-“Japonesa?” -“No.” -“China?” -“Tampoco.” -(And if we are really good at guessing…) “Coreana?”
Umm, you forgot the Americana part, señor.
Then, we proceed to the next level of some of my favorite questions…
-“De dónde eres?” -“Soy de Texas, EEUU.” -(Cue a very flabbergasted expression from my inquirer) “Pero, o sea… de dónde eres? Tienes una cara de Asia.” (literal translation: “But, where are you really from? You have a face of Asia.”)
The robotic, automated, memorized message to respond goes a little like this…
“Nací en Texas, EEUU. Mis padres nacieron en Corea, pero ellos se inmigraron a los EEUU.” (translation: “I was born in Texas, USA. My parents were born in Korea, but they immigrated to the USA.”)
And then we end with a bang…
* “Norte o Sur?”
The ball of fury unleashes and we are done with the conversation. *Hands up in the air and storms off.*
I’ve been in Colombia for 15 months now but I still have to answer these questions when I go to the city or am anywhere outside the area of my village. Thankfully, my village and workplace see me as a human being and my “face of Asia” isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
These are everyday questions for me because there is this perception that Americans all are blue-eyed, blond haired, and tall. I blame selective media.
I have black eyes, black hair, and I am short. But, I am American – a proud Korean-American, born and raised in Texas, serving in Colombia.
I may not be moving mountains, but I am fulfilling one of President John F. Kennedy’s goals just with my presence:
“To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.”
I sure am doing that with my carita (i.e., ‘little face’). Furthermore, I teach and demonstrate by example that the United States America is not a country with only one identity or color.
There are so many labels to identify or categorize, but at the end of the day, we are all humans.
And as if my list of identities couldn’t get any longer, a moto taxista (a motorcycle taxi driver) was pestering me with the same old questions at the grocery store:
-“Tu eres japonesa?” -“No.” -“Tu eres china!” (Then, the security guy checking my bags replies for me…) -“En este momento, ella es Colombiana.”
What you gonna say to that, huh?
*To note: North Korea and South Korea are separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone. North Korea is governed by a dictatorship and has been referred to as the Hermit Kingdom. It is a country that is closed off from the world, making foreign relations difficult as well as physically leaving and entering the country.
Physically, I haven’t lost or gained weight…or so I think.
However, my hair has grown a lot, like the hair on my head and face. Yes, my face. I broke my room mirror twice (talk about bad luck) and don’t really know what I truly look like. But when I do come across a mirror and good lighting, I discover some interesting things on my face. I think I may be growing some peach fuzz.
It must be the water.
But, I will be dramatic to say that in addition to my hairs, my soul has changed.
There are some rewarding experiences as a PCV, such as students behaving well, finally mastering the system of living and surviving in a new environment, students appreciating you through actions, getting things checked off the to-do list, and much more. However, being a PCV also brings tsunami waves of emotional break-downs, sadness, and craziness, and the goal is to maintain your calmness, coolness, and collectedness through it all.
So with that said…
My feelings to empathize and understand are out of the roof. Sad movies – I can’t watch them because I feel the impact for days.
Still not that patient, but I am proud to say my patience scale with technology has improved tremendously. Instead of giving up, I perservere with the obstacles technology throws at me. With good internet signal, a 2 to 3 prong plug converter, extension cord, prayers and patience, one can do anything with a projector with no audio, computer, and a cellphone.
My sensitivity and irritability levels are at peak at times.
My disagreement with other people are intense to the point I cannot sleep due to rage or anxiety.
I am an emotional being, but now, I am an emotional mess.
The last three paragraphs include the golden nugget that I needed.
“You may view the world through family values, but most people do not. You may view the world through the metric of attractiveness, but most people do not. You may view the world through the metric of freedom and worldliness, but most people do not. You may view the world through the positivity and friendliness, but most people do not.
And that’s simply part of being human. Accepting that others measure themselves and the world differently than you do is one of the most important steps to consciously choosing the right relationships for yourself. It’s necessary for developing strong boundaries and deciding who you want to be a part of your life and who you do not. You may not accept a person’s ideas or behaviors.
But you must accept that you cannot change a person’s values for them. Just as we must choose our own measurement by ourselves and for ourselves. They must do it by themselves and for themselves.”
“You may not accept a person’s ideas or behaviors. But you must accept that you cannot change a person’s values for them.”
This part makes me question…why am I mentally strangling others to abide by my standards or way I see things? Why cannot I accept them for them? Why can’t I let go?
Because struggle makes my feelings 10x more intense.
Because struggle makes my feelings more easily hurt and long-lasting.
Because struggle makes me prone to emotional break-downs.
IT’S BECAUSE I CARE SO D### MUCH.
IT’S ALSO BECAUSE I WANT TO BE TREATED THE WAY I TREAT OTHERS!
I always try to give a benefit of a doubt to people. Do they do that to me?
Why, oh, why, VivaColombia airlines representative must you be so rude? I’ve been in customer service positions, too, and I know how that is because some people make you want to punch them in the face! But, I am being nice to you! You aren’t being so nice to me right now!!!! Now, YOU are driving ME crazy!!!!!!
It’s always a battle between fighting for my thoughts or letting go.
And I always fall victim to holding onto my hurt and making someone accountable for it.
Which is why sometimes I wake up at freakin 2 am talking to myself back to sleep.
Colombia has taught me to be more caring, empathetic, and humbler. However, she’s made me a little crazier and a more annoyed person.
So, in a nutshell, my mental state is going through puberty. Voice cracks, body changes, hormone imbalances, the works.
If I make it through my two year service, I hope to make it through this transformation successfully and come back to the U.S. with a healthier and more positive perspective of people, abundance of acceptance, and the freedom to let go…because I love sleep without interruptions.
I am an ugly caterpillar right now waiting to be a sexy, beautiful butterfly.
So in the meantime, please tell me I am pretty even with my peach fuzz.
Everyone! So much has happened! I turned 25! I got married!
Just kidding about the marriage part.
