I’m back!

To everyone that said I would forget about writing on my blog … you were right! I could not even try to express what has happened for the last 5 months. Time has this way of having days that continue to drag on, but the weeks fly by. As the weeks have passed, C2-10 has all sworn in officially the Peace Corps Volunteers. My cohort went our separate ways and now we are in the beginning stages of our commitment to serve for the next two years. I could write this super long list of all the things that have happened, but that would make my brain explode. There have been a lot of incredibly good days so far. There have been days when I have completely felt purposeful and useful here. There have been days when I am a boss in Spanish. I have not been able to speak English correctly. There have been days where I have not wanted to put pants on and leave my room. There have been days when I’ve waited three minutes for the bus and then the next day I waited for forty-five.

During my service, I will live with a host family. I currently live with a host mom and dad who keep my life interesting. I will admit that I did not know how I would feel giving up my freedom after living in the only life for the last handful of years. However, I am grateful for how welcoming they are, how patient they are with my Spanish, and for the surprise cupcakes that my mom leaves for me after she bakes a cake for a party (she’s a chef !!). My host mom is also the Godmother for half the kids in my town. Usually my front porch can overflow with laughter, games, and conversations. I can count on hanging out with my neighbors for at least an hour or more a day. Usually our time is filled with reading, puzzles, nail painting, or volleyball. I have one curious five-year-old neighbor in particular who loves getting into whatever he wants when he wants. He loves to still call me gringa and laughs hysterically when I call him one back. He is always surprising me with some sort of animal. So far it’s been a baby iguana, a rabbit, and a baby bird. I just know that one day I’m going to bring a spider and I’m not sure how I’m going to face that situation.

I have begun my observations in the classrooms here in my town. There is one high school and five primary schools. The next two months I will be continuing to visit and learn from the teaching staff and seeing how a typical classroom runs here. For the last two weeks or so Colombian teachers have had a nation wide strike. We are not having classes for the time being. Teachers have not received their payments and they are also protesting the lack of resources that their students are receiving in the classrooms. Classes are HOT, there is no AC, and sometimes there are no working fans. The classrooms are packed with students and sometimes there are not enough desks for everyone. This has been an eye opening experience to see first hand on what teachers and students go through on a daily basis. It is very different from classrooms in the states. Students must also pay for their own copies of worksheets or exams. I will never take anything for granted in a classroom in the states ever again. The teachers have been very kind and helpful. I am looking forward to working with them. We have already bonded over beers and sancocho (a really delicious soup).

Integration into my community has been challenging. I am still the new gringa in town and sometimes it feels like I just do not belong or fit in. You must step outside your comfort zone everyday. I have started to run in the mornings with some locals. There is a town about 5-6 miles away that has a nice paved road to run on (including some interesting wildlife.) I have also started to play volleyball twice a week with a group of locals that are my age. I thought I knew how to play this sport until I stepped foot into the Poli. Apparently you do not just flail your arms around to hit the ball … who knew ?! Joining them has been the best decision that I have made since living in my town. I would never have joined the sports team on my own back in the states. I have felt welcomed by the teams and appreciate them for putting up with me!

Here are some highlights that I am pumped about: getting to finally eat a bacon cheeseburger with Siracha, the AC in the ARA, finally getting to met the Mayor and the rector (principal) at my school, holding a plank for 2 minutes now, The beach is an hour away, joining a volleyball team, finding a drill to begin a compost bin, signing up for a 10k in Barranquilla, and successfully cooking a batch of homemade banana bread.

Here are some of the challenges that I am working through: the concept of time and how to use it wisely (apparently crying while eating Cheez Its not enough enough), rediscovering my hobbies, I’ve broken 3 pairs of shoes since living here , Constant mosquitoes, the lack of resources that students have in their classrooms, my Spanish abilities, missing my cohort and hating the distance that is between us, missing my family, my friends, and my dog.

Here’s to 23 more months of sweating, laughing, improving my Spanish, and learning all that I can from my students and team of teachers. I am incredibly thankful for this experience even when it seems impossible. There is a cycle of adaptation that is certainly real here. Bad days come, but there is always a good day that follows. I love you all and thank you for supporting me.

PS: If you want to send me a package, I will forever be grateful! I like hot sauce, Cheetos, peanut butter, protein, school supplies, books, old magazines, etc!

