Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Integrating Like a Boss

This last month or so has been characterized by one main theme: restlessness.

Despite having sworn in almost a month ago, the excitement and go-get-em attitude that many of us possessed has fizzled out. The reason for this is the fact that school doesn't start here on the coast until the middle of January. That leaves all of us with a lot of free time. I mean A LOT! Many days have been spent finishing full seasons and series of Prison Break and House of Cards, courtesy of Netflix and hanging out with other volunteers. Thankfully, this past week a multitude of opportunities to get out of my house and feel productive presented themselves to myself. Let's just say that I took full advantage of them all.

English Immersion Camp

One of the CII5 volunteers, who lives in a pueblo just outside of Barranquilla, had invited myself and a few other volunteers to join her for her week long English Immersion Camp. True to Colombian style, the camp was cut down from a full week to three days about five days before the camp was supposed to start. I was actually okay with this because that meant that I only had to get up at 5:30 am three days instead of five. I recently moved in with a new host family and they live a lot farther south than my last family did. This has translated into longer bus rides and more quality time spent with my iPod. This camp was not different. Two buses about an hour and 45 minutes to travel time later, we arrived at the school ready to go. However, there was one small complication: no students showed up.

Apparently, there had been a communication error between the counterpart and the students and none of them realized that the camp started on Wednesday. Instead of heading back to our comfy beds and houses, we decided to take advantage of having the rest of the day and do some exploring of Barranquilla. We ended up going to a spot in Barranquilla where the Rio Magdalena, which runs through Colombia, meets the Caribbean Sea. After taking a few taxis and a "train", we walked for about 30 minutes on a rocky peninsula before finally arriving at the end point. The view was super impressive and we were greeted with massive waves and lots of local fisherman working for their daily catch for their families. It was a really cool site and I'm glad that we were able to experience it!

Cab Spooning

The next, we arrived back to camp, hoping to have some students. Luckily for us, about 20 to-be 10th graders (for the most part) showed up. We were broken up into four smaller country groups and myself and another volunteer, Tiara, had the privilege of leading Team South Africa! They were a great group of kids that were super competitive (sometimes a little bit too much for their own good) and very eager to work on their English! The first day was spent discussing places in the city and how to give directions. We took the kids outside and they all worked together in their groups to create a city map using chalk and their imaginations. I was very impressed with all of the places that my group came up with that were not on the original map (including a Starbucks, McDonald's, and sports stadium, aka Madison Square Garden). We then did some fun activities with the map in which they had to find certain places and give directions to a partner to get them from one place to another.

Teaching the students about city places and giving directions
Working on the city map in the concha
Team South Africa!
The afternoon session brought along some team builders, telling time activities, and overall review of the morning session. We boarded the bus back to Barranquilla. Being that it was Thursday meant that it was also soccer night! 10 of our group came out to the field and we all played for the entire hour. It was more tiring than usual because we didn't have any subs or time to rest, but it was still a great time! I think I scored 3 or 4 goals, so I'm apparently getting better!

Demonstrating one of the team builders, Evolution
Friday signified the last day of camp. We discussed the "5 W's" and prepositions. Each country group created a skit of some sort to showcase their knowledge and understanding of the 5 W's. The skit that my group came up with consisted of a concert in which One Direction, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and Miley Cyrus all performed. My group had a great time coming up with the songs that we sang and figuring out how to accurately show all 5 W's to the rest of the students. I was once again very impressed with the creativity that these students possess - it's amazing what can happen when you take away the textbook and incorporate some real hands on learning. We did some relay races dealing with prepositions and ended the camp with a scavenger hunt around the school grounds. It was really amazing to see how close we all got to the students after only two days. I can't even begin to fathom what it will be like after a full 2 years!!

Leading an activity related to the 5 W's
The whole group (minus Rick, Tiara, and Derek)
Team South Africa group pic (sans Tiara)
Colombian Weddings

Saturday, I was presented with the opportunity to attend my first Colombian wedding celebration. This change was very exciting as I have been curious to see how Colombian weddings differ from those in the states. The wedding was for the daughter of one of my host dad's fellow firefighters that he works with. I really had no idea what to expect and went into the experience with an open mind and ready for anything!

