Posted by: pckatie | June 2, 2015

The Final Post

Hola!  For those of you who have been anxiously waiting around clinging to my promise of one final blog post (oh wait….no one?) I apologize for the delay :)

I have been back stateside for about six months now and I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed!  I have been spending time with people I love and enjoying the beautiful Phoenix weather (until about two days ago when it became deathly hot)!  I just finished up the school year at a charter school where I was working as a long term substitute teacher in a Spanish classroom.  I taught grades 3-8 and it was a really great opportunity for me to experience something a little different!

Clockwise from top left: 1. Visiting the best in her new home in CA. 2. Enjoying some live music and beautiful Arizona sunshine. 3. Quick trip to San Francisco when my sister interviewed for (and later accepted) a job as a flight attendant with Virgin America. 4. Spending time with my mama! 5. The gorgeous desert view from an early morning hike!

Clockwise from top left:
1. Visiting the best friend in her new home in California.
2. Enjoying some live music and beautiful Arizona sunshine at the Cultivate Festival.
3. Quick trip to San Francisco where my little sister interviewed for (and later accepted) a job as a flight attendant with Virgin America.
4. Spending time with my beautiful mama!
5. One of my favorite views from an early morning hike near my house.

I keep in touch regularly with my family and friends in Colombia.  Starting in the fall I will be teaching informal English classes via Skype to my host cousins (and in exchange we will converse in Spanish to keep my skills sharp!).  My abuelo is still doing great and the rest of my family is happy and healthy as well.

A picture sent to me of my abuelo's 96th birthday in April.

The family celebrating my abuelo’s 96th birthday back in April!

I have been waiting until everything was finalized to share my plans for next year, but now that I have signed a contract for my job and a lease for my apartment I guess it’s about as final as it can get!  I am excited to announce that at the end of this month I will be moving to Denver, Colorado where I have accepted a job teaching kindergarten ELA!  Also, by complete coincidence, I happen to be working at a school where one of the other volunteers I served with in Colombia teaches.  Talk about a small world!  The job is a perfect fit for my passions and skill set and I think that I will be very happy living in Denver.  I already have a list about a mile long of all the places I want to hike (and a second list nearly as long of places to do happy hour!).

My Dad joined me on a spring break trip to Colorado to check out schools and apartments!

My Dad joined me on a spring break trip to Colorado to check out schools and apartments back in March!

Now that all of the updates are out of the way, it’s time to do something I have been putting off for six months.  Writing a final post for this blog, for me, brings this chapter of my life to a final close.

All along I imagined writing one last entry that summed up my Peace Corps service into a concise and moving account of how it was a life changing experience and how Peace Corps really is ‘the toughest job you’ll ever love’.  Now here we are, the time has come for the epic end all post, and while both of those things are true, they just don’t seem to do the experience justice.  I struggle to find the words to explain just how much it meant to me or how it impacted the person I am today.  In one sense, it doesn’t seem that much different than any other two year segment of my life.  I had many personal milestones, plenty of failures, professional achievements, and my fair share of boredom too!  Yet because these two years took place on another continent in a different culture, there is this expectation that I have neatly packaged insights that I can easily and eloquently relay when people ask, “How was Colombia?”  I have plenty of interesting stories, which I enjoy sharing, but in the same way that the hamburger you had for dinner last night doesn’t define your whole week, those iguana eggs I had with my family—although an amusing story—in no way represents the experience I’ve had as a whole.  I feel a heavy responsibility in summarizing my experience, because in telling my story, I also tell Colombia’s story.

What I can say is that there were highs and there were lows, but serving in the Peace Corps and dedicating two years of my life to living, learning, and loving in Colombia was the best decision I have ever made.  It had been a long time dream, and I am so glad that despite setbacks, I made that dream a reality.  Colombia and the people I met there have touched my heart and inspired me in a way that I have never experienced before, and I will be forever grateful for my time there.  To the Peace Corps staff, my fellow volunteers, my Spanish teachers who sparked a desire to experience the world, my family who supported me throughout the journey, and most importantly, to the people of Colombia…..thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Some of the people and places that will always hold a special place in my heart.

Just a few of the people and places that will always hold a special place in my heart.

To everyone who has been reading over the past three years, thanks for being a part of the journey.  Life is so beautiful and I am so glad I was able to record and share bits and pieces of it through this blog.  This is the end of one adventure, which can only mean the beginning of a new adventure is on the horizon.

Whatever adventures await you, remember “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”.

One last time……paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | January 16, 2015

Life as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!

Happy New Year!  I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season with friends and family!  I am writing to you from beautiful Phoenix, Arizona!  I have been back in the US for nearly two months now and the time has absolutely FLOWN by!  I have been busy catching up with friends and family, enjoying the holidays, and getting my feet back on the ground after two years away.

