Cogela Suave = Take it Easy

*Please hover your cursor over pictures for captions. (Top photo is a tank top made by my friend, Elias, who is quite the artist.)

Today I crave Texas BBQ with a gluttonous amount of BBQ sauce, sweet honey rolls, and ribs…and brisket…and all the sides. This post is about my time so far during the month of January. I have been officially a Peace Corps Trainee for one month. I haven’t been able to reach out much due to limited access to internet, but have been logging all the funny and memorable parts of my life so far and am finally publishing it!

To note: There is free wifi floating around in my village but it is unstable and the stable wifi is near a “tower” which is outside and I can only endure talking outside during my only free time (lunch time or weekends) for a little while before I melt away. There is an internet cafe with a strong internet connection but I can only get to it on Saturdays, but these past weeks, it has been closed on that very day because of Carnaval = Carnival celebrations. I got myself a modem to buy internet data so I can plug it in my personal computer but have decided to use that internet wisely and for only important items.

So basically, the struggle is very real and I am not ignoring anyone who tried to call or email. I only can look at the missed call or read the email (if I am lucky to open it) and thank you in my mind. Please still send me your love, though, because it keeps me sane.

First of all, how are you?

I am doing very well. I have not gotten sick and haven’t gained 100 pounds… praise the Lord.

I live in a village in the coast of Colombia, but I am not near a body of water. Cows and dogs roam freely, neighbors greet each other frequently, personal drinking water is sold in little bags where people suck the water out, my brain is crammed with a lot of Spanish and sometimes I can’t speak English correctly and I respond to people in Korean at times, a lot of the diet is fried, people love cafe con leche = coffee with milk, they think iced coffee is simply absurd (I made it once and people freaked out a little), and I am sweating all the time.

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So, to rewind…

January 16 – Bienvenidos = Welcome

I went through a four-day retreat to learn about a general overview of security and health, meet my counterparts, and meet the Peace Corps Colombia staff. Based on our Spanish level, we were placed in different villages. 28 other counterparts and I were dropped off one-by-one to our host family that we would be living with during our three-month training. There are seven Peace Corps trainees in my village, including me.  I was blessed with a great host family.

I live with a host mom (Alicia), her two sons (Ivan and Mauricio aka Mau, ages 13 and 17), and grandmother (Elsa aka Mamicita).

 

 

The first day I arrived to my training site, I played soccer and sprained my ankle. I was trying a bit too hard to make friends the first day. Haha. However, I did make one goal and introduced myself to many children.

 

 

January 19 – Se Fue la Luz = The Lights Went Out

The lights in our village community went out and it was a fun family experience.

Alicia, Mamicita, Mauricio, Ivan, and Regulo (Alicia’s nephew) were sitting out in the front of the patio with me.

There was a lot of breeze and my brother and grandma kept saying how cold it was. I am pretty sure it was still 90 degrees with some breeze, but it was unusually cold for them. Haha. They wrapped themselves in blankets and it was hilarious because Mauricio had a polkda dot blanket and was wrapping himself like a little burrito and my grandma kept flashing her flashlight to our faces when we stood up to go to the bathroom and we all yelled, “Turn that off Mamicita!” because we could see just fine with the moonlight. She eventually fell asleep with a towel covering herself. The moon was very bright that night and all the neighbors were outside and talking.

This night reminded me of a time when I used to live in a small town in Louisiana and the lights went out during the winter. We navigated in the house with candles and my family all slept in one room together like little sardines.

On this day, I felt that I was part of my Colombian family.

 

January 20 – Cuando mi pais sufren, me duele = When my country suffers, it pains me

My Spanish teacher said something profound today. She was explaining our role in Colombia and how her position as a Spanish teacher makes an impact on our future impact. She told us that the Peace Corps’ presence and assistance has made gradual change in Colombia. She said her ability to help us learn Spanish gives us the ability to help her country because when her country suffers, it pains her.

Bilinguism and interest in education gives Colombia hope for a better future. I am proud of being a part of CII-8.

 

January 30 – Santa Marta

Me and three other counterparts (two from my village and another from another village) went to a current volunteer site visit in a village in Santa Marta. The village was located on top of the mountains and the transport there was really a journey. It seemed like we travelled the seven seas to get there because we had to take 5 modes of transportation there and back. Goodness.

Our host volunteer’s name is Caitlin and was a great host. She made us a home-cooked meal, carrot cake that was absolutely amazing, and showed us around her village and school.

