possessed. My secret encourager was Barbara and she did a great job of staying hidden and unknown all week. I was surprised when she revealed herself Friday!

Site Announcements

Friday finally came with lots of anticipation and nervous energy. Everyone was anxious to find out where they would be spending the next two years of their lives. We weren't scheduled to find out until 3:30 pm, which seemed like poor torture. We did our best to pay attention to the sessions being presented to us, but it was difficult. I'm pretty sure that a 2 year olds have longer attention spans than we did sitting through those sessions. Finally, the last session ended and we all headed out to the concha where we eat lunch to find a circle of chairs all ready for us.

Olga and the rest of the training staff arrived right around 3:30 and the selection began. Olga, our Project Manager, briefly explained the process that she used to place us and reminded us all the we took a "leap of faith" by joining the Peace Corps. This was a great reminder to have. Instead of just going in alphabetical order, our group decided to mix up all of the folders that held our future fates and use a random drawing method. I was the fourth person selected.

As I got up to receive my folder, Olga announced the entire group that I would be staying in Barranquilla, working at IED El Campito! I couldn't have been any happier! Staying in Barranquilla is what I really wanted. I was hoping for my practicum school, but it turns out that they didn't receive a Peace Corps volunteer at all. As everyone received their placements, some were met with screams (Alex and Caleb), shock (Caitlin), and just overall pure joy (Mike). This massive stress that had been weighing on all of us for the last 7 weeks was finally lifted!

Super stoked to stay here in Barranquilla!!

Gonna miss this two when they go off to their pueblos, but I can't wait to visit!
Midwest connections staying in Barranquilla!

True to form, we headed out from training ready to tear up the town! We grabbed drinks and grub at Perrilla and then spent the rest of the night mingling with other current volunteers, finding out more about our future sites, and enjoying everyone's company! With only 4 weeks left of training, these large group opportunities are dwindling. I know that I've said this multiple times before, but I have been so blessed to be surrounded by such an amazing group of people. We have honestly become a close knit family and it's going to be really sad when we all split and head our separate ways. However, the furthest anyone will be is about 2 hours, which in the Peace Corps world is a blessing!

This next week is going to be a blur, as we have a conference with our new counterparts on Monday and Tuesday, then head to our sites Tuesday afternoon through Thursday morning. There is a lot of new things to learn and embrace and I couldn't be more excited to start this new chapter! My list of cities to visit has been expanded by a few this past weekend. Honestly, I wouldn't want to have it any other way...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bloody Little Pests

After having been in Colombia for about a month and a half now, there are two things that I will never ever complain about again in my life.

1. The constant heat: I knew coming down here that one of the biggest things I would have to adjust to would be the heat, but I wasn't quite prepared for what has greeted me. If you don't find yourself in at least one pool of sweat a day, you're doing something wrong. Since a majority of the houses do not have AC, fans are a man's best friend. Power outages can make for long days and nights as one struggles to find a way to cool down. Normally, my favorite room of the house is in the shower, under the cool, cascading water. Seriously - I've never been such a fan of cold showers before! It's almost to the point where 75 feels cool and requires a blanket, sweatshirt, and comforter at night - no joke!

2. The mosquitoes: Holy cow! Never before in my life have I detested one thing as much as I currently detest mosquitoes. They are literally everywhere here. There is no reprieve! When we go to Colombo for our trainings, they swarm us like we are a prime rack of lamb ready to be devoured. During our sessions, the constant sounds of clapping echos throughout the classrooms as trainees perfect their mosquito killing skills. I'm currently working on the one-handed technique.

Despite bathing in bug spray every hour of every day, the little buggers still manage to be a nuisance. Even at night, while you're sleeping, they're present. I can't tell you how many times I've woken up with bites on the BOTTOMS OF MY FEET! If you know me, you know that I hate touching my own feet, let alone other foreign things. Trying to resist itching those bites is tough. My body has scabs for scabs from these nasty bites. My friend Katrina once counted 66 bites - that was just on her legs! The constant itchy feeling drives us all mad. During one recent Skype session with my friends Megan and Trisha, I managed to acquire 7 new bites. We talked for about an hour. Ridiculous...