After 27 months....I'M HOME!

After 27 months….I’M HOME!

My three favorite people waiting at the airport!

My three favorite people waiting at the airport!

HOME!

HOME!

You know the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, so here are some pictures of the highlights from my first two months back in the US!

Long awaited shopping spree.

Long awaited shopping spree!

Hadn't touched a piano in over two years...so happy!

Hadn’t touched a piano in over two years…so happy!

Welcome home in California!

Welcome home in California!

Reunited with Grandma just in time to celebrate her 89th birthday!

Reunited with Grandma just in time to celebrate her 89th birthday!

Thanksgiving/Birthday celebration with the family in California.

Thanksgiving/Birthday celebration with the family in California.

Reunion with the best friend at the Andrew McMahon concert!

Reunion with the best friend at the Andrew McMahon concert!

Nutcracker Ballet with Lindsey!

Nutcracker Ballet with Lindsey!

Gingerbread party.

Gingerbread party.

Back at it with my partner in crime.

Back at it with my partner in crime.

Christmas morning in matching PJs :)

Christmas morning in matching PJs :)

The ladies at Christmas dinner!

The ladies at Christmas dinner!

Christmas party (aka Friendsmas)!

Christmas party (aka Friendsmas)!

My bests at Friendsmas!

With my favorite ladies at Friendsmas!

Las Vegas!

Las Vegas!

After a month trapped in the house with no car....I bought my first ever new car!  A 2015 Hyundai Elantra!

Bought my first ever new car, a 2015 Hyundai Elantra!

Celebrating the car with my personal car price negotiator!  This guy drives a hard bargin!

Celebrating the car with my personal car price negotiator! This guy drives a hard bargain!

New Years Eve with good wine and great people!

New Years Eve with good wine and great people!

During Peace Corps training they talk a lot about something called ‘reverse culture shock’.  Everyone expects to experience culture shock when they move to another country, but what people often don’t think about is the reverse culture shock that can occur when a person returns to their home country after an extended period abroad.  This can be different for everyone and lucky for me, I have adjusted back to life in the states relatively quickly and easily!

Of course there are a few little adjustments like remembering that in the states you can throw toilet paper into the toilet, getting into the habit of saying ‘dollar’ instead of ‘mil’, having one million greek yogurt options at the grocery store, etc.  Besides these small things, one of the biggest differences I notice since being home is that I have a greater appreciation for many things that I definitely took for granted before my time in Peace Corps.  Whether it is the ease of doing laundry, the abundance of clean water, the safety/cleanliness of where I live, or the joy I get from spending time with friends and family….I am reminded daily of how fortunate I am and remember to be grateful for all that I have.

While I am so happy to be home, I still miss Colombia and the wonderful people that became a part of my life there, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology I am able to keep in touch pretty regularly.  I know that someday I will travel to Colombia to visit and I am excited for the day that I get to return to the place and people that I came to love so much.

I want to keep this blog as a memoir of my time in the Peace Corps, so I will not be continuing to write here.  I plan on posting one last update in the coming months, so be on the lookout for the final farewell!

 
Until next time…..paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | November 20, 2014

COS Trip (with pictures!)

Hello from La Ciudad de Mexico!  Confused?  As much as I wish I could say I am exploring this interesting city, that will have to wait for another trip.  Right now, I am writing from the Mexico City airport during my three hour layover on my way HOME (what?!?)!   I did, however, just spend the last three weeks exploring beautiful Bolivia!  (sorry if you got this post twice…it posted without pictures the first time!)

After saying all of my goodbyes, ringing the bell, and biding mi querida Colombia a final farewell….I hopped on a plane and headed to Bolivia where I met up with my amiga Chelsey!  Now for a recap of the trip:

Reunited after a whole year apart!

Reunited after a whole year apart!

La Paz

We met up in La Paz, the highest national (de facto) capital in the world at about 13,400 feet, and spent our first few days acquainting ourselves with Bolivia (and acclimatizing to the altitude!).

View of La Paz from the hostel!

View of La Paz from the hostel!

Copacabana/Lake Titicaca/Isla del Sol

Next we hopped on a bus for the two hour ride to Copacabana, a quaint town on the shore of Lake Titicaca and the gateway to Isla del Sol, which is considered to be the spiritual center of the Andean world and  the birthplace of the sun and the moon.  We spent the day walking from one side of the island to the other (and getting a little bit lost, momentarily thinking we were going to die, and then being lead back to safety by a dog). In the evening we caught a boat back to Copacabana and spent the evening relaxing at our beautiful hotel looking out over the lake.