However, I do get asked every other day if I like Colombia, if I will stay here after my two years, and if I do want to stay, I get the same, wise advice…
MARRY A COLOMBIAN MAN!
*insert annoyed, face palming, eye-rolling face here*
I updated my FAQ page. Check it out here! Travel tips to Colombia coming soon..
Thank you shout out to the following babes:
Jenny – a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in El Salvador who visited me during her vacation and school project. Jenny and I are both Korean-American and could relate on so many levels as being an Asian-American serving in Central and Latin American countries as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Many laughs were shared.
Juju – my PIC (Partner In Crime) who came to visit me on my birthday all the way from the great state of Texas.
Alicia – my counterpart and first friend in Buritaca. Your friendship and mentorship mean so much to me. Thank you for making me feel like a part of your family.
Before we get into the details of my fabulous life, here are some interesting things about Colombia…
The significances of the word, “YA”
This two-lettered word means many things in Colombia.
Depending on how you say it, the tone, the intonation, the body language, and the sass you put in saying it, it means a plethora of things.
In the States, “Ya” is like the informal way of saying yes, or if you want to be German and say yes all German like. Back to the States reference…Think of that one song called, Trap Queen, where the rapper says yaaaaaaa for an extended period of time. In this case, he is emphasizing his feelings of yes.
In South Korea, “Ya” is rude. When you say “Ya!” you are trying to get someone’s attention. It is basically like HEY YOU! When you say “Ya!” this way, you are expressing it by screaming and showing all your teeth to get that person’s attention who may be walking away from you, or who’s not listening to you, or like in Korean soap dramas you are about pounce and pull that person’s hair or splash a cup of water in that person’s face. *you should probably watch some Korean drama’s if you have nooo idea what I am talking about*
In Colombia, “Ya” is…
When said in a short, firm tone means, “I am done or ready.” *movement of your hands like a music conductor to end a song*
When said in an interrogative tone it means, “Are you done? Are you ready?”
When said many times consecutively it means, “Enough, enough” *while crinkling your nose and nodding ferociously*
So here is the tale of the Ya Ya Ya’s.
Some days, I am Ya-ing like you would in the U.S. I am in a bowl of happiness and feel all sorts of positivity and motivation. I love life and would quote cheesy Pinterest quotes like, “Live your life to the fullest” or….”Live. Laugh. Love.” Haha. Life can sometimes go like the American Ya.
Some days, I am Ya-ing like you would in South Korea. I feel full rage. I am tired of explaining that I am Korean-American, but was born in Texas. I am so fed up with the “Do you have a boyfriend, do you have a husband, do you have kids” questions. I feel like strangling the questioner when they follow up with…”Why? You are so beautiful, you are so blah blah blah” YA YA YA. Enough! The desire to scream is real. Life can sometimes go like the Korean Ya.
Then, most days, I am Ya-ing like you would in Colombia.
Ya! That’s enough food, thank you.
Ya! I am ready to go!
Ya?! Are you ready because I am tired of waiting!
Life can be answered by the Colombian Ya.
Anyway, life in general, life is golden.
And now here we go with my random rant of this golden life of mine.
To my dear American friends, I want to share something I took for granted in the U.S….
I took my site mate, Galen, and our volunteer friend in Santa Marta, Barbara, to the Gran Muralla or the GREAT WALL. It is my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city of Santa Marta.
They gave us free, iced, water and Barbara noticed this and was extremely giddy and grateful. In the States, water is free. You can order water at restaurants in a glass and it’s free! In Colombia, there ain’t no such thing as free, especially…iced, cold water. You have to buy bottled water and there is a unique kind of fury when you have to spend an extra couple of currency to spend on water which is a HUMAN BASIC RIGHT!!!!
Being PCVs aka Peace Corps Volunteers makes you really appreciate the little things like water. Love your water, folks. Love it.
Then, I visited Bogota, the capital of Colombia, for vacation and I had to wear a jacket because it was cold. Cold! The altitude is much higher in Bogota and at one point, I was wondering why I felt so out of breath or gasping for air just walking on the street. I later learned that Bogota has a higher altitude than the coast and more oxygen is needed to the blood. Well, after that scientific realization, I inhaled more deeply and felt a relief because I wasn’t panting due to being out of shape. Hallelujah.
People from the city of Medellin are called Paisas. Paisas sure know how to organize.
Have you seen such clean papas criollas???
Chorro de Quevedo, a historical and cultural center.
View from Luis Angel Arango Library.
FOUND BRISKET IN BOGOTA. WHAT?
Oh why yes, I am 25 years old now! This is my second birthday spending it in Colombia!
It was intense and amazing.
On my birthday, March 2nd, also, Texas’ independence day, my best friend Juju came to visit me. I hadn’t seen her in almost two years and when I saw her at the airport, I squeaked a bit and it seemed that there had been no time gap.
The coordinator at my Perico Aguao school called me asking me to come in because some important person needed to talk to me about the standardized test in Colomba, ICFES. I rushed with Juju to meet this important person and came to realize that they had a surprise party for me. We danced, we played a game where we had to dance with a partner with a balloon in between us and the winner was the last pair standing. Well, Juju and I lost. Haha. This was just the beginning of the cake saga…
My host mom made me arroz trifasico, fried rice with three meats, and put a smiley face in ketchup on top. My real dad would do this when he made me omurice (ometette rice). Went strolling down memory lane for a moment. My host family got me a cake and we spent time together with Juju and my site mate, Karen.
On March 3rd, I went to my school in Don Diego and presented my friend Juju to my 5th graders. My counterpart, Nayide, vanished and that made me disappointed because counterparts are NOT supposed to leave volunteers in the classroom with the intention that we will teach the class. WE ARE HERE FOR SUSTAINABILITY!!!! We help co-plan and co-teach for the English teachers of Colombia, not take over the class! But Juju and I continued with greeting the students in English. Then, Nayide came around with a small cake and Coca Cola. I ate cake and drank soda at 8 am in the morning. This is normal. Soda is a normal beverage here in the coast. Haha. Cheers.
