I did it! I survived a second PST. I really thought maybe PST would be easier the second time around – it’s not.
I neglected this blog the last few weeks of training due to the fact that crunch time kept me from having an opportunity to sit down and think – much less write. I visited my site the week after announcements, it made a lovely first impression on me. Wrapped up my Spanish classes with a trip to the Museo Caribe in Barranquilla. Took my final LPI and hit the level I needed for swearing in. Final tests, medical wrap up, and final interviews.
And then the day finally came!
On Friday, April 15, 2016, I took the oath of service for the second time and received a new Peace Corps pin. My host mom was there, as was the Ambassador for the USA. For the second time I rose my right hand and swore to well and faithfully execute the duties of Peace Corps. No pressure. But really, I got teary. Afterwards, there was a small reception with cake and then a number of us newly-joined PCVs headed to my village for a pool party.
I was actually very proud of myself during the swearing in. Those that know me best know that I am a crier – I cry at Hallmark commercials folks. I managed to make it through the ceremony with minimal tears shed (a few watery moments but nothing not manageable). Maybe it was the relief. Who knows. But I made it through with my tear ducts pretty well in check.
That evening though – oh man.
After the pool party, I went home, showered and ate dinner. Then Anay rushed me out of the house. I knew the neighbors wanted to throw me a party, but I wasn’t sure what the rush was. Considering, no one ever seems to be in a hurry here on the coast it was kind of strange. I asked where we were going and she waved and said lejos. What? As we headed out, she stopped next door. Her daughter owns the space next door – it was being used as an office but now is vacant. There’s been a lot of work done on it lately – so I thought she wanted to show me the progress. She opened the door and all the kids were inside and shouted ¡¡Felicitaciones!! They had decorated the room with balloons and there was a cake for me. I welled up. Okay, it wasn’t a surprise party by any stretch of the imagination, but there were a lot of people there. All of my neighbor kids, their parents, the folks that own the internet café I went to. I was touched. Dancing began immediately of course. I had told Barbara and Angelica to swing by for some cake later, and the kids greeted their arrival with as much enthusiasm as my own arrival. They even made Angelica cry – which was super sweet.
Then they had a gift for me. First, Candi read the card they had all written, which was just mind blowingly sweet, then they presented me with a gift. Now, I have to say that for about 2 weeks, Anay had been asking me my shirt size, and asking if I’d bought a Colombia soccer jersey yet. So, I assumed that I was getting a soccer jersey. Instead, what I pulled out was a bright, colorful mochila with the Colombian colors, and the name of my training village (mochilas are bags that they use here – I don’t like to call them purses because both men and women use them extensively – but outside a Colombian context, they may be seen as purses). Cue tears. It really is beautiful! Anay reminded me a few weeks ago the kids had been selling raffle tickets (I had not bought any since I couldn’t afford to buy from everyone) – and this is what they had been raising money for. I’d seen these kids running all over town to sell those tickets! More tears. Lots of tears. More dancing. Then Maria Magdalena’s mom came back over dressed in a crazy outfit and she started giving this speech and then it appeared she was crying as she reached into her shirt – the next thing I knew I was covered in maizena (corn flour/starch)! I did not see it coming! We all celebrated until late.
To talk about the move to site – I need to mention a few things. First, about a month ago, Carmen (Pacho’s sister) had purchased a large van/small bus (busetta) as a business venture. She owned it, Jorge drives it (I’m fairly certain that Jorge is either of some relation or her boyfriend?). The next piece of the story is that about a week before swearing in (and the week after site visits) Peace Corps informed us we would have to take ourselves to site. Now, apparently this rumor had been circulating before site visits, as some folks brought things with them they intended to leave at site. I had the advantage of having to go through my training village in order to get to my permanent site so I stopped at home and grabbed a suitcase of things. I told my host mom that we had to get to our sites solo when the news became official and she got very nervous about it. I asked if I could pay for the use of Carmen’s busetta to move to site. This presented some challenges as apparently some organization associated with the alcaldía uses the busetta most of the time. My next idea was that I’d only take some of my stuff, then I would come back for the rest, as I was luck and my site was fairly close. So, either way I felt pretty comfortable that I had a solid plan, expensive – but solid. Still, every one of us had a certain level of discomfort with this idea. The image of a gringo standing on the side of a highway with two large suitcases, a backpack, and a carry on, waiting for a bus is the very definition of dar papaya. And not everyone had the situation I did. We brought up our safety concerns to Peace Corps and they agreed to deliver suitcases to folks who couldn’t take all their stuff over the next few weeks. They also provided transportation to the bus terminal for those taking Berlinas buses (a coach liner here in Colombia). About four days before the move, my host mom confirmed that I would be able to use the van, and I only would have to pay gas! Yay!