Just chatting with some llamas.

Just chatting with some llamas.

Hiking on Isla del Sol

Hiking on Isla del Sol

Little farms and houses on Isla del Sol

Little farms and houses on Isla del Sol

Sucre

After leaving Copacabana and making a short pit stop in La Paz to regroup, we headed out for the city of Sucre.  We wandered through the center of town, visited historic buildings and museums, and hiked up to the mirador.  My favorite place we visited was about two hours outside of Sucre, at the Tarabuco Sunday market, where inhabitants still gather in traditional dress to exchange textiles and other products.

Beautiful white buildings line the streets of Sucre!

Beautiful white buildings line the streets of Sucre!

View of the city from the mirador.

View of the city from the mirador.

A family of pigs in Tarabuco!

A family of pigs in Tarabuco!

Textiles at the Tarabuco market.

Textiles at the Tarabuco market.

Potosí

As much as I would have loved to stay in Sucre forever, we had other places to see!  We got on a bus and rode about three hours to the town of Potosí, one of the highest cities in the world! The town sits at the foot of the Cerro Rico. The town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for the intricate baroque churches and monasteries found throughout the town and home to beautiful Spanish colonial architecture.

Cero Rico from the rooftop terrace of the hostel.

Cero Rico from the rooftop terrace of the hostel.

Papas Huacainas

Papas Huacainas

Uyuni and the Salt Flats

Our next stop was the town of Uyuni which we reached by yet another bus ride.  Uyuni is a very small pueblo with nothing really to see, but it is the jumping off point for the salt flat tours and has lots of tiny hostels, restaurants, and shops catering to people getting ready to head out.

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni

In the morning we met up with our group for a 3-day, 4×4 tour in and around Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt desert in the world. The trip was absolutely mind blowing as we crossed rugged deserts, stood in the middle of the huge expanse of salt, cut through epic volcano-lined mountain ranges and admired breathtaking multi-colored lagoons along the way.

Train graveyard

Train graveyard

Fun on the salt flats!

Fun on the salt flats!

Playing with perspective.

Playing with perspective.

Our awesome group!

Our awesome group!

Arbol de Piedra

Arbol de Piedra

Cacti that reminded me of home!

Cacti that reminded me of home!

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

We returned to Uyuni on the third night, grabbed a bite to eat, and then caught a 12 hour overnight bus back to La Paz.  We spent our last few days in La Paz mostly just relaxing, buying llama print everything, and enjoying hot showers after getting pretty cold and dirty on the salt flats!

Gysers in a snow storm!

Geysers in a snow storm!

It is just a LITTLE colder here than my last two years on the Colombian coast....

It is just a LITTLE colder here than my last two years on the Colombian coast….

This morning we left the hostel around 2:15am (yikes!) in order to get to the airport for our 4:25am flight!  Ironically, one of my layovers was in Bogota, so I said goodbye to Colombia one last time with a cup of my beloved Juan Valdez coffee and parted ways with Chelsey. I have had a smooth (and LONG) day of traveling so far and I am just one more flight away from stepping foot in the UNITED STATES for the first time in over two years!

One last glimpse of Colombia from the airport!

One last glimpse of Colombia from the airport!

Bolivia was unlike anywhere else I have ever traveled and I was quick to fall in love with the beautiful scenery and gentle people.  Although it definitely has the ‘gringo trail’ (which I stuck to pretty closely), it is much less touristy than many other places I have been.  It is one of the most ‘remote’ countries in the western hemisphere and the most indigenous country in the Americas with 60% of its population being of pure Native American ancestry.  It is a country that is still rough around the edges, with unparalleled geographical diversity, a vibrant culture, and fascinating people—all of which make it a unique experience for travelers.

Freezing, but so happy to have been reunited!

Freezing, but so happy to have been reunited!

Until next time (which will be FROM THE UNITED STATES)………paz y amor.

See you soon Arizona!

Adios South America!  See you soon Arizona!

See all of the pictures from Bolivia here.

Posted by: pckatie | November 3, 2014

Goodbye Colombia!

As of Friday October 31st at 4:00pm, my service has ended and I am officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!

Ringing the bell symbolizing the end of my service!

Ringing the bell symbolizing the end of my service!

I spent the beginning of this week buying last minute remembrances, saying goodbyes to people around town, doing all my favorite things one last time, and packing everything I own into the two bags I came here with nearly 27 months ago.  I left Santa Marta on Thursday morning to head to Barranquilla where the PC Colombia office is located.  As I rode the bus over the mountain out of Santa Marta, I caught one last glimpse of the place that has been my home for the last two years.  Saying goodbye is never easy, but I am comforted because I know that Santa Marta and I will meet again someday.