She was very resourceful as she created her own stove to make the carrot cake, made a barbell with weights out of cement and a pole, and used interesting supplies to hang items from the ceiling.

Her community knew her well and the objective of our visit was to see her integration to her community and her qualities as a volunteer.

I also got to bond with my counterparts on a more personal level because we all slept in the same room and sang the Pokemon theme song and had a lot of pillow talk. You can never be too old for Pokemon. 

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Minca, Santa Marta.

 

Thoughts and things learned –

*People are quite interested in my Korean-ness. I feel that I am a diplomat of both the U.S. and Korea.

They really like touching my straight hair. Haha. Although they call me Chino = Chinese, they now know that I am Coreana-Americana = Korean-American after repeating over and over that I was born in the United States but my parents were born in South Korea. They call me Coreano that looks like a Chino. Haha…we are getting close. It surprised me that many Colombians drove KIA cars. 

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Taught Maria how to spell her name in Korean.

 

*The mayor of our a village is a beautiful, fashionable, six-inch-high-heel-wearing woman. Girl power.

*Nobody really smokes cigarettes! It’s awesome.

*Carnaval is a big celebration before Lent. Basically, all the villages have their own Saint. My village’s Saint is the Virgin of Candalaria. Candalaria is one of the neighborhood names of my village. Basically, we have Festival to prepare for her arrival (pre-party hardy) and then have Carnaval to celebrate her arrival (party hardy for four days). Carnaval is basically going to 6th Street in Austin, Texas for four days in a row. There are tons of people, fried food for sale, dancing (!!!!!), drinking (!!!!), dumping maizena = corn flour all over our bodies and faces (it’s part of the celebration that no-one really explains the reasoning for…), and spraying foam everywhere.

 

*I don’t really need internet. Yes, it’s been frustrating at times but letting internet go has made me also let go of worry and anxiety. I realized I will always find a way to reach out to those I love and care about and those who feel the same way towards me will also find a way to contact me. Life is not completely cruel.

*Colombians drink lots of fresh made juices, hot, hot, soup, meats, rice, and fried foods. I love the rice, but the fried foods make me a very sad person. Haha. There is this popular cheese called queso Costeño = Coast. It looks like tofu and it is rubbery. When you bite it, you make a squeaky sound. Colombians eat it with arepas which are like plain pancakes. Colombians love arepas.

And speaking of hot, hot, soups…

There was a funny time when I had a technical training session with my counterparts and we were having lunch. The appetizer was this potato soup and in this dining hall, there is no air conditioning. Sweating and hungry, I took a bite of this soup and I die a little bit inside. My mouth is burning and my sweat is soaking my clothes. Then I hear one of my counterparts describe that he ate one of the small potatoes and he said it felt like he ate a ball of fire. It was the funniest thing ever and we are all laughing, sweating, and trying to eat the hot as hell potato soup.

*Music is everywhere because most people own huge speakers. The music is oftentimes blasting. It is a club everywhere I go. I learned how to dance, Cumbia = a dance composed of Spanish, Indigenous, and African origins. It is like taking little baby steps while moving your hips. The woman partner raises her dress and hands once in a while and the man partner bows and tips his hat. It is basically a flirtatious dance.

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Cumbia dance crew.

 

*Women wear a lot of make-up. I sweat too much so I don’t even bother with make-up here except my sunscreen and BB cream and maybe on a good day, I will apply mascara, but other than that, it’s a not fashion show for me. However, one night during Festival there were bands coming to our village to perform a live concert. I thought I dressed up a little more than I usually do but Alicia’s sister-in-law, Ivette, and her daughters and another family member begged to differ. They really caked on the make-up, glitter, and lipstick on my face and lent me this girly midriff showing polka dot shirt. I looked like a doll. I felt like one of those ugly ducklings who got on the complete make-over show and shocked everyone with my results. Haha, what a night.

*Cogela suave; it means to take it easy. I sure am learning to take it easy because nothing is fast-paced nor regimented as it is in the U.S. You have to be patient, understanding, and flexible when conducting work in Colombia. You may have all the Google calendar invites sent out to your collegues for meetings, email reminders, conference calls, and more, but nothing is guaranteed to go according to plan. That’s why you have to take it easy or you may go crazy.

Now since Carnaval is finally over, we can have some peace and quiet.

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