Posted by: pckatie | February 28, 2014

Viva los Carnavales!

Barranquilla, Colombia is home to the second largest carnival in the world (right after Rio in Brazil).  Each year basically the entire month of February (okay…and most of January) is spent in preparation for the four days of intense celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday.  Although the actual Carnaval is held in Barranquilla, the entire costal region joins in the celebration.  Last year, I traveled to Barranquilla to experience Carnaval first hand.  This year I decided to stay here in Santa Marta, where there is definitely no shortage of Carnaval craziness!  After the month long preparations, normal activity on the coast is paralyzed for four days while parades, concerts, festivals, street parties, and mass chaos takes over the cities.

Marimondas

Marimondas

Los Negritos

Los Negritos

Traditional Carnaval Costumes

Traditional Carnaval Costumes

The last few weeks at my school have been a little crazy with all of the preparations and today was IED Simon Bolivar’s “Carnavalito”.  Schools on the coast have varying levels of celebrations at their schools.  Some of the more affluent schools go all out and rent amazingly beautiful costumes, have performances, decorate the school, and put on quite the show!  My school is very limited in terms of funding, and most of the students and their families cannot afford to contribute much, but I was amazed with what they were able to do with limited means!  Not to mention the fact that these kids don’t need anything fancy to have a good time, they were having the time of their lives!  The kids all came to school around 6:30am all decked out in their Carnaval gear.  The idea in dressing for Carnaval is basically the flashier, the better.  Colorful t-shirts, big crazy jewelry, head pieces covered in jewels/feathers/sequins/ribbon, and crazy print leggings were some of the favorites.  In addition, there are the traditional Carnaval costumes like the marimonda, el garabato, el negrito, el torito, monocuco, los cabezones, las muñeconas, and el tigrillo (google those  to see pictures!).  Once everyone was assembled in the street, we blasted music and paraded through the streets of Gaira.  Each year there is a king (rey momo) and queen (reina) of Carnaval, and the schools also choose a king and queen!  Our rey momo and reina got to ride up on a float.  One of the staples of Carnaval is ‘foamy’ or ‘spuma’ (foam) and ‘maizena’ (cornstarch) which everyone throws everywhere.  When we returned to the school, the next three hours were spent having a giant dance party, a makeshift reggeton concert, and some more full blown chaos.

Like a princess!

Like a princess!

Reggeton concert at my school.

Reggeton concert at my school.

Me and some teachers after the parade.

Me and some teachers after the parade.

Kindergarten princesses.

Kindergarten princesses.

La reina!

La reina!

This kid got hardcore maizena-ed.

This kid got hardcore maizena-ed.

A float full of Carnaval cuties!

A float full of Carnaval cuties!

Los Negritos (this is traditional and in no way offensive or racist during Carnaval here)

Los Negritos (this is traditional and in no way offensive or racist during Carnaval here)

Quien lo vive es quien lo goza!

Quien lo vive es quien lo goza!

La Reina and El Rey Momo

La Reina and El Rey Momo

Teachers in their Carnaval best!

Teachers in their Carnaval best!

I left school covered in a mixture of sweat/foamy/maizena, exhausted from a huge five hour party, but with a huge smile on my face because seeing the kids have so much fun makes me so very happy.  The spirit of Carnaval here in costal Colombia is unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The motto sums it up pretty well, “Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza!” (Who lives it, is who enjoys it!)

Until next time…..paz y amor.

See all of the pictures as well as others from my second year at IED Simon Bolivar here.

Posted by: pckatie | February 23, 2014

International Development

About a year and a half ago, shortly after I had arrived in Colombia, a question was posed to my group of volunteers.  “What is development?”  Over the course of the next two hours, we talked through the many different definitions of the word ‘development’ and what it can mean in various contexts and to different people.  In the end, the purpose of the session was to enlighten us as to the philosophy and approach to development used by the Peace Corps. Peace Corps defines development as ‘any process that promotes the dignity of a people and their capacity to improve their own lives.’  By working within a human capacity building framework the focus of the work is on the development of people instead of things.  This approach to development focuses on helping people learn to identify what they would like to see changed, use their own strengths, and learn new skills to achieve what they believe is most important.  Development work is said to be sustainable when a community is able to continue on its own, without outside support.  The Peace Corps sees sustainable development as a process in which people learn to build on their own strengths to address their expressed needs.

Me, two PC staff members, and three of my counter parts at a capacity building workshop.

Me, two PC staff members, and three of my counter parts at a capacity building workshop.

Participating in a workshop on how to teach English with limited resources.

Participating in a workshop on how to teach English with limited resources.

My work here as a TEL Trainer is to work alongside Colombian teachers to help strengthen the English program in an effort to help them meet the nation’s bilingualism goals.  My work can be very slow, at times inefficient, and occasionally frustrating for myself and my counterparts.  So I am often asked by both people back home and locals, “Why don’t you just teach the English classes yourself?”  If I am being completely honest, half the time I have to bite my tongue from shouting, “I WISH I COULD!”  It would without a doubt be easier for everyone involved (myself, my counterparts, and the students).  But I remind myself that it would not be sustainable and it does not fit with the Peace Corps approach to international development.  And at the end of the day, those are two of the biggest reasons I decided to join the Peace Corps.

Co-planning with two high school teachers.

Co-planning with two high school teachers.