Everything that I own in two bags!

Everything that I own in two bags.

My last sunset on the bahia!

My last sunset on the bahia.

On our last bus ride from Santa Marta to Barranquilla!

On our last bus ride from Santa Marta to Barranquilla!

Thursday evening after we dropped all of our things at the hotel I got to go to my favorite restaurant for the delicious salad bar.  I spent all day Friday at the office completing exit interviews and taking care of administrative tasks.  In my downtime I helped make Halloween decorations for the office Halloween party!

My last C&W salad bar!

My last C&W salad bar!

Headed to the office for a long day of meetings!

Headed to the office for a long day of meetings!

If you can't carve jack-o-lanterns, draw them!

If you can’t carve jack-o-lanterns, draw them!

On Friday at 4:00pm we gathered in the office for the Bell Ringing Ceremony, which is the official close of a volunteer’s service.  While it might seem like ringing a little bell is not that significant, for a Peace Corps Volunteer, it marks the completion of a meaningful and life changing experience.   I had the pleasure of COSing with two good friends, Nina and Dianna.  We each said a few words about our experiences (I got about a word and a half out before I started crying…) and we thanked our fellow volunteers and the Peace Corps staff for all they have done for us during the last two years.  Then we each rang the bell and the rest, as they say, is history!

With our Country Director, George!

With our Country Director, George!

Peace Corps Colombia!

Peace Corps Colombia!

My program manager and biggest support, Olga!

My program manager Olga!

Me, Nina, and our pal JFK!

Me, Nina, and our pal JFK!

I miss these ladies already!

I miss these ladies already!

I spent the weekend cramming in all of my ‘lasts’ around Barranquilla.  This morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn to say goodbye to Nina when she left for the airport to head home.  I couldn’t get back to sleep so I grabbed some coffee and sat out on the patio to watch the city wake up one last time.  A few hours ago I said chao to the Hotel Caribe staff and loaded my bags into a taxi.  I enjoyed the long drive through Barranquilla on the way to the airport. The driver was an older costeño man with laugh lines deeply etched into his face, evidence of a life full of alegria here in Colombia. We chatted about his family, my time in Colombia, and sang along to Diomedes together. I watched the burros pulling their carts, listened to the fruit vendors shouting their offerings in the monotone voice I have come to love, smiled at the students running by in their uniforms, and gazed at all the places that were once so foreign, but are now so familiar.  I have all of the expected emotions.  Sadness for what I am leaving behind, excitement for what’s waiting at home, disappointment in what I never managed to do, and pride in all that I accomplished.

American by birth, Colombiana de corazón.

American by birth, Colombiana de corazón.

For now, it is time for me to board my plane, say goodbye to Peace Corps and Colombia, and head on to whatever adventure life brings me next.

Until next time……..paz y amor.

 

To see more pictures click here!

Posted by: pckatie | October 24, 2014

Last Day of School!

Today I woke up at my usual 5:00am, headed out to Gaira where I spent the morning at my school, and around noon I caught the bus back into town (after a minor setback due to a protest closing the road into Santa Marta).  It is a routine I have been through countless times before, but this time it was different, because today was the last time I will ever do it.

I am going to miss this view on my morning commute!

I am going to miss this view on my morning commute!

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IED Simon Bolivar de Gaira

My teachers and students have known for a few months that this day was coming and about a week ago people started saying “Katy no te vayas!” every time I walked out of a room.  All week I have been walking into little surprise despedidas with my classes.  I taught my regular classes today and spent lots of time playing with the kids, giving lots of besitos, talking to my teachers, and taking pictures.  It was a day full of alegria, which is exactly what I have come to expect from people in the happiest country in the world.

Despedida with my fourth graders!

Despedida with my fourth graders!

"Teacher Kati, thank you for teaching me to speak English"

“Teacher Kati, thank you for teaching me to speak English”

These young women have very bright futures and I could not be more proud of them.

These young women have very bright futures and I could not be more proud of them.

In the last period we all gathered and the teachers gave speeches thanking me for the work I have done and reminding me that I am always welcome in their homes whenever I want to come visit.  They prayed for my safe journey home and also threw in a prayer that I hurry up and get married and have lots of children :-P  They said I am a part of their family and that they past two years have been a blessing.  When it was my turn to speak all I could do is tell them that I will never be able to put into words how much my time with them has meant to me and how much I appreciate the hard work they have put into improving their English program, sharing their culture with me, and welcoming me into their lives.

A beautiful seashell windchime from Carmen and Marcelo to remind me of the coast!

A beautiful seashell wind chime from Carmen and Marcelo to remind me of the coast!

These girls sang me a song in English!