This epidemic has become even more fun with the discovery that diseases such as dengue fever and chikungunya are being spread around the area thanks to this blood suckers. With no vaccine or current cure, the idea of being lamed up for weeks at a time with uncontrollable joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and a general wish to stop living excites all of us. Luckily, there haven't been any major reported cases in our area here on the coast. Let's just hope that it stays that way...

So if you ever see pictures of me and it looks like I have the chicken pox or measles, don't worry. It's just a new collection of bug bites.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Futbol Thursdays

Soccer is one of the (if not the) most popular sports in the entire world. It makes sense - the only real equipment that you need is a ball and a field of some sort. That field can be dirt, grass, or a concrete slab. Outside of that, add in a bit of skill and some friends and you've got yourself a classic game of futbol!

As many of my faithful followers are well aware, I'm not much of a soccer player. As evidenced in this post from my time in Korea, soccer and I do not always agree with each other. So a couple of weeks ago when we (C II-6) was invited to play a friendly game of soccer with some members of C II-4 and C II-5, my initial reaction was to politely decline and just sit along the sidelines, watch, and cheer. Honestly, the majority of the group took this route. It seemed to be the safer, less dangerous way to go against some people that appeared to take the game a bit more seriously then ourselves.

Now the game of soccer that our group participated in here was a bit different than a regular game of soccer that world has come to know and love. Due to the size of the field, teams are made up of 5 players each instead of the standard 11. This makes for a bit of a faster game overall. The first go around was super entertaining to watch and we all definitely had a great time!

As it turned out, these games happen every Thursday. So, when the next opportunity came around to partake in a game, I stepped up and took the opportunity. As many of you may know, Michael Owen was a famous soccer player in England. During his glory days, he played for the national team, along with Manchester United, one of the top club teams in England. I, by no means, will ever be confused with that Michael Owen. The only thing that I can do really well with my feet is run, let alone try to control a ball, pass, and even think about shooting/scoring a goal.

The game itself wasn't all that bad. There turned out to be about 14 of us, so we ended up playing 6-on-6 with two subs. I ended up playing most of the game and found out that I was really good at darting up and down the field, distracting the other good players from what was going on. As long as no one passed me the ball, I was happy. On the off chance that the ball was directed my way, I did the best that I could to redirect it away from my person to someone who actually knew what they were doing.

Just some proof that I actually did play

The following time that we played actually ended up being the best one so far. There were 20 of us from our training group that participated. That meant 4 teams of 5 and we rotated after either 2 minutes or 2 goals, which ever came first. I was a part of the All-Star team of Kathleen, Derek, Christopher, and Jimmy. By All-Star, I mean the team of players who had never played organized soccer in their entire lives. Needless to say, being on the field for 2 minutes was never a real problem for our team - we were just ecstatic to make it a minute! Despite our lack of team chemistry and a basic understanding of the game itself, this was just a great time because no one took the games that seriously. We were all there to just run around and have a good time.

One of the coolest aspects of these games is the fact that everyone supports everyone else. There are a few people that have some pretty awesome soccer talent, but they do their best to make sure that everyone on the field feels like they are a part of the team. They could very easily just take over the game with their fancy footwork and laser shots, but choose not to. For me (and I'm pretty sure the others that play), this is much appreciated. So thanks Alex T., Drew, and the other "semi-pro" players in our group - your all-inclusive attitudes makes Thursdays one of my favorite days of the week!

I'm actually excited to keep playing every Thursday. It makes for a fun end to a long day of training and sitting in the freezing conference room at the office. Who knows - if I keep this up for the next two years, I may be soon competing for a spot on the US National Team. World Cup 2018 here I come!

Barbara almost getting one past Drew!