Prepping materials with a third grade teacher.

Prepping materials with a third grade teacher.

Betzaida implementing part of our co-planned lesson.

Betzaida implementing part of our co-planned lesson.

Two years is a really long time.  There were times at the beginning when I wondered what I had gotten myself into and whether a shorter program would have been a better choice.  Now that I am settling into my second year, I can say hands down that the two year timeline is essential for the success of this program.  I spent my first year getting to know the culture, my counterparts, and building relationships within my community.  Now, in my second year, I was able to hit the ground running and am better prepared to help my teachers build on their strengths to implement change that will have lasting effects long after I leave.

Ruby after successfully executing an entire English lesson from start to finish!

Ruby after successfully executing an entire English lesson from start to finish!

Bibiana implementing new dynamic activities in her English class.

Bibiana implementing new dynamic activities in her English class.

I recently came across a story that has gone viral online written by a young woman recounting her experience with ‘voluntourism’.  You can read the story here.  While I don’t necessarily agree with everything this young woman says or the manner in which she chooses to phrase it, I do agree with her overall message.

This is a debate in which I find myself falling into the gray area.  I have always lived my life with ‘the starfish story’ in mind.  You know the story.  A kid is walking down the beach picking up starfish that have washed ashore and throwing them back into the ocean.  A man stops him and says, “Why are you wasting your time throwing those starfish back in, there are thousands, you’ll never be able to make a difference!”  The kid tosses another starfish back in, looks up at the man and says, “It made a difference to that one.”  I may not be able to change the world, but whatever small difference I can make is worth a shot.  On the other hand, when choosing to go abroad for volunteer work it was very important to me to find an organization with a development philosophy that was sustainable and focused on human potential.

Unfortunately, I do not have an answer.  Maybe, there is no right answer.  I can only hope that people continue to volunteer, aspire to make positive change in the world, and with every good deed, have only the best of intentions.

I leave you with a quote from the article above that really resonated with me:

“I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.”

Until next time……paz y amor.

The pre-carnaval activities have already begun!  Post with more pictures coming soon!

The pre-carnaval activities have already begun! Post with more pictures coming soon!

Posted by: pckatie | January 4, 2014

Postcard Project Update!

Here in South America the school year is opposite of the school year in the states.  School starts in mid-January, there is a two week break in June, and the year ends in the beginning of December when students begin their longer ‘summer break’ over Christmas.  This means that we are just about to kick off a new school year in about a week!  It’s nice to know that some things never change, and just like I always was back home, I am excited to get back to school!

As I am spending my last few days of break organizing things for the upcoming (and my last) school year, I realized I am well overdue for an update on the Postcard Project!  As many of you might remember, way back in May I posted about the Postcard Project I am planning to do with my students and I asked for your help.  All I needed was for you to send us a postcard!  Originally I had said I needed at least 30-40 cards so that each student in a class could have one to use.  I posted the request, crossed my fingers, and waited!

Here we are eight months later and MAN did you guys deliver!  I have received 82 postcards from all over the United States and even a few international ones!  A BIG thank you to everyone who has contributed to this project.  I wish I could thank each of you individually, but many of you took the smart route and sent postcards from lots of people in one envelope!  I do have to give a shout out to the people who were some of the biggest contributors.  The Lewis Family in Phoenix, Arizona is a family I grew up babysitting/pet sitting/house sitting for and they collected lots of postcards from so many places!  Susan Mulvaney is the mother of one of my fellow volunteers and was kind enough to contribute many postcards and wrote lots of interesting things for my students to read!  And last but not least, my wonderful mother, who collected a huge stack of postcards from all her friends and coworkers!  Again, a huge thank you to EVERYONE who contributed to this project, it wouldn’t be possible without all of you!

So many postcards!!

So many postcards!!

My students will be so excited, thanks to everyone!

My students will be so excited, thanks to everyone!

As the school year gets started we will begin using the postcards and I will be sure to update with pictures along the way!

Until next time…paz y amor.

P.S. Here is the list of postcards we have recieved:

US States         International 
Alaska (4) Canada
Arizona (4) Stanley Park
Grand Canyon (6) Vancouver
Sedona Ecuador (2)
St. Francis Xavier Church Galapagos Islands
California (2) Quito
Beverly Hills El Salvador
Catalina Island Coatepeque
Los Angeles (2) Mexico
LAX Cabo San Lucas
Redondo Beach Todos Santos
Santa Monica Peru
Florida Lima
Miami (2) Machu Picchu
South Beach (2)
Hawaii
Maui (3)
Massachusetts
Nantucket (5)
Shellburne Falls
South Hadley
University of Massachusetts
Minnesota (3)
Minneapolis
Nevada
Las Vegas
New England
New York (3)
Brooklyn Bridge
Buffalo  
Niagra Falls  
Peace Bridge  
Radio City Music Hall  
Statue of Liberty  
Times Square
Pennsylvania
Philidelphia  
Pittsburgh  
Liberty Bell
South Dakota
Mount Rushmore  
Sturgis
Texas (5)
Houston  
Johnson Space Center  
San Antonio
Posted by: pckatie | January 1, 2014

The McCarthy’s Do Christmas in Colombia!