These girls sang me a song in English!

As I walked out of my school for the last time today, I felt the tears welling up.  The whole school piled out into the front yard and the fences were lined with students and teachers waving and shouting their goodbyes.  I am sure you could hear the shouts of “No te vayas!” and the entire student body chanting “Te queremos, Katy, te queremos!” for miles.  One of my favorite second grade students managed to escape and came running up to me.  She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “You don’t have to be sad, because you will always have us in your heart, just like we will keep you in ours forever.”  I gathered her up in my arms and gave her one last kiss before handing her off to a teacher.  I waved and turned to walk away as tears streamed down my face.

Saying goodbye to these little faces nearly killed me!

How do you say goodbye to these little faces?

I have spent the majority of my time these past two years within those walls.  It is the place where I experienced my greatest successes and most devastating failures.  It is the place where I proudly stood by watching my teachers grow professionally and students progress academically.  It is a place where the lessons I learned outnumbered the lessons I taught.  It is a place that contains people I love, many of whom I may never see again.  It is a place full of memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

So much love for so many little people!

So much love for so many little people!

Some of the fantastic teachers I had the privilege to work with these last two years!

Some of the fantastic teachers I had the privilege to work with these last two years!

I will work in many schools throughout my future as an educator, with hundreds of students and teachers, but none will leave an impression on my heart like that left by IED Simon Bolivar de Gaira.  It wasn’t always easy, but it was all worth it.

.

 

Until next time….paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | October 19, 2014

Final Weeks

My time here in Colombia is quickly coming to a close, and lately I have been busier than ever!  Here is the latest and greatest from the happiest country in the world!

Teaching English for Primary Classrooms (TEPC)

For the last two years I have worked with fellow volunteers to hold weekly night classes for public school teachers from across Santa Marta.  It has been a very rewarding project and so fun to see these teachers enthusiastic about bringing these new methodologies into their classrooms.  We held our final class and presented the teachers who attended the majority of the classes throughout the year with certificates.  They insisted on taking us out for a nice dinner to say thank you, and it was delicious!

Certificate Ceremony

Certificate Ceremony

Some of our most consistent students!

Some of our most consistent students!

Dinner with our teachers!

Dinner with our teachers!

Rogelia and Myriam.

Rogelia and Myriam.

Women and Gender in Development

I attended my last Women and Gender in Development committee meeting.  Although I never managed to get a girls group started at my school due to a lack of interest from counterparts, I was able to use a lot of the materials we complied in this committee to hold workshops for girls and young women at my school and in the community.  This is an amazing group of volunteers and I am excited to see future projects from PC Colombia!

Women and Gender in Development Committee

Women and Gender in Development Committee

The Replacements

A new group of volunteers (CII6) arrived in August and have been in Barranquilla completing their pre-service training.  Last Friday I found out who will be replacing me at my school!  His name is Erick and I am already positive that he is a perfect fit for Simon Bolivar.  The new Santa Marta group came to visit for a couple days this week.  We all went out to a welcome dinner last night at Pizza Vomito (yep, your high school Spanish is not failing you, it’s actually called ‘vomit pizza’).  Today and tomorrow the new volunteers are visiting their schools to meet everyone and observe some classes.  Erick hit it off with the teachers and kids right away today and everyone is so excited to start working with him!  As sad as I am to leave my school, I am so happy to know that I am leaving it in such capable hands!

Welcoming the new group of Santa Marta volunteers!

Welcoming the new group of Santa Marta volunteers!

Me and Erick (the new volunteer at my school) at dinner.

Me and Erick (the new volunteer at my school) at dinner.

Four generations of Peace Corps Santa Marta in one picture! (CII3, CII4, CII5, and CII6)

Four generations of Peace Corps Santa Marta in one picture! (CII3, CII4, CII5, and CII6)

Erick introducing himself in one of the classrooms on our tour of the school!

Erick introducing himself in Betzaida’s classroom on our tour of the school!

Me, Erick, and our wonderful counterpart Raquel!

Me, Erick, and our wonderful counterpart Raquel!

My last day of school is this Friday and then I will have a few days to pack and do all my favorite things a few more times!  I can’t believe I am saying this but…less than 2 weeks left in Colombia!

Until next time…….paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | October 10, 2014

Despedida en Bayunca

Having to change sites and leaving Bayunca was hands down the most difficult part of my service, but despite how hard it was to leave, I am still grateful to have had the experience.  If you missed my site change way back when, you can read about it here.

This week is Semana Uribe which means a week with no school.  I decided to make the trip out to Bayunca to see my family one last time before I leave.  I packed up a big suitcase with all of the clothes and things I am not bringing home with me and took it to leave with my family.  Whatever they can’t use, they will bring to the church and give away.

