Monday, September 26, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Police Chief

Imagine the following scenario:

You have just moved to a new pueblo in a foreign country where you are still trying to understand those around you. On your second day at site, you are approached by a member of the community stating that the police chief is looking for you. Heart hammering, you stammer in your best attempt at the local language, asking why? The community member has no idea - they were just tasked with bringing you to this meeting.

This actually happened to me. On my second day at school. With my coordinator playing it up to the point where I thought I was legitimately in trouble or had done something illegal despite not leaving my house. As it turned out, this initial meeting with the police chief, Melquecidec Vargas (or Mel for short), turned into a friendship that will soon span continents.

Mel was born in Sardinata, a pueblo in Norte de Santander (a department located on the border with Venezuela) in 1989. He grew up with two sisters, who both married at a young age. As a family, they lived in the country, a ways away from town, in a simple house made out of wood. As a kid, Mel loved playing soccer with his friends, both during and outside of school. This is a passion that has continued to this day, as at least once a week he can be found playing with the fellow cops in the plaza.

In addition to soccer, Mel also enjoyed going to the river and splashing around there with friends, and his current girlfriend, who he has known since he was a child and has been "dating" since he was 9 (according to him). He also played lots of other popular childhood games, like Hide and Seek, when not busy with his studies at school. He looked forward to school, as learning new material and seeing his friends were highlights. However, group work was a pain because it meant that he had to get up early to meet his classmates due to the distance from town that he lived.

As the end of high school was approaching, Mel knew that he had to make a decision regarding his future career. He had narrowed it down to being either an architect or a police officer. After taking some time to help his parents after graduation, he decided to join the police force and entered into the Police Academy. Following four years in the Academy, Mel was assigned to Repelón as police chief, arriving here a week before I did (talk about perfect timing!).

Life in Repelón is not all that different from Mel´s life in Sardinata. He is a big fan of the tranquility and relative peace and quiet that the pueblo offers. Mel also agrees that the people here are super friendly and he loves spending time near the Laguna del Guajaro just on the edge of town when he has time. The one thing that he absolutely despises is the condition of many of the roads in town, which he experiences often in completing his rounds.

In adition to learning English (through his own efforts and our casual conversations), Mel is also learning a bit of German as he would one day like to visit both the United States and Germany. The United States is one of the most developed and organized countries in the world, Mel feels, and he would love to be able to experience that for himself one day.

Being friends with the police chief has it pros and cons. On the plus side, I know that I have someone that I can always rely on to help me out if I were to ever get into a bind. It's also pretty sweet to tell friends and family back home that I'm best buds with the head cop in town - never a bad claim to be able to make. However, the life of a police officer is also a hectic one. Schedules are constantly changing at the last minute and finding time to actually hang out is really difficult.

Despite all of these challenges and obstacles, my time here in Colombia would not have been the same without Mel. From becoming my running buddy to sharing Dia de la Velitas with my parents when they visited in December to letting me use the copier/printer at the station whenever I wanted to, he has helped make me feel comfortable and safe while living here. For that, there are not enough words of thanks that I can offer him. I'm already looking forward to his visit to the United States! ;)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The Nurse

This world is full of people that have the ability to make anyone happy just with their mere presence. These special humans are just filled with a positive energy that is contagious to all of those that they come in contact with. I try to surround myself with these types of people as much as I can. Through my community classes, I have had the opportunity to get to know one of these people – Nahir Nuñez.

Born in Repelón in 1969, Nahir grew up in a household comprised of her father, mother, and three brothers. Her father emigrated from Venezuela as a young man to give his future family an opportunity at a better life. Her mother was responsible for instilling many of the values and principles that continue to guide her life to this day.

Nahir was very active in sports as a child, which was very uncommon at that time, especially for females. She participated in basketball, volleyball, running, gymnastics, soccer, and flew kites with friends from school and neighbors. She remembers having a fairly long childhood, as she continued all of these activities until she was 15.
School for Nahir was a pure pleasure. It is hard for her to think of anything that she didn’t enjoy about her school experience. A plethora of friendships and inspiring teachers are a few of the many highlights when she thinks back to her schooling days. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Nahir was forced to leave school before graduating. She got married and later went back and successfully received her high school diploma. She has since attended college and currently is working as a nurse in a pharmacy here in town that just happens to be on my route home every day!

For Nahir, the tranquility and hospitality of Repeloneros is something she greatly treasures. She considers her life here to be a marvelous one and is always attempting to find the positive in each and every situation that comes her way. She is especially proud of how she has been able to use her position as a nurse to reach underrepresented populations within the pueblo to help teach them about healthy habits and ways to improve their lives.

In the future, Nahir would absolutely love to visit the United States and Hawaii. Her biggest dream is to experience snow! Due to the extreme, constant heat here on the coast, this is one phenomenon that she has yet to see firsthand. She sees that United States as a powerful nation that offers many opportunities to advance and progress in life.

Nahir has become an inspiration to me personally during my time here in Repelón. She is super ambitious, as evident in her dedication to learning English by taking classes outside of those offered by myself. Not too long ago, she received high marks on a project that she completed and the high levels of joy and pride that she had while telling me of this success could be seen by everyone. Nahir is definitely one of those special people that you meet in your life that will continue to do great things no matter where they are.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Faces of Repelón: The High School Student

One of the many things that I love about my community classes are the rich diversity that my students bring. Spanning several decades, each has an interesting and unique history that adds to the dynamic of the class. One of those students, Luisana, despite being only 16 years old, has definitely enriched these classes in multiple ways.

Born in Caracás, Venezuela, Luisana has two half-brothers, but has never lived with either of them. Her mother passed way when she was 7 years old and she moved to Repelón shortly afterwards to move in with family on her dad's side. One of her fondest memories of her mother was when they would sit together on their front porch of their house in Caracás, talking while her mother did her hair.

In addition to this, she loved taking photos (an obsession that has continued to this day!), making food, and enjoying the sweets that her dad would bring home with him from his work every day. Lusiana also had a large collection of Barbies that would keep her entertained for hours. Going to the park and the beach were other fond memories that she has from her childhood.

Currently, Luisana is in her last year of bachillerato (high school) and is set to graduate this November. Her time in school has been filled with great memories with her friends, exchanging jokes, and taking an obscene amount of potos. She greatly enjoys her teachers and looks forward to continuing her education in the coming years.

Life in a small pueblo is vastly different from that of the city. One thing about Repelón that Luisana loves are the people and the tranquil, safe feeling that life in a small town provides its citizens. She also loves the feeling of solidarity that is shared amongst many Repeloneros. However, the heat, mosquitoes, and lack of a movie theater and mall make life here sometimes unbearable.

In the future, once she has finished with any future studies that she may partake in, Luisana would love to visit the United States. This has been a dream of hers for many years. She sees the United States as a beautiful, developed country that is very advanced in terms of technology. If she can’t make it to the mainland US, Hawaii will do just fine as well!

I know that I probably say this about all of my students, but it has been an absolute pleasure to have Luisana in my classes. When she is absent there is a definite gap in the level of enthusiasm and positive energy in the class. It’s been a joy seeing someone so young take such an interest in bettering herself and setting herself up for nothing but success in the future.