On March 5th, I held a sancocho. Remember, I had talked about this traditional Colombian soup with yuca, potatoes, corn, beef, and platanos? I could not have cooked this soup without my neighbors, Helena, and Juju. Thank you. Thank you.
Like an assembly factory, we washed, cut, and peeled yuca, corn, platanos. I cut the beef ribs and that was an interesting experince. I thought the meat man would cut the 12 pounds of beef ribs for me. Yeah right. Assuming makes an A## out of you. I just was given a plastic bag wrapped in another plastic bag with a hunk of beef ribs. That day, I became a meat man. I hammered the bones to cut through them with a ice breaker hammer and cut the meat where we hand wash our clothes. Soooooo against the health department regulations, but nobody got sick. I repeat. Nobody got sick. Huzzah.
Neighbors starting the fire (leña).
Everyone just doing everything.
Me jumping around from one station to the next.
All I can say is lol.
My neighbors helped with starting the fire. In the back, Juju was scrubbing the potatoes with soap haha. So cute. Helena was washing out these weird buckets to use for trash cans with such meticulous zest, I was like…goodnes, this woman can do anything with such grace. Then, we all helped with the cutting and peeling. And I was just spazzing out here and there, cutting the meat, cutting the vegetables, cleaning the vegetables, cleaning the areas, organizing the area, and just being a hot mess.
We threw in the meat into the boiling water and then when the meat readied, we threw in the hardest to soften vegetables, and then the rest of the vegetables along with spices and condiments.
Sancocho was made and served, and it was a dang, good day. Thank you to my friends, Mia, Devlin, and my host sister, Sofi and her friend, Marcella, for helping me serve.
Always making a presentation…
Juju went back to the States without diarrhea and I turned 25 successfully.
The featured picture is a collection of sweat rags/towels. One can tell which one is mine, and the blue one is my friend’s Sammy’s and the orange one is Jimmy’s.
When visiting Colombia, especially the coast, don’t forget your sweat rag/towel.
Thank you shout out to…
Carmen, for accompanying me to the airport when I went to visit my family.
Helena, for accompanying me from the airport. That was the funniest journey of my life. We walked through sand with rolling luggage the weight of two barbells and saw magic on the bus, where a guy revealed white as snow bunny from lighting up a buncha napkins on fire.
My parents for defending me at the airport against the evil American Airlines. That was love that made me cry.
The kids of my Catholic church and my local Rotary Club in Texas.
The tour guides of village, Don Diego. Helping them learn English has been a real reward for me.
WINTER IS HERE IN COLOMBIA!
And that means…. Lots and lots of rain. Who needs snow, when we have floods, humidity, and mold!
I am extremely shocked to tell you this, but I prefer the scorching, blazing sun and heat than the rain.
Rain means…mold building its army all over your stuff like backpacks and hats.
Rain means…no hot sun to dry your laundry.
Rain means…flakey energy and along with that, the absence of running water.
Good Jesus, but life goes on.
Then again, rain also has some positives. It seems that with anything, there is always a good and bad side.
Rainy season has definitely cooled down my area a little. So much breeze. Praise!
One night I turned off my fan because I was cold! COLD!!!!
I remember when I first came to my site, my host family gave me this chipmunk wooly blanket that is like Snuggie material and I quickly tossed that aside into the depths of my room.
I now wrap and caress that thing around my body when I sleep.
What the heck, seriously. Life is kindaa ridiculous…so ridiculous like this plate of scrambled chocolate chip cookies. Galen and I tried to use a stove top as an oven to bake cookies because we have no oven. It sadly failed, so we scrambled them. They tasted so good. Never judge a cookie by its figure.
So…how is everyone! I love writing about my fabulous life, but power and internet are not really my best friends here in my village, hence the big gap from August to today.
Me? How am I doing?… I’ve been sad, happy, excited, depressed, ashamed, angry, and now I am very, very awesome.
I visited my family in Texas, we have a new president elect, my English class for tour guides in village, Don Diego, is up and running, and Thanksgiving and winter break are coming.
Please remember that my blog is not affiliated with the U.S. government and these are my opinions and views only. We have a new president elect, but that does not mean I respect him. To let you know, the fight for equality and justice continues with a stronger force. I still represent the U.S.A. proudly and still stand up for myself and others even though I am in Colombia.
With that said, I am doing so well.
In October, I went to Texas to visit my family for one week. I realized I did not miss the States as much as I thought I would, but the love for my country still remains. Our country is already great. We don’t need to make it great again, we need to make it more open and accepting. Everyone should try to be to more open and accepting. It’s a team effort.
Ok, I am done with the underlying tones of political insinuations…
I tried to bring a huge conch shell that I received as a gift from my counterpart, Giovanni, but Colombia security took it away from me because I could not bring it in my carry-on. It was a sad realization that a shell could be a weapon on a plane. Here is me trying to be extremely happy with my last moments with my shell, but deep inside I was kinda crying that I could not take it. RIP shell.
I had this expectation of all this great food I would eat and roll around in, but unfortunately I was undergoing the process of re-adapting to the environment of the USA. I carried Pepto Bismol around me at all times. Vietnamese pho noodles, with a dash of Pepto. Korean BBQ, with a sprinkle of Pepto. Mexican tacos, with a gulp of Pepto.
I visited my Catholic Church and gave them a sweet presentation about my service and Colombia with the help of my cute siblings. One kid said that sancocho looked like a Korean stew, budae jjigae which us Koreans nickname it “trash-can stew” (literally translated). Basically in both soups, you throw a buncha ingredients in and boil it until ready. I spoke in Kong,Spang,-LISH and it was a hit. (Korean, Spanish, and English mixed together) The kids listened with great attention and they left the room with greater gratitude because I told them some of my challenges in Colombia like power outages and lack of water where I live, but I also told them the great things about Colombia like sancocho, the people, the contagious happiness, and how Colombians helped our dear Koreans during the Korean War. Their Sunday School teacher, Rosa, led a prayer for me to be strong to continue helping others.