Group selfie!

Group selfie!

When I arrived it happened to be absolutely POURING rain and unfortunately there is a fair amount of dirt/mud between where I get off the bus and the house!  Luckily, I had help because of course everyone was standing in the window waiting for me to get there and all came running out to help!  We sat and talked for awhile and then headed out and walked around the pueblo yelling ‘adios‘ to everyone as we passed and catching up with people. Then we had dinner (beef, plantains, rice, and juice…my favorite!).  The next day I spent the whole day hanging around the house as people who had heard I was in town stopped by to visit.  My tia Heidy made some delicious arroz con leche for dinner and then we had a massive sleepover on the floor in the bedroom.  On the last day we had huevos pericos and bollo (my favorite breakfast) and then everyone went through the suitcase of clothes I bought and did a fashion show to decide who would keep what.  They all gave me little recuerdos like jewelry, make up, and candies.  One of the projects I was working on while I lived in Bayunca was a project with children who have various special needs.  My tia Heidy has continued the project and taken it further than I ever though possible.  She has turned it into a foundation and while I was in Bayunca we went over what has been done and made some plans for the next steps.  She gave me a polo with the foundation’s logo and asked me to be an honorary founder so that I will be contacted and included in the future of the foundation.  It made me so happy to see that while I had very little time to get things going in Bayunca, some things were able to continue and grown in my absence.

Approximately 3 gallons of the world's most delicious arroz con leche.

Approximately 3 gallons of the world’s most delicious arroz con leche.

Tia Martha

Tia Martha

Tia Heidy

Tia Heidy

Tia Marlin

Tia Marlin

It was really great to spend time with everyone and the relationship I have with them is so special to me.  Although I only lived there for five months and have been away three times that long, it still felt like going home.  It was a whirlwind few days filled with so many family members I can’t even remember who I saw, lots of celebrating, holding all of the babies that have been born since I left, so much food I thought I might die, plenty of sitting around in plastic chairs, and many very heartfelt goodbyes.

With my favorite boys..Juan Manuel and Elias David

With my favorite boys..Juan Manuel and Elias David.  I couldn’t believe how much they’ve grown!

The ladies and Numa!

The ladies and Tio Numa!

One of the reasons I was hesitant to go visit was because I am especially close with my 95 year old abuelo, Alfredo, and I was worried it would be too difficult for me to say goodbye.  On the last morning when it came time for me to leave my abuelo grasped my hands and told me, “Please do not cry.  This might be the last time we see each other here on Earth, but we will be reunited one day in Heaven where you will finally get to meet my beautiful wife.”  He went on to tell me, “I hope that God blesses you in all that you do, and know that I will be with you when you get married, have children, and all the other happy moments in your life.”  He then handed me a rosary which I have never seen him without, that belonged to his wife, Bienvenida.  I told him I couldn’t possibly accept the rosary because I know how much it means to him.  He told me it is his most prized possession, which is why he wants me to have it, and hopes that it will remind me of him and my time in Bayunca.  Upon which I promptly burst into tears.  And when I say burst into tears, I don’t mean a few tears slid down my cheek, I mean I BURST into tears.  I said goodbye to each family member and thanked them again for all that they have done for me.  There was a huge crowd of people gathered in front of the house saying goodbye.  It was an overwhelming blur of hugs, kisses, prayers, tears, and smiles.  They filled my backpack up with bananas and then walked me out to the bus.  I waved out the window and watched them shrinking into the distance as a bus full of concerned Colombians stared at the sobbing gringa.

Abuelo Alfredo...95 years young.

Abuelo Alfredo…95 years young.

Telling me that it's not goodbye, it's see you soon.

Telling me that it’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon.

So much love.

   

This family opened their arms to me when I was a complete stranger and treated me as one of their own.  I can share all of my pictures and stories, but I will never be able to convey just how much these people mean to me.  They don’t just feel like family, they are family.  I left a part of my heart in Bayunca and I know that I will be back someday.  Now that it is over, I am so happy I made the decision to go because my heart is absolutely bursting with love.

Until next time…….paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | September 26, 2014

PART II: Things I Am Looking Forward To Back Home

Anyone who has ever lived abroad or even been on an extended vacation knows that there are comforts from home that you just inexplicably miss when you are away.  The list below is mostly made up of very trivial things that are not difficult to live without, but rather they are small things you would probably never realize you would miss, until you do.  I would gladly give these things up all over again to have the experience I have had here in Colombia!  That being said….here are some things I am looking forward to back home in the good old USA (where I will be in less than 2 months)!

My countdown chain is shrinking fast!

My countdown chain is shrinking fast!