The saying is true, ‘there’s no place like home for the holidays’.  This is especially true in my case because I happen to have grown up with a mother and grandmother who make the Christmas season especially magical.  It is a time full of traditions and many of my favorite memories are from Christmases past.  That is why I am so excited that next Christmas; I will be back in the states and am looking forward to celebrating my favorite season with my whole family.

Christmas back home!

Christmas back home!

This year, we broke tradition and did something completely different.  My family celebrated an early Christmas back home with my Grandma so that they could travel to Colombia and celebrate Christmas with me!  As much as I missed the family and traditions back home, it was so wonderful to have my parents and sister here in Colombia and to be together for the holidays!

The McCarthy's in Colombia!

The McCarthy’s in Colombia!

I left home sixteen months ago, and saying goodbye to my parents at the airport in Phoenix was the last time I had seen them.  Sixteen months is by far the longest I have ever gone without seeing my family, so needless to say I was very anxious to be reunited!  After a day of traveling I arrived in Bogota around 8:00pm on Christmas Eve.  My family’s flight was delayed almost two hours so I had a long time to sit around in the airport with butterflies in my stomach!  They finally arrived and immediately spotted me pressed against the glass waiting for them.

Trapped outside the glass!

Trapped outside the glass!

A hug I have been waiting 16 months for.

The hug I have been waiting        sixteen months for.

Reunited!

Reunited!

After a quick trip through customs, I was hugging my family (in front of lots of pointing/watching/smiling Colombians)!  We headed to a beautiful hotel and I hopped into a long awaited hot shower.  When I got out, there were fuzzy pajamas, Christmas decorations, and Christmas cookies waiting for me!  They also brought me a whole suitcase full of things I have been missing from home like makeup, toothpaste, raisin bran, clothes, wheat thins, and so much more!

Suitcase full of my favorite things!

Suitcase full of my favorite things!

We spent three days in Bogota and I was amazed at the size of the city.  We took a day trip out to Zipaquirá to see the Salt Cathedral, explored La Candelaria, visited the Gold Museum and the Botero Museum, saw many beautiful churches, hit up my favorite brewery, went out to experience an open air market, enjoyed some traditional Colombian soups, and rode the cable car up to Monserrate.

Walking through a beautiful neighborhood in Bogota.

Walking through a beautiful neighborhood in Bogota.

So much salt!

So much salt!

Inside the Salt Cathedral

Inside the Salt Cathedral

Complimentary draft beer at the hotel...heaven!

Complimentary draft beer at the hotel…heaven!

Sancocho, Ajiaco, and Frijoles

Sancocho, Ajiaco, and Frijoles with jugos naturales.

Pig foot in Mom's soup.

Pig foot in Mom’s soup.

After enjoying dinner outside under the heaters!

After enjoying dinner outside under the heaters!

Fancy mall!

Fancy mall!

View from Monserrate over Bogota.

View from Monserrate over Bogota.

Next we headed back to the coast to spend two days in Cartagena.  We spent our first day walking around the historic walled city, browsing the shops, visiting the plazas, enjoying some Crepes and Waffles, and trying to stay cool!  That night we went up on the walls and enjoyed the beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the centro.  Our second day was spent relaxing on the beach in front of our hotel.  We had some traditional costal Colombian lunches, sampled Colombian beers, tried some treats from the vendors, worked on our tans, and cooled off in the refreshing Caribbean sea!

The clock tower.

The clock tower.

Sweaty, but happy!

Sweaty, but happy!

Beautiful Cartagena

Beautiful Cartagena

Looking at Christmas lights!

Looking at Christmas lights!

Beach day

Beach day!

Mom's favorite food...

Mom’s favorite food…

On our last night we headed up to the hotel room where my family packed their bags to go home.  I took them to the airport and we enjoyed some Juan Valdez while we waited.  Eventually the time came for them to head through security and we had to say our goodbyes.  Luckily this time we are only saying goodbye for about 10 months!  My wonderful Dad arranged for me to stay in the hotel one more night, so I headed back and enjoyed a few more hot showers and some Keeping Up with the Kardashians in the air conditioned room!

It was a really wonderful trip and so much fun to share some of this beautiful country I am currently calling home with my family!  Hands down the hardest part of this experience is being away from so many people I love, so I am really thankful that I got to spend some time with the most important people in my life, my parents and my sister!  I will never be able to express how much it meant to me to be together for the holidays.

Mi Hermanita

Mi Hermanita

It's not goodbye, just see you soon!

It’s not goodbye, just see you soon!

I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season filled with love and that you are entering into the New Year with hope that 2014 will be the best year yet!

Until next time….paz y amor.

You can see all the pictures from our trip on my PICTURES tab or by clicking HERE.

Posted by: pckatie | December 15, 2013

From One Paradise to Another

A few months ago an opportunity was presented to the Peace Corps volunteers here in Colombia to apply for a program being put on by the Colombian Ministry of Education.  The program is an English immersion program that is hosted twice a year on the island of San Andres.  I wrote up a resume and a proposal for the methodology workshop I would present if selected, sent it all off to the people in charge, and then crossed my fingers and waited!  In the end of October I finally found out that I had been selected to participate, about a week before I would be leaving.  I gathered all of my methodology and English teaching materials, packed a bag, and was off!

Me, Nina, and Kait reppin' PC at the immersion!

Me, Nina, and Kait reppin’ PC at the immersion!

Postcard? No.  This is beautiful San Andres!