She ended my presentation that we must be kind to others and to help them. Good karma exists, because a Colombian had helped a Korean in the 1950s and here I am, lending my hand to the people of Colombia.
My sweet friend, Ronald, visited me from Austin, Texas and he kindly helped me during my presentation at my local Rotary Club. Those Rotarians kept making fun of me having gone to THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN (they went to other less quality universities in Texas 😉 ) but I never let them crush my spirit!! I still bleed burnt orange blood!!! HOOK’EM.
Ronald and I went to an arcade called, Nickel Mania, and you pay the game machines with nickels!!!!! There was this Kung Fu Panda game where you hit dumplings and avoid bombs and I won the jackpot twice. Haha. 500 tickets. Get on my level.
My mom took me to a Korean clothes store and I got this cool moon shirt. Great material, I tell ya.
She was trying to help me get what I need and what I needed was some long cotton pants that were cool, as in cool as suave, but thick enough to protect my legs from mosquitoes. The store lady was trying to sell me this extremely old lady fashioned pants and I was like, this is too thin for the mosquitoes, and she was like, there are no mosquitoes here in Texas and I was thinking Oh God, take me away from this place. Then, my mom was explaining that I lived in Colombia and there are mosquitoes and that it is very hot over there.
One thing I learned from this experience was that I hate clothes shopping so much and nobody understands me!!!!!!
My sister made it rain on me and bought me sushi with a ridiculously awesome Groupon. Haha, I forgot about Groupon and all the million applications that help you save money. She showed me her art studio at her university, Southern Methodist University (SMU), and there was basically porn everywhere. I could’ve been an artist. I can draw nudity. 😉 Viewer discretion advised.
Haha I love you Sally. My sister is very talented. She also did my professional headshot. I told her to photoshop my double chin, but I realized I looked like a thumb without it.
Extra fat is necessary for beauty.
My little brother can drive now. He helped me with my errands and I am forever grateful for my mini me with a solid six pack. Someday, I will obtain a six pack and then we will be twins.
I met our new family dog, O-Deng, which means fish cake in Korean. He is still not potty trained, so everytime the sun came up, my mom yelled, “TAKE O-DENG OUT!!!!!!! AHHHH HE WILL POOP!!!”
It was like a daily battle cry.
Odeng was not to be entered into the visitor bathroom
We celebrated my dad’s birthday and I sang the Colombian national anthem and a bit of the Colombian birthday song to him. I only know the “Dios te bendiga” part…and just sang that over and over again until told to stop.
That week flew by and I returned to Colombia after some stressful situations that American Airlines gave me *fists shaking in the air cursing all sorts of bad words*
Coming back to Barranquilla gave me a whooosh of relief.
Hmmmm… Why is that?
There is a saying in Korean. One would pronounce it phonetically in English like, jungee deul eeh dah. (Currently cannot type in Korean on this keyboard..)
It means, one has affection for something or a country.
I feel this affection for Colombia.
I had told my family that when I see vendors on the streets, they sell their products with so much happiness. There is my favorite guanabana juice lady, Jessi, and she makes my damn day when I see her selling her juice. I wave at her like I am never going to see her again every. time. I see her. You can just picture the excitement with each wave of my hand… Happiness does not cost anything.
Visiting Texas gave me the opportunity to spend time with my dear family, talk about all my crazy stories, and share the greatness of Colombia and that was all that mattered. I could have done without the Pepto and the ridiculousness of American Airlines, but I came back to Colombia in one piece recharged with a lot of love from my family.
On October 27th, my butt fire just got lit up crazy and I started my secondary project. Our secondary projects must relate to teaching English and I started my class for tour guides in a village 10 minutes away from my village called, Don Diego.
I have understood that in the coast, punctuality is not really a thing here. However, I have brought my tiger lady and American professionalism into our class and we are slowly becoming more punctual and slowly taking this English class more seriously. I believe in their success with applicable English for their professions. They give me so much joy. I realized that English is really hard. Pronouncing things is hard. Sometimes, the guides will say something that really sounds like gibberish. Some days, my Spanish sucks so hard where my accent and pronunciation just are a hot mess. In these cases, we all just laugh together after jibber jabbering at each other.
I went to the famous National Park of Colombia, Tayrona, with a veteran PC volunteer, Jimmy. I had always passed by the entrance of Tayrona on bus, wondering and dreaming…what lies beyond that entrance? It was like the door of Narnia. I finally entered the other side and realized…
You really need to be an outdoorsy person for Tayrona. You need to be comfortable being smelly and stepping in mud or maybe horse poop. You need to pack food. You need to sing songs to get through the hiking. You should bring earplugs because you never know if the guy sleeping next to you in the hammock will snore like a bear. I almost wanted to close his nose.
Jimmy and I met a Swiss German named, Rolf. He was such a smart guy. We learned about Switzerland’s government body where they have 7 ministers who make political decisions. We learned that Swiss German is more of the rougher German language where they do not have a simple past tense. They basically use the past perfect tense. Then, there is German German spoken. But here is the interesting thing…Swiss Germans can understand the languages, Swiss German and German, but Germans cannot understand the language, Swiss German. MIND BLOWN. Rolf told us about his experience in Japan and we laughed so hard when he described the technologically advanced bathrooms. Japan has bidets in their bathrooms and when Rolf tried to flush, he pressed many buttons to get there. One button raised the toilet seat and the other button heated the seat… Technology I tell ya. He also told us about his company building a school in Nicaragua and how his company helps fund and maintain that school. He and his colleagues do this genuinely from their heart with nothing in return. I asked him twice to make sure I was hearing correctly. In today’s society, it seems that we live in a give and take world. If we give something, we must get something in return. But, Rolf and his colleagues just gave and are still giving. There is this quote I saw on the internet one day that goes like…”Character is when you do something for others who can do nothing for you..” or something along those lines. I think we should try to aim to live more like that for a more peaceful world.