 Appliances.  For two years my only option to cook was the stove and doing laundry involved buckets of water, a bar of soap, and a clothesline.  I am most excited to use the toaster, washer/dryer, microwave, and oven.  Garbage disposals are something I completely forgot existed until a friend pointed it out and suddenly I missed them a lot.  No food can go down the drain here, and food scraps that sit around in bags in 100 degrees do not have the most pleasant of odors.  Also, coffee makers.  I have had enough instant coffee to last me a lifetime.

IMG_4550

This is what laundry day looks like!

Hairstyles.  After approximately 810 days of slicked back pony tails, I am pretty excited to get a haircut and then do something besides my current routine of wash it, sleep with it wet, and brush it into a pony tail as soon as I wake up.  I have not used a blow dryer, curling iron, or straightener in two years and wearing my hair down without it being plastered to the sweat on my face will be a thrill.

My hair has grown a LOT in the last few years, and I could only wear it down on vacation in cooler climates!

Driving.  The oven-like, mini-busses of death were fun for a while, but I really miss cars and driving.  I am looking forward to knowing how long it will take me to get somewhere, not having to sit smashed against a sweaty stranger with my legs jammed against the seat in front of me, driving at a speed I feel is not endangering my life, not going deaf from honking horns and blaring vallenato music, and not being drenched in sweat by the time I reach my destination.

The inside view of a buseta (I am sitting in the death seat).

The inside view of a buseta (I am sitting in the death seat).

Showers.  Hot showers, with a shower head, and I will not be sweating already by the time I get out.  Also, while I will continue to try and conserve water, it is nice to know I will be able to take a shower longer than approximately 22 seconds without someone yelling from the other room (which has an open window into my bathroom) about wasting too much water :-P

That one time a plant started growing out of my shower drain....

That one time a plant started growing out of my shower drain….

Water.  Here, since the water is not potable and/or there is no running water, that involves either filtering, boiling, or lugging home bags of water.  I am looking forward to being surrounded at all times by an unlimited supply of cold, clear, safe drinking water; whether it be from a public drinking fountain, that wonderful gadget on the front of the fridge, or simply the kitchen sink.  And I will never take it for granted again.

Lugging home 6 L bags of water helps you be more conscious of how much water we use!

Lugging home 6 L bags of water helps you be more conscious of how much water we use!

Food.  I feel like this goes without saying.  I’m sure you have all been on a vacation at some point.  You know how when you get home you are all like, “Man, all that interesting and worldly food was awesome, but let’s hit up Chipotle pronto!”  Now multiply that by 27 months.  I have some pretty serious cravings for things I haven’t had in the last two years.  Top of the list are: Chipotle, bagels, greek yogurt, Paradise Bakery, cottage cheese, berries, and asparagus.  And yes, that is just the top of the list.

My grocery haul is basically the same each week plus an occasional meal out.  I love the foods that are  available here, but there are lots I miss from home too!

My grocery haul is basically the same each week plus an occasional meal out. I love the foods that are available here, but there are lots I miss from home too!

Air conditioning.  I MIGHT have mentioned this at some point during my service, but the Caribbean coast of Colombia has a climate that I can only liken to the FACE OF THE SUN.  To make matters worse, air conditioning is very rare.  Most people do not have it in their homes, many restaurants and business choose to go without, and my school is a concrete walled/tin roofed/air conditioning-less oven.   Arizona can certainly get warm in the summer, but air conditioning is everywhere, all the time, and I CAN’T WAIT.  (Remind me I said this when I am curled up by the space heater under a blanket because I haven’t experienced winter in so long.)

My Colombian dream come true.

My Colombian dream come true.

People.  Overall I am so happy to say that my service has been incredibly positive.  That being said, I missed my friends and family so much I can hardly put it into words.  I missed out on so many life events during these two years.  My best friend got married, Heidi went up to doggy heaven, my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, my cousin gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, my grandpa passed away after 92 wonderful years of life, my best friend of 18 years moved away to start a new career, and my little sister turned 21 (then 22, and now almost 23!).  I celebrated three birthdays and two holiday seasons away from home.  In addition to the big events, I missed out on millions of little moments in the lives of those that I love.  While I wish I could have been there for all of these things, I knew coming into this I was making a decision to sacrifice those moments for this experience, and I do not regret that decision.  All of that said, the thing I am looking forward to the MOST is spending time with people that I love.  Being away from my family has been hands down the hardest part of this experience.  The saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ has never held so much meaning for me.  I could not have done this without the overwhelming support of my family and friends and I am looking forward to being reunited with them more than anything else.

Some of the many cards sent by wonderful friends and family over the last two years!

Some of the many cards sent by wonderful friends and family over the last two years!