Holding true to Colombian time management, we left the house around 9:00 pm (after being told to be ready by 7:30 pm) and arrived at the venue about 20 minutes later. The venue was a bar/club near our house that was all decked out in Carnaval themed pictures, motifs, and mannequins. One of the first things that I noticed was that there was no head table. The bride and groom were just sitting at a random table, really surrounded by no one, minding their own business when we arrived. I was quickly introduced to the happy couple and we sat down at a nearby table with one of my host dad's co-workers and his wife.

The rest of the night was fun! It turned out that the wedding reception was not the only thing happening at the venue that night - there was also an 80th birthday party and a graduation celebration. Apparently exclusivity after marriage is non-existent here in the coast. As the night wore on (and the drinks kept coming), I worked up my courage to strut my stuff on the dance floor. My host sister and her boyfriend picked out the perfect partner for me - an elderly 75 year old woman who was a member of the birthday party. I accepted their challenge and successfully completed one dance with her without breaking any bones or damaging my dignity. The meal (which was absolutely delicious) was served around midnight and we headed home around 2 am. It was a cool experience to see how a different culture celebrates weddings.

Me, my host sister Gina, and her boyfriend Luis
My host dad Rodolfo, my hose mom Marlen, and myself
My lovely dance partner!
Dia de las Velitas

Colombians celebrate tons of holidays. Every month has at least one official holiday (most have multiple). Outside of Christmas, another big night during December is Dia de las Velitas (Day of the Candles). This holiday commemorates the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It is marked by huge family parties, loud music, and the lighting of little lanterns. It starts at dusk on the 7th of December and lasts well into the night, sometime ending just as dawn breaks on the 8th. This holiday officially marks the beginning of the Christmas season celebrations.



The official celebration for this holiday was held at my host dad's sister's house here in Barranquilla. We arrived around 10 pm and I was led around to the various family members. My host mom is either extremely proud of me or just really likes to have a gringo in the family, because as soon as we got there, she immediately grabbed my hand and introduced me to pretty much everyone at the get together. Trust me, there were a lot of people present. I'm used to family gatherings of around 13-18 people, max. I met that many people in the house alone before even reaching the back patio, which was also packed with people.

The night was highlighted by a variety of events:

- We were treated to a private performance by the Canaval Queen of the Children. Accompanied by a traditional Colombian band, she danced a few common coastal numbers and then moved on. I'm not sure if she was related to someone in the family or just decided to stop by off the street. Anyhow, it was still pretty cool to see how excited everyone got to see her.

- I got to meet the old volunteer who used to live in my house, Nora. My family ended up Skyping with her during the party so that she could say hi to the other family members. It was nice to finally put a face to the name that I've been hearing about since I moved in.

- La Voz Kids (exact same concept at the show "The Voice" in the States, except for kids aged 8-15) was an extremely popular show here in Colombia over the past few months. In that spirit, we were treated to numerous performances from a young guy that tried out for La Voz Kids and didn't quite make it onto a team this year. He sounded really good and I'm hoping that he tries out again next year and makes it, so I can say that I received a private concert from him before he made it big!

- The true highlight of the night for me came around 2:30 am. I was cold (yes, it is possible for 75 to feel chilly), tired, hungry, and ready to go to bed. However, I knew not to make a big deal about those things because Colombian parties (especially family get togethers) are famous for lasting well into the late hours of the night. So as I was contemplating how I was going to muster enough strength to last another possible 2-3 hours, the most amazing thing happened: sancocho. This traditional soup was placed in front of my shivering hands and openly welcomed by both my taste buds and gnawing hunger. It was some of the best tasting soup I've ever had and it helped me hold out until my host mom, host cousin Alejandro (who's 7), and I left around 3 am.

All in all, it was a great night and the perfect way to end the weekend. I'm very excited to get to know my dad's family better over these next two years. I'll also make sure that I'm better prepared for next year's festivities and that I eat something a little more filling beforehand.

With my host dad and his cousins/other family members