Anyway, Rolf was a nice and smart guy and I just rambled about him because one can not only learn from books and school, but also can learn from people. I think it’s valuable to talk to people and share dialogue to understand and learn from and about them so we can all be a little bit more open minded. He knew a lot about the USA government system and it was a realization that the world indeed watches the USA on a microscope. We sure talked about all sorts of topics, from Japanese bidets, USA government and politics, nuances of German, Colombia, his Korean international student friends, Nicaragua school building while sharing American culture through Doritos and s’mores, and he sure did ask for s’more s’mores… 😛
The park is huge and breathtaking. We hiked to the following points, Arrecife, La Piscina, and then stopped at Cabo San Juan. One can go further, but we rested in Cabo San Juan.
I rode a horse for the first time to Arrecife and it was frightening but awesome.
Then, we got off the horses and hiked. The trails became impossible to walk through without getting muddy and I basically released a new fashion: mud boots. People entering the park looked at my new shoes with great interest and jealousy.
Alright, I close this blog post with my sexy feet.
As Thanksgiving rolls around, please take the time to talk to your family and friends and appreciate all the good things in life…and eat all the green bean casserole for me, please.
Carrie, my PC volunteer friend who lent her movie library to all of us. We are forever grateful. I did not know how behind the times I was with movie watching.
Galen, my PC volunteer site mate and buddy who keeps me sane. We got lost going to our training in Turipana, ate pity party ice cream together to re-strategize and think clearly, got back up on our feet, and got to our point of destination in one piece.
3. Helena, my PC volunteer friend, who checks in on me regularly, who laughs so hard about so many things with me, and truly is a gem of a person.
4. Carmen, my Spanish teacher, who is just on the same page as me all the time.
5. My parents back in Texas. Thank you for your love and support.
After six months of being in Colombia, it was time for our IN-SERVICE TRAINING in Turipana, Colombia. This was a check-in point with our Peace Corps colleagues, staff, and Colombian counterparts.
The first three days included trainings and events with our counterparts. It was an opportunity to meet other volunteers’ counterparts, learn of their accomplishments, learn new methodologies, and basically, fire a rod in our counterparts’ buttocks to get them motivated when they returned back to school.
Here are my cute counterparts:
Giovanni and Alicia are my teammates and I am forever grateful for their genuine compassion for their jobs, cooperativeness to work with me, and friendship with a gringa.
The last three days was for just us volunteers. We shared our struggles and achievements and I learned that we were all in this same boat with the same frustrations but we just were too afraid to be vulnerable and admit. However, we all cracked a little and when person A would say, “I have had difficulty with ABC,” person B would nod furiously in agreement. I also learned how much I missed air conditioning, but also realized how easily I got cold and how I was a master of turning it on and off throughout the night. How something I yearn for like AC could not be fully enjoyed due to adaptation of this fiery heat of a weather…
Additionally in Turipana, we surprised our fellow PC volunteer friend, Jackie, and her new-born grandson. 10 pound baby! We also learned how to document our progresses and accomplishments in the Volunteer Record Form (VRF), which is tedious, but very necessary to record our work here in Colombia.
I felt that my volunteer colleagues and I got closer during our Turipana training. Especially when one-by-one we all fell victim to diarrhea, headache, and vomiting afterwards. Natalie, my PC volunteer friend, calls it the curse of Turipana.
DRASTIC MOOD CHANGE. WARNING SAD POINT WARNING!
On August 19, 2016, I almost cried while reading out loud in English a story about Ashley and her career aspirations. I was asked to read out loud to articulate proper English pronunciation of a story far above the English skill level for the students. Some days, work as a PC volunteer makes you want to cry because you realize you can’t change the world, you are frustrated, you are tired, or you feel helpless. I was all of the above that day.
In my classes, there is room for improvement such as breaking down material so your students understand and reviewing that material for reinforcement. Unfortunately, as an outsider, I cannot just come in and enforce my own principles or ways of running things just like trying to put a box in a circle. I cannot just do that that because it’s not my classroom and I am solely here to lend a hand. This is a taste of being a diplomat trying to strengthen relations and improve policy through tact, patience, and tolerance. But in my case, I am trying to instill interest in English and support bilingualism through improved teaching methodologies.
I show all these cool pictures of sea turtles and exotic scenery and yes, Colombia, she is beautiful, and I show her off, but life as a PC volunteer is not all rainbows and bluebonnets.
I changed my life 360 degrees. I moved from Texas to Colombia. I spoke English a 100% of the time to now speaking Spanish. I ate all kinds of diverse foods and all the foods I wanted in the States to now eating solely Colombian food. I used to live on my own in my own apartment to now living with a host family. I lived in the popping city of Austin, Texas, to now living in a rural village of 200-300 people.
It is hard.
So after this period of sadness, I went through this phase of “WTF AM I DOING HERE!!?!?!?!?!??!”
I couldn’t sleep one night due to thoughts of “What the heck am I doing here? Am I really doing something useful???” and randomly watched 7 Years in Tibet. I pretended I was Heinrich Harrer in Tibet (played by Brad Pitt) but I am in a movie called, 2 Years in Colombia. There was a part where Henrich says he was regrettable as having been “intolerant as the Chinese” referencing to when the Chinese at the time were invading Tibet in 1950. That part struck me weirdly. It made me question…Am I intolerant? Is it because of my intolerance that I feel like my purpose here is pointless?
Then, my counterpart Alicia invited me to a place up in the mountains in a village called, San Rafael. She told me how she could empathize with me as she noted that I must be struggling to understand Colombia. The coast of Colombia is different. The lifestyle and mentality are different. Alicia comes from the interior, the capital of Colombia, Bogota, and it’s completely different there, too: the lifestyle and mentality. So, she feels me. She added that she has a Master’s in Tolerance and I am still in school to obtain that kind of degree. The word tolerance has been circling around me lately and visiting San Rafael made me experience some kind of ENLIGHTENMENT. It was a place where I closed my mouth and listened to nature for the first time. It was a place where I shut off my talkative brain. We are always thinking and our minds are so loud, and I am happy to say that San Rafael shut me up.