Postcard? No. This is beautiful San Andres!

San Andres is a small island that is located in the Caribbean sea off the coast of Nicaragua, historically tied to England, and politically part of Colombia.  The official languages of the island are Spanish, English, and Creole.  The island is about 10 square miles and there is one main road that circles the entire island and is about 19 miles long.  There is ‘the centro’ where the majority of the hotels, restaurants, and lots of duty free shops are located.  The rest of the island is more rural.  The entire island is surrounded by beautiful turquoise water/white sand beaches and coral reefs and is covered in lush green trees.  It is super hot and humid with a very islandy feel (I never went a day without hearing Bob Marley).

I wasn't kidding when I said lush green trees...

I wasn’t kidding when I said lush green trees…

The English immersion was put on by the Colombian Ministry of Education, INFOTEP, and SENA.  English teachers from all over Colombia submitted applications and 120 were selected to participate in the program on San Andres.  The program is one month long and includes a rigorous schedule of English classes, methodology workshops, test taking and technology courses, and culminates in a language exam and final project presentation.  I worked along with two other Peace Corps volunteers (Nina and Kait) in two different capacities.  We worked every morning alongside the English language tutors (English speakers native to the island) teaching English.  The tutors took on more of the grammatical side of the class while we brought in dynamic activities the teachers can bring back and use with their students when teaching the same topics.  Our second role was that of ‘methodologists’ (they named us that….I don’t claim to be anything so fancy sounding).  We each taught two methodology workshops each week.  Based on feedback we received, the teachers really enjoyed our participation in the immersion, so hopefully Peace Corps will continue to have a presence in these programs in the future!

One of the classes of teachers.

One of the classes of teachers.

Final presentations included language and culture components.

Final presentations included language and culture components.

Aside from working, there was plenty of time to explore the island and all it had to offer!  On Saturday afternoons we were invited to participate in some cultural activities that included visiting the First Baptist Church, a pirate museum, a lake full of crocodiles, and LOTS of traditional dancing!

First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church

Lake full of crocodiles...

Lake full of crocodiles…

Learning the 'raga raga'.

Learning the ‘raga raga’.

A traditional dress (this was nice and cool...)

A traditional dress (nice and weather appropriate for a Caribbean island…)

Each Sunday was completely free and we visited lots of beaches, cays, and took a boat out to some smaller islands.  We lived in what is called a ‘posada nativa’ which is a big house divided up into a few apartments and run by the family that lives there.  Our hosts were Edula and George (with some help from the neighbor Antonia).  They provided all of our meals which were pretty typical (breakfast was fruit, yogurt, cereal, and a little sandwich…lunch was HUGE with rice, meat, and breadfruit, and dinner would be a sandwich or soup).  We also got to try the traditional dish of the island which is called rondon and is made of coconut milk, conch, pig tails, and dumplings.

Johnny Cay

Johnny Cay

Rondon

Rondon

Coco Locos!

We couldn’t go a whole month on the island without some coco locos!

Overall it was a wonderful experience and I feel so fortunate to have been a part of the program.  Working with the teachers was very rewarding, the island was breathtakingly beautiful, the culture was so vibrant, and the people were warm and welcoming.  If you’re looking to escape the chilly winter, head down south and spend some time in paradise on San Andres Island :)

Beautiful San Andres

Beautiful San Andres

My favorite little friend :)

My favorite little friend :)

The happiest man on Earth.

The happiest man on Earth.

These girls could out-dance Shakira!

These girls could out-dance Shakira!

Until next time…..paz y amor.

P.S. In exactly 8 days, after 16 months with out seeing them, my family will be coming to Colombia!  I can not put into words how excited I am to see them and to be together to celebrate Christmas.  I will miss my family and friends back home (that’s you Grandma!!), but I will be looking forward to spending next Christmas back in the states.  I will update here again in 2014!  So for now I want to say that I wish you all the warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family and many blessings in the new year!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2014!

'Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and everything becomes softer and more beautiful.'

‘Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and everything becomes softer and more beautiful.’

Posted by: pckatie | November 28, 2013

Tropical Thanksgiving 2013!

As you might know from my previous post, I am currently living on a small island in the Caribbean called San Andres.  I was invited here for a month to work as a teacher trainer in an English immersion workshop being put on by the Colombian Ministry of Education.  But more on that later, for now, let’s get on to the important stuff.  THANKSGIVING!

It might be the middle of November...but tropical islands don't care!

It might be the middle of November…but tropical islands don’t care!

Last Thanksgiving was my first really big holiday that I have ever been away from my family, but luckily I survived by celebrated with all of Peace Corps Colombia in a huge gringo gathering (read about it here or see pictures here).  This year, I am celebrating in tropical paradise.  I am here with two other volunteers (Kait and Nina) and we decided that it is entirely possible to put on a real Thanksgiving dinner no matter where you are (with a few substitutions of course)!  We set out asking for information from locals, hunting down the bigger super markets on the island, and finally did our big shopping trip where we were able to find everything we needed.

Shopping at Super Todo

Shopping at Super Todo

Our Thanksgiving dinner consisted of:

TURKEY! (Lovingly prepared…including a butter massage…by Nina)

First it got a bath.

First he got a bath.

Then he got a butter massage.

Then he got a butter massage.

Then he got cooked to a beautiful golden brown.