Here’s my mailing address again:

Cuerpo de Paz Colombia

Attn: Kellie A. Mahoney

Calle 77B # 57-141, Oficina 713

Centro Empresarial Las Americas

Barranquilla, Colombia

Make sure you cross the 7s and declare the value at $ 1. Make sure you keep the tracking number! ❤

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Things I never should have assumed…

When I received my invitation to Peace Corps service I had pretty much assumed that things would automatically be a certain way. Things have surprised me, confused me, and made me more open-minded in the short time I’ve been here. Here’s a list of things that I’m referring to:

* I assumed that since I’d be in PC that I pretty much would not be showering as much as I’m used to back home. Truth is, a lot of women shower multiple times a day (sometimes with buckets). If you go a day without a shower, you’re really gross. Also you get really sweaty. Like super sweaty. Also, body spray is key.

* I assumed that the water for showering would always be cold. I was right, but when it’s 93 degrees before noon and we’re in the “winter” season, you’re gonna want that cold shower colder.

* I assumed that I would never have to worry about how my nails looked or if I did my hair (not that I really put much effort into that anyway). Turns out, straight hair is really in here and that’s something I do not have. Shout out to my host sister for hooking me up with pretty nails and hair so far!

*That I would suck at playing soccer here. Wait, just kidding, I still suck at soccer, but IT’S SO FUN!

soccer

Things that have surprised me:

* The girls here change their WhatsApp profile pictures everyday. I still have the same photo as the day I signed up. I need to step up my game.

*I really love soup. Like soup with meat, plantains, bananas, potatoes, rice, and avocados all in one big bowl together. Especially in this heat, it’s so weird!

* I received an amazing English teacher to work on my school practicum with. I will observe my co-teacher once more and then begin the process of co-planning and co-teaching with her for the remainder of my Wednesday mornings. I was really excited to hear that my friend would be in the same class as me. We were placed with grades 9 and 11. We introduced ourselves to both classes and were open for them to ask questions. Most of the 11th graders asked us questions like, “Can you dance?”, “What is your favorite food?”, “Do you have a boyfriend?” It’s going to be interesting next few weeks. The 11th grade class also ended up being my absolute favorite! Who would have thought?

first-day-of-school

*A fellow trainee asked me about a week ago if I would be interested in helping her co-plan and co-teach an English class with her host family. We sat outside at the park and wrote our ideas down. We had never taught English before, but our ideas really seemed to flow together and we both entered into it with an open-mind. On Saturday, we met at her house. Her sister and her neighbors showed up with notebooks. We held the group on her back patio with a borrowed dry erase board. We had tapped up our English and Spanish greetings, farewells, and courtesies and paired them with different games and activities. When the class was over we were asked when the next class was. It was a simple lesson, but it seemed difficult to translate between the two languages during instructions and explanations. It helps you to have a more welcoming environment when you address that you’re still learning Spanish and they are learning English. I was really proud of everyone who showed up to the project. It was a Saturday afternoon and teenagers sat down with us to learn about a new language. I am so excited that I got to be a part of this! Karen rocked it out!!!

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Week 2 has wrapped up and flown by. The realization that I’m actually here and going into week 3 has started to sink in. I have found some of my favorite spots to hang out in my town and I frequent them several times a week. I love going to the park by my house and sitting on the bleachers in the afternoon. It’s at the perfect temperature to sit and read, meet up with friends, and meet some of the local kids. You know you’re a gringa when the local kids come up to you and say hello in English. They’re also really friendly at inviting you to play soccer when they know you’re probably not good.

If you would like to send a package, the following are things that I would appreciate / cannot find here:

Individual packs of Gatorade powders for bottled water, individual packs of liquid detergent for washing clothes (you can find them in the travel section at Walmart), peanut butter, my blue converse (mom?), pictures of you for decorations on my wall (do not be weird guys..), non-meltable candy (for kids here to try) – Smarties, War Heads, Airheads, etc., children’s books (English or Spanish), colorful markers, tape, teaching materials, supplies, or resources (can be recycled).

(Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine and does not necessarily reflect the views of the US Government, the Peace Corps, or the Colombian Government.)

Week 1 faves (sin araña)

Week 1 of training has come and gone. It feels like it’s been longer than just 1 week. My weekdays are filled with Spanish classes, technical trainings, and learning about the school system in Colombia. My weekend was spent sweating, dancing, visiting other trainees, and celebrating a birthday!

Here’s what I’ve been up to since last time:

*Went to the gym and worked out for like less than a dollar.

*Sat outside for hours and talked to my neighbors, friends, and family while they laughed with me at my Spanish skills.

*Got free dance lessons on my friend’s front porch and caused a bit of a scene to the neighbors.