So, after my ENLIGHTENMENT, I jotted down some notes to be wise as the Dalai Lama and to share with you. These tips are applicable to everyone and anyone. Maybe except 6 if you are living in a developed world…
TIPS TO SURVIVE ANGELL KIM STYLE:
When you are sad, write a grocery list, then categorize that list by aisles, then re-write it in a colored marker. Finalize it with a sticker.
Bring a sweat towel at all times. I enjoy whipping that out when there is a waterfall on my face.
Pack snacks every time. The hangry-ness of Angell Kim is even scarier here. Friends, BEWARE!
When you are craving Korean food, improvise and go to a Chinese restaurant in the city.
When you can’t sleep, watch movies until you’re sleepy, but beware, you may suffer lack of sleep the next day, but try to solve today’s problems today and tomorrow’s problems tomorrow.
Back-up charge everything because the power willgo out sometime.
Have a back-up emergency cash fund in a drawer. The nearest ATM machine is in the city and the realization of a back-up emergency cash fund when you are in panic poverty mode, makes you get on your knees and pray Thank you God for His back-up support.
Helping to change and improve something takes time. Remember, not everyone’s buttocks are on fire like mine. So, you have to dim your own butt fire to be in sync with the other butt fires. However, you can’t be complacent, don’t just trot along with the same butt fire level and speed forever. You have to still maintain rigor and passion to help, improve, and focus on your goal(s). This is an art I have yet to master. Unfortunately right now, my butt’s been really burnt out and I need to try to dim the fire.
Write and log all accomplishments and activities that you’ve done in your life, in your job, in your Peace Corps Volunteer service. The PC Volunteer Report Form will sure teach you a lesson. The VRF is like the Matryoshka doll or Russian doll. When you open one doll, there’s another mini one, and when you open that one, there is another one. The VRF has many buttons with many other mini buttons. This advice is pretty applicable for the working man and woman for any career. Keep track of your awesomeness. It will come in handy.
For the OCD American, carry on hand soap is amazing or…a bar of soap. Different form, but same ability to give you clean hands.
Cut your nails so you don’t collect scum under them or scratch your mosquito bites to death.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Things that I realized that make me OH SO HAPPY and helped me get back to my healthy level of happiness:
Running water, showers, and my Korean bath scrub. I am so filthy here and that scrub thing makes me feel 100% clean.
Clean clothes and clean plentiful underwear.
When someone can relate to me.
The screaming children who yell, “llego la luz!! – the lights are back!” and my fan slowly recovers back from its slumber.
The books my English high school teacher, Wendi, had sent me.
So, I didn’t really answer the question of why I am truly here, but I am not here for no purpose, that is for sure.
I know for a fact that I am here to help. I am here to help myself to be able to help others. I am here for a new learning experience. I am here to be a better person. I am here to learn if I fall down 8 times, I know how to get back up 9 times. I am here to become more tolerant.
I think we all are here on this Earth to be more of a kinder person, but I am only a 20-something year old who’s just hit a bumpy road on the road called LIFE.
So, we keep trekking…
TO END ON A GOOD NOTE WITH A SHOUT OUT FULL OF LOVE:
Thank you for reading the highs and lows of Angell Kim.
*Google credit to 7 Years in Tibet featured photo and Russian doll photos
The United States of America is going through a lot and I would like everyone reading my blog to take a moment and smile at someone new today and ask, “How are you?” Do it sincerely and genuinely. Hug your family and others and say I love you and thank you at least 50 times a day.
Please don’t forget to stay human. Please don’t forget that we are all humans. Please open your heart to empathize. Get out of your comfort zone to understand.
The United States of America needs many hugs and words of encouragement. Please help spread the love. Colombia gives a big sweaty hug to the United States of America for fast healing.
Despite the occurrences of this past week, I am doing well. I am gaining weight because my high-waisted jeans no longer feel comfortable nor provide concealing support of my belly. So, I suppose that reveals that I am not starving…
I went through some rocky down points, but bounced back up with the support of a few things and people.
Thank you shout out to the following:
Barbara, one of my PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) friends, who offered her home to me to publish this blog. God bless Barbara and her sexy WiFi.
WhatsApp’s audio recording to and from my brotha from anotha motha, Ronald.
The best go-away gift from my best friend, Amber.
Milo cookies. Please Google them.
My sitemate, Galen, his company, and consideration of my love for cookies. We met up to hang out and brought cookies saying, “I brought some cookies for you knowing you’d get hungry.”
Books from my high school English teacher, Wendi.
And YOU. You reading this blog. I put in a lot of effort to share my experiences and my sweat, emotions, and love are laced in every word. Thank you.
So remember training ended April 15th and I moved to my site? And whoa it’s July.
With baby steps, I am slowly getting a better idea of what all is here in my site, who to go to for whatever reason, and explored a few of the other villages of the Troncal (Troncal is the highway that all the villages lie next to). I sense the students that love learning English or learning in general, the students that make me want to rip out my hair, the potential for growth of an idea or a student’s behavior or learning, and how I really need to work out like my life depended on it…soon.
Vamos – Let’s GOOOO
I would like to share with yall one of Colombia’s village gems here called, Don Diego. It is where the Teyuna civilization (think of Aztecs, Mayans, indigenous tribes) lived and now where lies a hostel called, Taironaka, that is built around the ruins. One of my teacher friends, Arnol, teacher of Eco-Tourism and Physical Education at my Perico Aguao school, gave me a tour of Taironaka. We hiked up the mountain and I will celebrate the day when I get accustomed to the dang mosquitoes here. Arnol laughed heartily saying, “Oh, I am accustomed to the mosquitoes,” as he hiked with Crocs slippers (CROCS!) and shorts baring his legs. Here I am with a capris-like pants, reeking of toxic bug repellant, and still suffering from the mosquitoes.
Take a look at the houses, where the Sacerdote and Cacique (basically, boss #1 and boss #2 of the Teyuna) lived, and how cherubic I look. Look closely at the rock formation: perfect circles.