So, the day of the move came. Carmen’s buestta showed up and we got it loaded up. Some of the kids came to see me off and cried, which made me cry (of course). And then Anay, Pacho, and myself all piled in and we left. Having my training host family take me to my new host family was combination of awkward and sweet for me. I felt like an 18-year-old being taken to college. Part of you is terribly embarrassed that your parents are going with you – and part of you is slightly relieved for the help. Either way, I was quite happy for the company on the road. We stopped at an Exito (a Walmart/Target style department store) and I picked up some groceries for the first week and some basic home items.
I arrived at my new home around 11:30 in the morning. Anay and Pacho sat and talked with Eneida (my new mom) on the back patio for a bit. Then we said our goodbyes. I had lunch with Eneida and began the process of moving in. I’m still not quite there yet but getting close. I don’t have photos of everything moved in yet – so here are some photos I took during my site visit:
Sunday, my room was taken over by one of the neighbors as he worked to put air conditioning in my room. This consisted of beating a hole through the cinderblock wall so that that there was a place to put the window AC unit. I assumed that before the hole was made – the problem of electricity had been thought of. There are only 2 outlets in my room, both on the opposite side of where they were beating the hole. Apparently, I was wrong to assume this, because once the AC unit was in place, they held its short cord and looked puzzled. No worries – extension cord to the rescue. Except the extension that was long enough to reach became ridiculously hot to the touch once the AC unit was plugged in. That’s comforting. They found another one with a much shorter reach. A few days later, I went to the ferretería and had a new one made for me with a longer reach. Also, on Sunday, work began on a desk for me. During site visit there was a plastic table in my room. I was a bit upset to see it gone (really I was doing the math in my head on how much of my settling in allowance would be spent now on a desk). But Eneida told me that they had a desk for me. Sunday, another neighbor spent the day repairing holes in it, sanding it down and painting it. It’s a decent sized desk.
The only thing left to find was a bookshelf. I went to every shop in town to see if I could find something that I could use. I wanted to spend as much of my settling in allowance as possible in town, as it supports my community. I even went to the town my municipio is named for and there was nothing. I finally found a TV stand at a store near my school and he gave me a good price. I figure with the scrap wood that Eneida has and some black paint, I can make some extra shelves for it.
My first week at site was spent getting to know my school. The school only had one English teacher when I did my site visit, and in my first days at site. Apparently, the previous teacher had left a few months before and they hadn’t found a replacement yet. Thursday, the new English teacher arrived and I met her. I introduced myself as a Peace Corps Volunteer and she knew all about Peace Corps as she is a former LCF for CII-4! So, my two English teachers are Sr. Fernando and Sra. Ximena. On Wednesday, grades came out and all the parents came to the school. First, there was a big assembly where the rectora spoke about goals for the coming term and the importance of parental support. Some folks from the alcaldía came and spoke – about something, I followed it pretty well but it was hot – and they kept going on and on, and there were 3 of them, and they all said the same thing. Then I got introduced, and I introduced myself and talked about my job with Peace Corps to the 400 or so people in front of me. As if public speaking wasn’t stressful enough, do it in your second language. After a bit, they all broke off, I stationed myself in with the 6th grade parents as Fernando was the head of that class. Walking home I spoke with some of the parents and one person shared her umbrella with me.
Friday at school as Día del Idioma and there was a presentation/celebration of the Spanish language (this celebration occurs every year on the death date of Cervantes). Some students recited poems, others did tongue twisters, put on plays, sang songs, did dances.
Friday night, I went for a walk around town. I would walk a few blocks and get stopped by someone inviting me to sit and talk, which I did. It was a long walk. I ran into Armando, one of the guys who works at my house, at his house. His wife and youngest daughter, Catalina, were there (I’d met both previously as well, though I can’t remember his wife’s name). His wife gave me a tour of their backyard and all of their plants they grow – yucca, beans, papaya, peppers, etc. Then Catalina joined me on the rest of my walk.
All in all, it’s been a nice first week. I’m going to post a gallery of photos to flip through now.
I will try to update more regularly.
ان شا ء الله!
Carrie PC J17/CII8
Photo Spam! Click to see them bigger and read read captions!