*Got to dance more at Charley’s bar and celebrate our dear Emily’s birthday with drinks, food, and good company.

*Finally got a hamburger!!!

*Tried salchipapas for the first time and ate so much I felt sick, but still never had any regrets. (It’s cut up hotdog on a bed of fries with cheese and salsa!!)

*Felt thankful to be able to use a washer, but hung my clothes to dry on a line in the back yard with the roosters hanging by my feet.

*Went to the plaza for kid’s Carnaval (which was more lit than my 21st birthday)

*Got maizena’d a bunch of times

*Killed 2 spiders on my own

*Video chat with my dad and aunt back home (it only took 35 mins for them to figure out how to turn their video camera on)

If you ever wanna know what it’s like living in the heat of Colombia, just watch that episode of Friends where Ross buys the leather pants. Good thing I won’t have to pay for hot yoga anymore because the heat is free here.

Real talk though, week 1 was a great one. Every day still brings its challenges. I’m feeling incredibly thankful that my host family is as kind as they are. They have welcomed me into their home for 3 months. I can’t imagine how hard it will be to say goodbye when the time comes. Going into week 2, I feel excited and anxious. On Wednesday we start our observations for our school practicums. I want to enter into this week with no expectations and be open to adapting to whatever happens. I’m also super pumped to play soccer with some gringos and hope that I don’t have to use my med kit!

If you want to send me mail see below:

If you send a package, please mark the customs form stating that items are used and declare the value at $1. This will reduce the cost that I have to pay for customs.  Packages could typically take a month to arrive. Send me the number on the declaration form so I am able to track it! CROSS THE SEVENS! 

Peace Corps Office Colombia

Cuerpo de Paz

Attn: Kellie A. Mahoney

Calle 77B #57-141 Oficina 713

Centro Empresarial Las Americas

Baranquilla, Colombia

(DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Colombian Government.)

Is it bad I keep taking so many naps?!

Well I have survived my first weekend in my pueblo. It really seems like I have been here for so much longer than that. I have loved spending time with my host family and any interaction I get with a fellow PCT I have appreciated (shoutout to Shira). Saturday night some of my host sister’s friends came over from Palmar and we all walked down to the plaza for “La Reina”. This is a pre Carnaval event where a queen is presented in a coronation. There are 28 dances and 14 costumes that are present and a ton of spectators. I finally had some local empanadas and tried Aguardiente, which is the local booze. If you like black licorice then go for it! One of my host sister’s friends bought a Budweiser there and I told her that my dad used to work for them. She immediately freaked out and thought it was cool. Thanks dad for helping me score some brownie points with the locals!

My first Sunday here was spent by:

*Seeing a big ass spider chilling on my door curtains. (I asked my host sis if she could help me. She ran away screaming as soon as she saw the damn thing.)

*Ignoring the spider and pretending that it was paying rent just like I was

*Taking a walk to the Olimpica and buying some fruit

*My host sis hanging up a hammock and insisting that I get on. It just so happens that she hung it in front of the front door on the front porch so I was on display for the whole street to see.

*Taking a nice ass nap on the hammock and not caring anymore who saw me

*Sitting on the front porch and talking with my neighbors for hours and showing them pictures of my dog back home

*Eating another arepa with my meal and not caring if I gain 10 more pounds

*Going to attend the local Catholic church for the afternoon service and finding it to be beautiful and peaceful

I wake up everyday here and question myself. Did I make the right choice? Am I going to be “good” at this? I have stepped outside of my zone more than ever this weekend. I go to bed feeling content and wonder what the next day will bring. Tomorrow begins our first full day of training here. A small group of us will be in Spanish class 3 times a week on top of learning about Colombian culture, the Colombian school system, and safety plans. Let’s do the damn thing!!

Yours Truly,

Kellie ❤

 

Here it is!

I guess this is the point where I tell you that I am going to attempt to write about my life in Peace Corps Colombia. I hope that you enjoy my journey as much as I will. Be ready for the good, the bad, the sweaty, and the hardest job that I will ever love! CHEERS!

Hola from La Granada, Santo Tomas! The time has finally come. I have departed from the ole USA and I am officially a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) in Colombia. I am in the C2-10 cohort. The journey to get here was definitely bittersweet, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

I spent a year preparing for this moment. From the time I applied, interviewed, was selected, and departed was a total of 12 months total. The process was extremely tiring, filled with various medical tasks, and many of those “maybe this isn’t for me” tears. I am forever grateful for my support system that never gave up on being there for me. Trust me when I say that I am going to need you to STILL support me. Be there for me when I am going to want to come home, when I have bad days, and when I shit my pants on the bus ride home (It’s probably going to happen so just go with it…).