Sacerdote and Cacique hut spaces; perfect circles
Also..I ripped my pants trying to cross barbed wire. Living life on the edge, guys. Living life on the edge.
One of my PCV friends, Jackie, lives in Aracataca. Aracataca has a population of 52,000 and is famous for being the home of Colombia’s Nobel Peace Prize author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He was known as Gabo. I went to see his museum and there were tons of yellow butterflies and his history.
At the River of Aracataca with Jackie from California and her friends.
My other PCV friends, Helena and Audrey, live in Fundación. Fundación is known for the heat and is also known as Fundición. In English, Fundición means foundry, and foundry means a metal casting factory. Basically, I visited them to enter a metal casting factory to be melted into smithereens.
Fundación and Aracataca are way bigger cities than mine. My village has maybe 200-300 people. Fundación has 82,000 and had restaurants, shops, ATM machines, grocery stores, and a bakery store called Mundo Tortas– Bread World. I couldn’t stop saying how cool everything was. I was a kid at the candy store, who didn’t know what candy was until at that point in time.
I walked with Audrey to visit the River of Fundación and ran into an old meeting place of a Rotary Club, an international service organization, which made my heart swell with pride because I was heavily involved in Rotary during my high school and university years.
From left to right, Audrey from Arizona, ME from TEXAS, and Helena from California.
At the candy shop.
Random life events:
At my other school in Buritaca, we celebrated environment day and planted mango and orange trees. I also greeted a parrot that wanted to bite me.
My student planting a mango tree!
As you can see, parrot is not on my arm. It really wanted to bite me.
Sofi turned 8 on July 1st and I mentally and physically prepared myself for that party. There were tons of children and I was baby sitter, party helper, trash picker-upper, cake-cutter, and dynamic coordinator. My sister is seriously a princess.
I visited the olla – pot, or in this case, body of water, of Perico Aguao, with my teacher friend, Arnol. This is a sacred body of water of the Arhuaco indigenous people. I took a nap on the rock there and felt like a million bucks after. So, I don’t know if yall saw my Instagram photo (look to the right of my blog!!!) but I got a new bike. Yay. But not so much because the seat is soooooo hard and my bike was so very stiff. My dear bum and loins suffered greatly, but the sites were worth the pain. Kind of. ;P
Olla of Perico Aguao
Biking to the Olla.
Hiking to the Olla.
I went to visit my neighbor, Yerlys’ family in Mercatalia (a little ways away from me on the Troncal) and got gifted a guanabana. It is a prickly fruit as you see here and it’s pulpy and soooooo good. I feel proud when I receive gifts like fruits. I carry it around like it’s a golden star. Not only does my Korean-ness attract non-stop staring and attention, the fruits help me look a little Colombian. People bring all sorts of things onto the bus such as chickens, luggage bags of all shapes and sizes, and whatever else. INTEGRATION, YES!
Look at my Perico Aguao students! I had an informal, independent test prep class during summer vacation for the 11th graders and it was a very good class. I feel all the potential. Then, there are my 7th graders that are plain goofy.
My 11th graders and their ridiculous teacher.
Model 7th graders.
This here is my best investment from the city of Santa Marta. This bear lamp. It was 7,000 Colombian pesos which is like 2 US dollars. It is chargeable and when the power goes out, I just turn this baby on and I feel very wealthy because I don’t use a candle. Haha.
My dear little sister teaches me so many things without her even knowing it. So a little bit about her….She LOVES playing outside. LOVES playing. She is always outside. She’s a sweaty mess every day. So, one day, she begged my mom to go out and ride her bicycle for a lap, but it was getting dark so my mom said no. She was crying so hard and pleading, “Mami, por que no?!?!?!!??! Momentico, momentico!!!!!!!!” – “Mom, why?! For just a little moment, just a little moment!!!” FYI, Colombians add “ico” “ito” to the end of words to emphasize the word or express the meaning of just a little bit!
Ok. So, after maybe 2 minutes of this constant back and forth of…
Sofi: “MAMIIIIII MOMENTICO MOMENTICO!!!”
Sofi: “MAMIIIIII MOMENTICO MOMENTICO!!!”
Mom: “NO! SILENCIO!!!!!!!!”
And 1 minute later, my mom asks Sofi if she wants an arepa with cheese (arepas are fried flour pancake things), Sofi immediately stops crying, and asks for more cheese.
I mean, talk about a fast recovery. If you are sad, just model Sofi. Cry it all out and bounce right back up again. Tip: use food as encouragement.
I am happy to say, I have been building my tolerance against the heat and feeling more energetic. For those of you who know me, I am a fitness freak. I am ashamed I haven’t had done any real working out when I got here in January, but in June, I started jump-roping. Baby steps!
Now it is July, I feel I am taking control of my life. Boy, how great does that feel. Little things like not being able to do my own laundry when I want to due to 1390834 different variables such as my mom is using the machine, or the power is out, or the sun is not out for the clothes to dry, etc etc or cook when I want to because our kitchen is limited, it’s a hot mess in there because my mom cooked a feast, or I am just so tired to move my body…really really drove me crazy. But now, I turned the tables around. I tell my mom I am going to do laundry prior. So basically, I give forewarning. Hahaha. Cooking? I strategize around the traffic times where my mom is in the kitchen. It’s a work in progress, but I am getting there, folks. I really deserve a beer for that.
My mom said the above to me out of jealousy and cute humor after I had told her I liberated a sea turtle this past weekend.
*UPDATE!* I have connected my Instagram to my WordPress and have transformed my personal Instagram to an Angell Kim’s Funny Moments Peace Corps portal to share even more awesomeness through pictures. This is located on the right side bar. You don’t need Instagram to view the pictures and if you do have Instagram, of course you can follow me. 🙂 I hope you enjoy as much as I enjoy sharing the chuckles I go through my life.