Then he got cooked to a beautiful golden brown.

Stuffing, cranberry sauce (kind of) , pumpkin (ok fine….it’s ahyuama) pie, and apple pie (expertly made by Kait)

Pumpkin (or ahuyama if you want to get technical) and apple pies!

Pumpkin (or ahuyama if you want to get technical) and apple pies!

Mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn (masterfully cooked up by yours truly)

I'm pretty talented in the kitchen.

I’m pretty talented in the kitchen.

We live in a ‘posada nativa’ which means we have a host family as well as four Colombian teachers living next door.  In true Thanksgiving spirit, we decided to invite them to partake in our celebration with us, and they very enthusiastically accepted.

We had to work in the morning, and then we came home in the afternoon and were beyond excited to discover that we were getting NBC and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was just about to begin!  We spent the afternoon watching the parade, hearing all about the Black Friday craziness, learning how to cook a turkey, and rounded it off in good American fashion with a few episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Al!

Al!

We cooked dinner and sat down to eat around 7:30pm and everything turned out wonderful!  While it might not be exactly the same as when my mama and grandma are cooking (and Dad on the turkey of course!), it was delicious and very special because I got to share it with new friends with whom I am sharing such an amazing experience.

The spread.

The spread.

And the feast began.

And the feast began.

The chefs!

The chefs!

The Peace Corps has three main goals (which you can see here).  The second goal is ‘helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served’.  I can’t think of a better (or more delicious!) way to meet that second goal than sharing the tradition of Thanksgiving with our new friends here in Colombia.

To all of my friends and family both old and new, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving full of love and delicious food :)

Until next time…..paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | November 4, 2013

The Latest and Greatest

Happy fall from the land of eternal summer!  I hope you are all enjoying your crisp weather, changing leaves, and all things autumn.  On the one hand, as I scroll through instagram looking at sepia toned shots of pumpkin spice everything and vintage looking piles of leaves, I am a little envious of everyone enjoying my favorite season.  But then I remember how quickly my time is passing here and that the next time fall rolls around, I will be heading home!  I remember all the things that I love about Colombia and how limited my time is here.  Then I grab a mango, throw on a sundress, and head to the beach and suddenly pumpkin spice is the farthest thing from my mind!

Fall comes to the Caribbean thanks to a package from my parents!

Fall comes to the Colombian coast thanks to a package from my parents!

Here is what has been happening lately in the beautiful Santa Marta:

WOMEN AND GENDER IN DEVELOPMENT

A little over a month ago I went to Barranquilla to participate in a Women and Gender in Development committee meeting.  Here on the coast of Colombia (as is true in most parts of the world) women are still a marginalized population.  There are lots of initiatives already in place and doing work in the area of women and gender in development.  As a committee we are working on creating and organizing a database where we can consolidate all of the materials and information we have for volunteers who are interested in starting secondary projects in this area.  We also had a great conversation via Skype with a representative from the UN Women (the sector of the United Nations dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women).  It was really inspirational to hear the work my fellow volunteers are doing in their sites and I am excited to see future projects.

Women and Gender in Development Committee

Women and Gender in Development Committee

TECHNICAL IN SERVICE TRAINING

About a month ago we had a regional in service training.  Basically this means that staff from the Peace Corps office comes to Santa Marta and invites the volunteers and our counterparts (the teachers we work with) to attend a three day conference focusing on technical training.  We attended sessions on materials development, the backwards design to lesson planning, co-teaching methods, assessment, behavior change theory, etc.  Our teachers take these workshops very seriously and welcome the opportunity to learn some new methodologies and improve their practice.  At the end of the conference we presented our counterparts with certificates and were asked to say a few words about working with them.  There were a lot of heartfelt sentiments shared and even some tears shed.  This experience can be a very emotional one and the work can be very trying for both volunteers and counterparts.  The genuine emotion shared on this day reminded me of the importance and sincerity of the relationships that are being built.

Erik (PC staff), Viviana (1st grade teacher), Me, Rosiris (4th grade teacher), Milena (high school teacher), Olga (PC staff)

Erik (PC staff), Viviana (1st grade teacher), Me, Rosiris (4th grade teacher), Milena (secondary teacher), Olga (PC staff)

Materials Development

Materials Development

CII-5 ARRIVES

Back in August the next new group of volunteers arrived in country (a new group arrives each year in August).  I was not able to go meet them at the airport, but I was invited to go during their three month training and present a session on teaching young learners, so I had a chance to meet them.  They seem like a wonderful group and are very enthusiastic about their future work here in Colombia.  About two weeks ago we found out which of them would be coming to Santa Marta.  We will be adding 8 young women to our Santa Marta family and we couldn’t be more excited.  They came to visit their new schools last week and we had a potluck to welcome them.

Santa Marta CII-3, CII-4, and CII-5 at the pot luck.

Santa Marta CII-3, CII-4, and CII-5 at the pot luck. (Minus Allison, Nate, Andrew, and Elizabet)

TEACHING ENGLISH IN PRIMARY CLASSROOMS

One of my secondary projects here is a class I teach with three other volunteers at night.  This class is designed for primary teachers at a basic level of English language proficiency.  We teach English vocabulary while modeling dynamic teaching methodologies appropriate for large primary classrooms.  This is one of my favorite parts of my service and I look forward to this class each week.  We just had our last class where we played a Jeopardy review game (which they absolutely killed), had a potluck (which was delicious), and presented our students with some well-deserved certificates (Colombians love certificates).  I am looking forward to starting this class up again next school year and hope to see some familiar faces return.