Like I mentioned, this journey wasn’t all easy and filled with all that fluffy good stuff. We arrived in Miami on the 16th and immediately met up at Staging. This is the time when you register, meet your fellow members, and talk a lot about what to expect when you arrive to Barranquilla to Pre-Service Training (PST). My fellow trainees and I have been in and out of prep classes for a good 9 hours a day since we arrived to Barranquilla. We received more shots and blood tests (it never ends) and had an individual Spanish assessment interview.

Flash forward to Friday the 20th. What a day for the trainees (and for America). We finally received our training site placements for the next 11 weeks. I was so relieved to find out where I’d be living. I was strangely anxious and not afraid. I wanted to arrive to this journey without any expectations. I wanted to be open-minded, learn, and grow in so many aspects. I had decided that wherever I was going I was going to go with it! Anyways, I discovered that I was going to be living with a 51-year-old host mother and her daughter, a 20-year-old. There weren’t any pets at my house. (Or so I thought.)

My group was the first to leave the hotel. We loaded our bags into a van and headed for our host homes. There are a handful of us that are living in Santo Tomas. We are all in different neighborhoods, but fairly close to each other. The pueblo is already in their pre Carnaval celebrations. As we were driving down the street we saw many people soaking wet and covered with flour. It’s definitely a big deal here! I was the first person to arrive at my host family. When we pulled up there were about 10 people sitting outside the house and my host mom hurried over to greet us. She was SO excited for my arrival and immediately introduced me to everyone. I am her 3rd PCT here in her home. She has pictures framed with her previous volunteers. It gives me hope and reminds me that they were in my shoes before and that I will be in theirs soon.

Turns out that I HAVE A DOG!!! Her name is CiCi and she already hangs out by my feet. There are also 3 chickens and 1 hen in the back patio area. I asked my host mom what their names were and she said “just 3 chickens and 1 hen.” I have already come up with names for them so I’ll let you know how that goes. My host mom has the kindest spirit and is super patient with my Spanglish. I have a lime green colored bedroom (take me back to 8th grade already!), a big ass fan, and a pretty comfy bed.

My host mom had already prepared a meal for me and set it out not even 15 minutes after my arrival. Her nieces and neighbor’s kids were there staring me up and down and watched me as I ate my rice. I just started asking them questions about their favorite music (they like T Swift more than the Biebs…) and they agreed with me that avocados taste the best on nachos. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship! Just the nacho part of course…

I took a nap after I ate and when I woke up my host mom was nowhere to be found. All I have been hearing from my bedroom is the sound of what resembles a discoteca. I’m comforted by sounds of people passing by and laughing. I don’t feel anxious anymore and I don’t feel worried about my Spanish abilities. I start to unpack my belongings and hear a key rattle in the front door. My host mom comes in laughing and smiling. I asked her if I could come out with her and she immediately takes my hand and struts out with me. She is so excited to introduce me as her “new American friend.” I don’t mean just to her next door neighbors, but literally everyone up and down the street. I lost count of how many people she introduced me to that were her vecinas. I met children, friends, friend’s husbands, friend’s husband’s friend’s neighbor’s friend’s, and a sweet abuela. I obviously stood out as being the new chick in town, but it didn’t stop me from joining in on the pre Carnival celebrations. Someone commented that I was the only person who wasn’t soaking wet, so of course I got a bucket of water dumped over my head. Then came the flour, red food coloring, and more water. Before I knew it I was dancing at a tienda with my host mom and her friends. Am I integrated yet?!

I can’t tell you how that happened. If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be here today I would have nervously laughed at you and probably ran away. I still can’t believe that I am here. I can’t believe that I was selected for this out of the numerous amounts of people that applied. 27 of us were chosen to represent Peace Corps and I couldn’t feel more honored.

Tonight I was invited by my host sis to attend “La Reina”. I am excited to get to practice my sick dance moves! (As if I didn’t stand out enough already). She was excited to hear that I love Shakira and turned it on while she painted my nails and helped me practice my Spanish!

Well, shoutout to the ones who made it this far in my first post. I hope that you got a picture of what my first few days in Colombia have been like. This weekend I plan to unpack my bags, practice my Spanish with my host family, and maybe see a fellow PCT for some exploring time. Monday morning starts my first day of training in my pueblo. Love you all and just know that I think of you daily and appreciate you!

Yours Truly,

Kellie

(DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Colombian Government.)