I think I have finally settled down and organized my tons of stuff, decorated and customized my room in the way I want it, successfully established a routine (super high five), and mastered how to work our crazy laundry machine and flush the toilet without running water.
How, do you say regarding the latter? Well, I never knew how a flush really worked until I came to Colombia and am proud to inform you. Haha.
When the water does not flow, we have to withdraw a bucket of water and dump it into the toilet with a certain distance from the bucket to toilet. This distance from bucket to toilet and amount of water in the bucket are vital for a successful flush.
The more you know. 🙂
How is everyone? I am doing muy, muy bien.
Here is my family who have received me with generosity and genuine care. My dad’s name is Jorge, my mom’s name is Diana, and my sister’s Sofia. Sofia is like a mini Shakira. She is only 7 years old and can sure dance and her hips do not lie. I really need to get on this dancing bandwagon. Music and dance are everything in Colombia.
I live in a tiny village that is named after a rum that an indigenous tribe makes in the mountains…or so I heard.
Where I live depends on one main highway/street called, Troncal del Caribe. On this street, one side hugs the ocean and the other hugs the land. On the side of the land, there are a few rivers that feed into the ocean, but due to the drought, not all rivers make it that far. Both sides have a lot of banana fields, villages, and greenery. Just think Jurassic Park. Lots of trees, mountains, mystic views, except no dinosaurs.
One of my students, Yurleidys, took me to visit my home’s beach and nearby lake. I saw monkeys and they made this scary noise that reminded me of that part in Planet of the Apes where they were preparing for war. On the walk, I saw a buffalo and my sister, Sofi, got so scared so we had to take the longest way around the buffalo to get to the ocean. We saw the buffalo dip into the lake and literally disappear. That was scary.
Here are the neighborhood kids, my sister, and me in Jurassic World.
I co-teach in two schools, one in Buritaca and the other in Perico Aguao. My home is located in right in between them. Both villages have their unique characteristics and I love both schools.
Currently, I am under the observation phase, where I am getting to know the teachers, principals, and students, knowing what resources are there, how to use those resources, who to talk to to use those resources, how to get around the school, and assessing what the school needs from me and how I can help.
At the same time, I am integrating with my community which really requires a lot of energy of saying YES.
At one of my schools, there is a teacher named Arnol who teaches physical education and ecotourism. He had invited me to a beach clean up with his ecological group made up of the students of our school and I said YES.
On our way to the Parque Nacional Natural : Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, we split into two groups. One group would pick up litter and the other, bottles. The path we walked used to be a river and it was sad to see how we were walking on a trail of rocks…On our way, we picked up the litter and I added some English teachings while doing so.
This is “trash,” that is a “mule,” and that’s a “horse.” My students cracked up when they couldn’t pronounce some of the words. They have so much shame in presenting themselves or speaking English. This shame in Spanish is called pena and there is so much of it, and I am trying to shake this out of them.
I have pretty much yelled out loud during classes, “No pena! Come on guys, No pena!” Going to nip pena in the butt during my service, I assure you.
So…cleaning the beach taught me how out of shape I had become because walking on that sand and picking up trash from the ground really worked all sorts of muscles. My two students, Yurannys and Amy, who stuck with me like little piglets accompanied me the entire time and took a break from the day’s labor by running around in the water and chasing each other. I realized how much energy I lacked as I just sat on a log and observed. Haha.
There is an organization in the nearest major city to me, Santa Marta, where they preserve sea turtles and every year they host a liberation day. Arnol invited me to this liberation day with his ecological group and it was a beautiful experience. People from other organizations, schools, and tourists conglomerated and listened to a few speeches from the founders and one by one, each group or organization had their turn to release sea turtles into the ocean.
Look at me taking a part of a sea turtle’s freedom!
Let freedom ring.
After, we played sand volleyball with a soccer ball (an example of utilitizing resources effectively) and I think I gained some brownie points with my students seeing that their teacher can play sports. Haha.
It was cool to see the smallest student, Dubian, truly be the MVP of the other team. I couldn’t believe some of his hits go over the net and he saved his team several times. I screamed a few times like a crazy woman because the game got pretty exciting due to that little fellow.
Size and age are nothing but a number.
The other day, my mom took me out to our beach and she fed me, fiambre – food served in a banana leaf. Who needs Ziploc bags when you can save money and protect the environment with a sturdy banana leaf?
We took our chihuahuas, Lulu and Nico, out with us, too, on our outing. They are husband and wife, but Lulu doesn’t really like her husband. That day I learned why. Nico is quite the chicken. During our outing, it started to sprinkle, so we had to cut across into the lake to get home faster. After a few moments of hesitation, Lulu jumped into the lake and swam like a BOSS to reach us. Nico, on the other hand, whined and ran around the lake and went the long way. We called him a gallina – hen or chicken.
Haha. Girl power within dogs. How remarkable.
Back to what my birth mom had said to me jokingly earlier that I am doing all sorts of things is quite true and I am here to share my experiences and hopefully inspire you to see another part of the world for mental growth. I am taking in all that the coast of Colombia is giving me. There are things that stress me out, things that open my mouth in awe, things that make me inspired, things that depress me, but ultimately, there have been opportunities to share my happiness with others and gain happiness.
An example of sharing happiness… I go to the small store near my house almost everyday and asked for papas-potatoes. People also call papas-potato chips and Arnolfo, the store owner, thought I asked for potato chips and when I looked at him like he was crazy and that I wanted the actual potatoes to cook with he cracked up and I cracked up too for some strange reason.
I am learning how the people around me live and how to adapt, I am learning how to share with others that America is comprised of many different people, I am teaching others where South Korea, Japan, and China all are located on a map since people guess that I am Japanese, Chinese, and others. Haha. I should put, “Geography Teacher” along with “Teaching for English Livelihoods Teacher” title.
A special shout out to my little brother, Michael, who turned 17 years old on May 4th and happy mother’s day to all the mom’s out there in the world – from single mom’s, mom’s in Heaven, mom’s who sacrifice everything for their family, and my mom, whom I can message solely by emoticons and we just understand.