Friday, July 22, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Musician

Music is something that I enjoy on a a personal level. I have played piano since I was eight and was a part of some musical ensemble from junior high until my junior year of college. I love making music by taking black and white dots on a piece of paper and turning them into something melodic and beautiful. Here in Repelón, I am not the only one who loves creating these sweet harmonies. One of my students, Selene Carrillo Polo, uses her alto saxophone to express herself musically.

Born in Repelón, Selene grew up in a loving family that consisted of her and her two brothers. Her parents were great teachers of values, helped explain her homework when she had doubts, and pushed her to do her best in school, knowing that education was a gateway to her future. During her childhood, Selene loved playing with her dolls, winning first place in various competitions and activities in primary school, and participating in local parties and festivals.

During school, she remembers having a great time participating in classes and other activities. It was during this time that Selene developed a deeper love and appreciation for music. She took up the alto saxophone during high school and hasn't looked back since. Currently she is a member of a local muscial group that performs for various holidays, festivals, and other special events around town.

Following her graduation from high school, Selene would travel daily to Cartagena to take nursing and technology systems classes at Fundación Boscania Caribe. Along with her studies, she continued to make time to enjoy numerous fiestas and continue with her music. Currently, Selene is a secretary at the Centro de Vida del Adulto Mayor here in Repelón. Here, she helps to better the lives of the older citizens of the pubelo through various programs, activities, and campaigns.

When it comes to pubelo life, Selene absolutely loves the cultural and weekly parties. Participating in the local band brings copious amounts of joy to her life, as she plays alongside her father and one of her brothers. Like many other locals, the high temperaturas, lack of overall development, and a sense of lost culture amongst the farmers are things that she wishes would change.

However, Selene does see some minor improvements that are being put in place to better the life of the local citizens. One initiative is the fixing of many of the major streets that run through town. By turning these once mud traps into viable and usable modes of transportation, the inhabitants of Repelón are able to move around town easier and with less problems. Despite this attempt at creating a more accessible pubelo, there is still more to do. She sees the lack of a superior education in the local schools as a major problem. Many students are not driven to continue their education after graduation and to Selene, this could lead to problems further down the road.

When it comes to the United States, Selene views this country as a beautiful country that has many opportunities to offer. Technology has been developed in a way that makes it easy to communicate both locally and globally. Finally, the greatest reason, in her opinion, that the USA is so important on a global scale is because of its language: English. Selene sees and feels that English is a portal to a brighter future and a better tomorrow.

Whether it is in the classroom or on the stage, Selene is leaving her mark on the people of Repelón. With young, dedicated, and motivated people like her around, the future of this pueblo and Colombia as a whole is bright and promising!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Lawyer

Enter into my community classes on any given night and you will be greeted with a sea of willing and eager faces, just waiting to soak in more English knowledge that they did not possess before entering into the classroom. On Wednesday and Friday nights, there is always one bespectacled, smiling face that will greet any visitor that walks through the door. This face belongs to Laura Mercedes Imitola Galeano.

Born in Barranquilla, Laura grew up surrounded by one brother and two sisters. Her mother, who is the oldest of her siblings, was a strong family head and presented a very strong role model for Laura to follow. Her father, the youngest of twelve siblings, provided her with a more docile and fun-loving side. These two presences helped shape her into the person that she is today.

Growing up, Laura loved to play soccer in the streets in front of her house with her siblings and neighbors, ride her bike and climb the tres in the surrounding área. The day that she looked forward to every year was December 24th, Christmas Eve. This was the day that she was able to spend time with her father's family, which she didn't get to see as much as her mother's family. These nights were spent enjoying delicious bowls of sancocho, sharing gifts, and enjoying each other's company.

During primary school, Laura remembers being timid and shy. Sadly, she was picked on by other students, which caused her early schoo memories to be unhappy and despressing ones. However, once she reached high school, she was able to discover a love for learning that she still possesses today. Laura formed self confidence in her abilities that has helped her become a successful profesional today.

Upon her successful graduation from high school, Laura spent six years studying human rights at the University of Atlantico in Barranquilla. This led her to her current job, in which she represents members that work in the public sector, specifically those in the cleaning industry. Her respresentation of these individuals helps to ensure that they receive equal benefits and are not taken advantage of in the employment system.

Living in a small community like Repelón has its obvious advantages and disadvantages. According to Laura, one of the biggest advantages is the people of the pueblo. The kind and giving spirit of her fellow Repeloneros is something that she really cherishes. She also enjoys the walk down to the Cienaga del Guajaro (the lake that borders town). Of course, the constant heat and overall lack of fruit trees in town are a few of the disadvantages.

Along with kind and friendly people, pueblo life is very tranquil and low-key when compared to the hustle and bustle of the cities. However, sometimes this tranquility can lead to unhealthy routines that center around television and sedentary activities. In Laura's opinión, this is because there are not many options in the pueblo for families and other citizens to enjoy. The number of parks are limited to what's available in the plaza, which is a few swings and a concrete soccer field.

In the future, Laura would love to travel to India to take in the architecture, food, history, and culture that it has to offer. She also sees the Indian culture as one that has been able to maintain a distinct character over the past centuries. In regards to the United States, she sees it as a very prosperous country that is open to the world population as a whole.

From the beginning of my community classes, Laura has always been someone that I can count on to participate and provide answers when others may be more hesitant. She definitely has a bright future and I am very confident that she will continue to do great and wonderful things for Repelón and the surrounding communities!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Journey Through Colombian Paradise

During my childhood in the states, summertime was my favorite time of the year. School was on a three-month hiatus. Sweet corn season was in full bloom. The county fair highlighted the middle of the summer docket. Family trips to the ballpark were a consistent source of enjoyment. Warm days and long nights were soaked in by all.

Here in Peace Corps Colombia, the term "summertime" has taken on a bit of a different meaning. In this land of "eternal summer", where the temperature nevers seems to dip below 80 and the sun scorches the earth for days on end, that summer feeling is constant. Even the school year refuses to take a three month break, instead settling for a three week break from the middle of June to the beginning of July. It was during this recent break that I took my latest trip into the interior of Colombia.

My fellow volunteer, Jordan, and I took advantage of this free time and spent five glorious days in the coffee triangle region of Colombia. This area, made up of land between the cities of Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia, is home to the production of some of the world's best coffee. The weather, scenery, and people made this a trip that I would do over again and again. Instead of rambling on for paragraphs upon paragraphs about our trip, here are some photographic highlights to show off the region!

A panoramic view of the landscape outside of our hostel
Yes, I know these are just cows, but after living on the coast and seeing emaciated livestock every day, it was a refreshing sight to see healthy, robust farm animals again!

Jordan and I enjoying one of the many rivers in the region
One of the many bridges we had to traverse during our hike in the Valle de Cocora

Hummingbirds at the Hummingbird House - it was quite a feat to get this photo!

The iconic wax palm tres that dot the valley - these trees grow to be as tall as 230 feet tall!

I felt pretty small standing next to this guy!

Buried under that delicious cheese sauce is some of the best trout I have ever had!

Beautiful views of the town of Salento where we stayed

Ready to embark on a tour of a traditional coffee farm!

Jordan practicing her coffee pod picking skills

Definitely not gonna quit my day job!

My first "tinto" (pure black coffee) here in Colombia - still not a fan and won't be converting anytime son...
I feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle the rest of my service here in Colombia (which is quickly coming to an end!)