Our wonderful students!

Our wonderful students!

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MINISTRY OF EDUCATION ENGLISH IMMERSION ON SAN ANDRES ISLAND

A few months ago we were presented with an opportunity to apply for a position at an English immersion workshop being put on by the Colombian Ministry of Education.  I submitted my proposal for a workshop I would present on Dynamic, Communicative, and Cooperative Learning  in Large English Classrooms.  Those of us who applied have been anxiously waiting to find out who had been selected as we knew the workshop begins in the beginning of November which was rapidly approaching.  A few days ago I got a call from the Peace Corps program manager telling me my proposal had been selected and I was being invited to attend the workshop as a trainer.  The participants of the workshop are secondary school English teachers from all over Colombia.  The workshop is a month long (I will be gone November 8th through December 7th) and is being hosted on San Andres Island (google map it….it is a tiny spec of land in the middle of the ocean off the coast of Nicaragua).  Even though it is way closer to Nicaragua, it belongs to Colombia.  From what I hear and from some extensive googling, San Andres seems like paradise!  We will be working during the days but it sounds like we will also have time to explore the island and all it has to offer.  I will likely not have internet while I am there so next time you hear from me will be in December when I am back in Santa Marta.

San Andres Preview (stole this from Google)

San Andres Preview (stole this from Google)

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving full of family, friends, and of course delicious food.  Know that all of you back home are always on my mind and I am so thankful for each and every one of you.  I am also thankful for all of the wonderful people who have become such a huge part of my life over the last year.  Finally, I am eternally thankful for all of the amazing opportunities I have been blessed with in my life and that continue to present themselves.

My family at Thanksgiving in 2011.

My family at Thanksgiving 2011

Until next time….paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | October 15, 2013

The Eje Cafetero

When most people think of where their coffee comes from they probably imagine aisle four of their local supermarket.  Or maybe if they’re really fancy they picture their local food co-op where they buy the organic, fair trade, environmentally friendly, mother of all coffee beans variety.  But did you ever stop to wonder where your coffee actually originated?  Maybe your coffee started on a small coffee plantation in Indonesia, a huge internationally exporting plantation in Brazil, or a centuries old farm in Ethiopia.  Or maybe, if you’re really lucky, your coffee originated in a little family owned organic finca run by a man named Don Elias in the heart of the Colombian Eje Cafetero.  Just a few days ago, I was sipping a piping hot cup of café courtesy of Don Elias on my vacation to the Colombian Eje Cafetero!

The land of coffee!

The land of coffee!

Beautiful countryside.

Beautiful countryside.

The Eje Cafetero, or the Coffee Triangle, is made up of the capitals of three departamentos: Manizales, Caldas; Armenia, Quindío; and Pereira, Risaralda and is located in rural, interior Colombia.  My friend Chelsey and I took advantage of the fact that we had a week off for Semana Uribe and decided to explore a new part of Colombia.  We visited Pereira and Manizales, as well as two much smaller towns called Salento and Filandia.  Here are the highlights:

Pereira:

Pereira is a large city and a good jumping off point for exploring the coffee triangle.  We were lucky enough to get a ride with a really nice group of Colombians from the airport who gave us a little tour of the city before dropping us off in the center of town.  There are three beautiful plazas, lots of nice malls, and plenty of outdoor cafes and restaurants.  We stayed at Kolibri hostel which was centrally located and happened to have a fun little Colombian music gathering going on where local artists were playing traditional Colombian instruments, dancing, and basically just gozar-ing life!

Traditional Colombian music at the hostel

Traditional Colombian music at the hostel

Colombia vs. Chile

Colombia vs. Chile

Manizales:

Manizales is also a large city, but has a much more residential feel.  We spent the majority of the day walking around and exploring, drinking coffee, and watching the people exercising in the street as part of their weekly ‘Active Hours’ where they shut down the street for people to walk dogs, run, ride bikes, etc. (Come on Santa Marta…get on that!).

Sunset over Manizales.

Sunset over Manizales.

Drinking coffee (central theme of this trip)

Drinking coffee (central theme of this trip)

Besides drinking coffee or beer..our other favorite pastime...

Besides drinking coffee..our other favorite pastime…

Salento:

We spent the majority of our week in Salento and I could have stayed forever.  It is a quaint little town that gets a lot of tourists (mostly the backpacking crowd).  We stayed at a hostel right in the center of town, but many people stay in hostels or at fincas outside of town too.  There are lots of artisanal shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and hostels in addition to the homes and businesses of the people who are lucky enough to call Salento home!

Quaint street in Salento

Quaint street in Salento

Cafe in Salento

Cafe in Salento

We ate at Brunch somewhere around 300 times...

We ate at Brunch somewhere around 300 times…

Filandia:

This little town is kind of like an even smaller version of Salento.  Quiet little streets lined with colorful houses and people going about their daily business.  Just outside of town is a man made mirador where you can climb up a few stories and look out over eight different departamentos.  It was absolutely beautiful, even though we got stuck out there during a crazy storm!

Church in the centro of Filandia.

Church in the centro of Filandia.

View from the mirador.

View from the mirador.

Looking out over 3 different departments.

Looking out over 3 different departments.

Then the storm rolled in and we were freezing...luckily we smuggled a blanket out...

Then the storm rolled in and we were freezing…luckily we smuggled a blanket out…

We got tired of waiting for the bus after about an hour and a half...

We got tired of waiting for the bus after about an hour and a half…

Finca Don Elias:

We walked about an hour outside of Salento, down a dirt road, through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen to visit a little coffee finca and learn how coffee is made.  Unfortunately, Don Elias wasn’t there the day we went (he was on super official coffee business) but luckily his daughter knows her way around a coffee finca too and was happy to give the tour.  We saw where all the plants are grown, tasted some coffee berries right off the plant, watched how beans are dried, ground, roasted, and then tried some delicious home grown/prepared coffee thanks to la esposa of Don Elias!

In the coffee fields.

In the coffee fields.

Valle de Cocora

If you skipped ahead and didn’t want to read everything above (it’s fine….I can be a little long winded) READ THIS PART.  If you ever visit Colombia (and I highly recommend that you do) and you only have the opportunity to go to one place….GO TO THE VALLE DE COCORA.  It was hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (rivaled only by Machu Picchu and Glacier National Park in Alaska).  It is a huge valley filled with wax palms which are the national tree of Colombia and grow to be 60 meters tall.  They look like they are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book.

If you want to be normal, just take a jeep from Salento for about a half an hour, rent some boots, and head out on the six hour hike with all the other tourists.  But who wants to be normal?  Chelsey and I, based on the recommendation of some friends, decided to try to do the hike backwards (supposedly its easier and you get to the pretty part first).  All was fine and well until we crossed a questionable bridge and kept getting passed by horses. We asked someone and were told to go back and (insert super confusing set of directions in Spanish).  We turned around and ran into a group of about 7 Colombians.  They took one look at us and determined we are helpless gringas and insisted we hike with them.  Why not?  Skip ahead three and a half hours later……we have trespassed twice and we have been hiking directly up the side of a mountain for three hours straight.  While it ended up being a bit more than we bargained for, it was SO worth it.  The views were amazing and we made seven new Colombian amigos!  All in all, we ended up hiking for about 7 hours, trespassing multiple times, and scaling down the side of a mountain into a field of cows.  And it was the best part of the whole trip.

Wax Palms (aka Dr. Seuss trees)

Wax Palms (aka Dr. Seuss trees)

Our Colombian hiking entourage.

Our Colombian hiking entourage.

Soaking up heaven.

Soaking up the positive energy.

Looks like Jurassic Park..

Looks like Jurassic Park..

Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora

The entire trip the weather was absolute heaven.  Warm sun with a cool breeze during the day and chilly enough to wear a sweater at night.  The coffee was delicious and super barato.  The towns were quaint and so much fun to explore.  The people were so nice we were only there for six days and got invited to lunch at two different families homes.  To sum it up?  Go visit the Eje Cafetero.

Photo bombing all over the world.

Photo bombing all over the world.

Until next time….paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | August 31, 2013

How Do You Measure a Year in the Life?

“525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?”

You might be wondering why I am busting out Broadway hit musicals (as if I need more of a reason than the fact that RENT is awesome)……it’s because Thursday, August 29th 2013 marked ONE YEAR in Colombia for myself and my fellow volunteers in CII-4! In true RENT style, I most certainly can measure this year in love. I love my fellow volunteers, I love my host families, I love my teachers and students, and of course I love Colombia! Just for fun though, I also decided to measure the year more numerically, so take a look at my last year by the numbers (note- due to my site change I have included some numbers from both sites!):

1580-  number of students and teachers I have worked with total
365-  days I have been in Colombia
285-  days since I swore in and began my service
240-  approximate number of times I ate rice while living in Bayunca
142-  days I lived in Bayunca
109-  average real feel temperature on the coast
90-  average temperature on the coast
84-  books I have read (see them here!)
77-  cents it costs to ride the bus ($1.400 pesos)
74-  average humidity in on the coast
40-  average number of students in each of my classes
30-  people in my training class
27-  minutes it takes on the bus to get to school
25-  volunteers still serving here in Colombia
23-  number of primary teachers I worked with in Bayunca
15-  hours I spend teaching each week
14-  vacation days I have used (Peru and Medellin)
13-  primary school teachers I co-teach with in Santa Marta
9-  Colombian beaches I have visited
8-  inches my hair has grown
7-  hours I spend co-planning each week
6-  pairs of sandals destroyed by Colombian sidewalks
5-  liters of water I drink each day
4-  tubes of anti-itch cream I have gone through for bug bites
3-  times I have trimmed my hair on my own with kitchen scissors
2.5- dollars for a typical lunch of meat, rice, lentils, plantain, soup and juice
2-  times I have washed my clothes in a machine
1-  birthday I have celebrated in Colombia
0.5- seconds it takes for the streets to flood when it rains
0- times I have driven a car, blow dried my hair, or seen my family
0- regrets I have about committing two years to this beautiful country

“It’s time now to sing out, though the story never ends, let’s celebrate remember a year in the life of friends.  Remember the love! Measure in love.”

12 months of loving life in Colombia down……here’s to the next 15!

Until next time…..paz y amor.

 

Leaving home one year ago!

Leaving home one year ago!

After one amazing year in Colombia!

After one amazing year in Colombia!

Posted by: pckatie | August 15, 2013

The City of Eternal Spring

Medellin, once dubbed the most dangerous city in the world, often conjures up images of drug cartels, senseless violence, assassinations, kidnappings, and right-wing paramilitary takeovers that marked the last part of the 20th century.  Today Medellin is known as ‘the city of eternal spring’ thanks to its beautiful weather and was recently awarded the title of ‘Most Innovative City of the Year’, beating out cities like New York and Tel Aviv.  It is an expansive metropolis filled with five star hotels, high-rise condos, chic restaurants, quaint sidewalk cafes, a thriving nightlife, and a rich history.  It is an impressive turnaround, but when you look around at this beautiful city, it is not surprising that it is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot.

Beautiful Medellin

Beautiful Medellin

Exhausted from the heat and looking to do some exploring, I headed to Medellin for a quick four day trip with three other volunteers.  After a quick 45 minute flight from Santa Marta to the airport just outside Medellin, we headed into the city to find our hostel.  We stayed in El Poblado at the Tiger Paw Hostel which was clean, safe, and had a fun bar…everything you need in a hostel!

Tiger Paw

Tiger Paw

We spent our first full day exploring the city.  Fernando Botero is Colombia’s most popular artist, known for his unique style of painting and sculpting voluptuous men, women, and animals.  We visited Botero Plaza which is an outdoor display of many of his statues.  Next we visited the Museo de Antioquia which showcases more of Botero’s works as well as works by other Latin artists.  The majority of these works were donated by Botero in an attempt to continue the revitalization of Medellin.

In Plaza Botero

In Plaza Botero

Life imitating art.

Life imitating art.

Andrea pondering the artwork in the museum.

Andrea pondering the artwork in the museum.

Chelsey pondering more artwork.

Chelsey pondering more artwork.

Afterwards we walked across town (literally) to the Jardín Botánico.  This well known botanical garden is always filled with beautiful plants and exotic birds, but as we were visiting Medellin during the Feria de las Flores (Festival of the Flowers) the garden was decked out with hundreds of flower displays!

Flower display in the botanical garden.

Flower display in the botanical garden.

Nina photo bombing my flower picture.

Nina photo bombing my flower picture.

Las Flores

Las Flores

The following day we headed up in the Metrocable. This urban gondola, one of two initially built to provide easier city access to the poorer neighborhoods higher up the mountainsides, has become a symbol of the city’s urban renewal. After enjoying stunning views of Medellin as we headed up the mountainside, we got off at the very top where you can visit Parque Arvi.  This park is a natural reserve with acres of wildlife, full of paths where you can explore on your own or with a guide.  We wandered through the craft market and purchased handmade souvenirs, explored around the park enjoying the chilly weather, and sampled some of the fresh fruits that were brought straight from the fincas (I had big red STRAWBERRIES after 11 months on the strawberry-less coast!).  Mid-afternoon we noticed that there were some storm clouds rolling in and decided we better head down.  Next thing we knew people were running for cover and we were in the middle of the biggest thunderstorm I have ever seen!  The metrocable was shut down and we were trapped on top of the mounting with a few hundred people waiting out the storm for a little over two hours.  Spirits were remarkably high as people huddled for warmth, shared umbrellas, bought ponchos from the very timely poncho vendors, and watched as the rain turned to hail before the storm finally let up.

And the beautiful plants!

Lost of  beautiful plants!

Exploring the park.

Exploring the park.

Nina bought a poncho to keep warm during the storm!

Nina bought a poncho to keep warm during the storm!

Enjoying the beautiful weather!

Enjoying the beautiful weather!

In the evenings we enjoyed the delicious restaurant scene and vivid nightlife, for which Medellin has recently become very well known.  We were excited to find the extensive international food offerings and enjoyed real Mexican food, sushi, and hamburgers!  After dinner we would head back to the hostel for happy hour which included DRAFT beers (a rarity here on the coast) and then head out to check out some of the bars and clubs in the famous Parque Lleras, which is Medellin’s ‘zona rosa’ or main nightlife scene.  It is about 4 square blocks of restaurants, bars, clubs, and discotecas where you can enjoy 3×1 drink specials on Colombia’s favorite Aguardiente or a cold cerveza while listening to the mix of salsa, vallenato, and reggaeton music.

Mexican food!

Mexican food!

Draft beers!

Draft beers!

Gettin religious.

Gettin religious.

Wandering the streets looking at cute shops!

Wandering the streets looking at cute shops!

Happy hour

Happy hour!

Although it was a quick trip, we had a fantastic time exploring all this wonderful city has to offer.  Did I see any drugs? Yes.  Were there parts of town I wouldn’t want to go alone?  Definitely.  Was I cautious when I was out at night? Of course.  Could I say these things about any large city in any country in the world?  Absolutely.  Medellin was a beautiful, modern, and culturally rich city where I felt just as safe as I would in any other urban center in the world.  It is full of warm and welcoming people eager to show the rest of the world the wonders of their city.  So shake the stereotypes, and start planning your next vacation to the city of eternal spring!

Saying goodbye to the cool weather at the airport!

Saying goodbye to the cool weather at the airport!

One last look at the city!

One last look at the city!

Until next time…paz y amor.

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