In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part I of this blog post where I share all the things I am going to miss about Colombia!  For everything I am looking forward to at home, there is something I will miss dearly from my home away from home.

Until next time….paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | September 19, 2014

PART I: Things I Will Miss from Colombia

Colombia has without a doubt become my home over the last two years.  When we think of home, or being away from home, one of the first things we think of are the things we are going to miss!  There are MANY things I will miss from my home here on the coast, but here are a few that I will miss the MOST!

-Tropical/Exotic Fruit.  Colombia brought my fruit game to a whole new level.  Some of my favorites were lulo, maracuya, tomate de arbol, guayaba, corozo, mamones, and my beloved uchuvas!  There were also a few fruits that I did not care for like nispero (okay when blended into juice, but as a fruit it tastes like pumpkin pie and fails in my book), and granadillo (a hard shell full of giant snot covered seeds).

Granadillo!  Ugly, but pretty delicious.

Granadillo!

Ciruelas..these are the Colombian version of plums.

Ciruelas..these are the Colombian version of plums.

Mamones...hard green shell that you crack open to reveal orange fleshy fruit stuck to a big seed!

Mamones…hard green shell that you crack open to reveal orange fleshy fruit stuck to a big seed!

-Alegria. Colombia was recently voted one of the happiest countries in the world and I am not surprised in the least.  Despite any hardship they may have faced in the past or are currently facing, Colombians definitely know how to love life.  It doesn’t matter if it is Monday morning at work, Sunday after church, or a Friday night; people are in a never ending good mood.  Whether they are celebrating a birthday, gozar-ing Carnival, or simply sitting around drinking cervesas in plastic chairs—life is good.

The happiest group of Colombians who took us on an 8 hour hiking adventure even though we were complete strangers!

The happiest group of Colombians who took us on an 8 hour hiking adventure even though we were complete strangers!

-Costeño time.  If I am organizing a meeting at school and I say that it will begin at 3:00pm, someone will invariably ask, “Gringo time or Costeño time?”  Gringo time means that we will start right on time, and you should arrive a few minutes before said time.  Costeño time means that we will NOT be starting on time and it is perfectly acceptable to show up 30-45 minutes (or more) late.  It is a slower pace of life here and that’s just fine, don’t worry—be happy!

This meeting started at 10:00am.  This photo was taken at 10:35am.  Eventually, over 30 people showed up.

This meeting started at 10:00am. This photo was taken at 10:35am (and those 3 people are my family).  Eventually, over 50 people showed up.

-Music.  You will rarely be anywhere that there is not music blasting out of giant speakers, but if by some random accident you find yourself in this music-less predicament, a Colombian will waste no time in whipping out their phone to play some!  My two favorite genres of music that were born here on the coast are Vallenato and Champeta.  I have all of my favorites loaded onto my ipod, so this is a part of Colombia I will definitely be bringing back home with me!

Juan Manuel is an aspiring vallenato star!

Juan Manuel is an aspiring vallenato star!

-Beach life.  I am surrounded by multiple beautiful beaches and happen to live in a climate that provides year round perfect beach weather!  My favorite beaches are Taganga (a small fishing town over the mountain with a little beach and a very hippy-ish crowd), Rodadero (a fancy touristy part of town with lots of hotels and condos), and Bahia Concha (a bit of a trek to get to but worth it for the solitude and beautiful view).  I also live about eight blocks from the bahia which is not great for swimming but provides beautiful views and a nice place for an early morning or sunset stroll!

Beautiful view of Taganga

Beautiful view of Taganga

It doesn't get any better than that!

It doesn’t get any better than that!

-Street Vendors.  Whether you are hanging your head out the window of a bus to buy a paleta, stopping on the corner to grab a bolsa de agua, or wandering down the crowded quinta jammed full of vendors selling everything from nail polish to meat on a stick… it doesn’t matter what you want….there is definitely a street vendor who is selling it.

A stall in the mercado in Santa Marta.

A stall in the mercado in Santa Marta.

I can't tell you how much I will miss the tinto vendors!

I can’t tell you how much I will miss the tinto vendors!  Cheap coffee anytime/anywhere!

-Futbol.  I have never seen anyone as passionate about anything as Colombians are about soccer.  I have watched countless games at tiendas, sub-15 and sub-20 games with my abuelo in Bayunca, and World Cup games in Bogota and Santa Marta.  I learned how soccer actually works, got my own Colombia jersey, and developed an unrequited love for James Rodriquez.  I am sure I will continue to follow Colombian soccer back home, but I will really miss being surrounded by the passion and excitement of watching a game with a room full of Colombians.

Chaos in the streets after a Colombian victory!

Chaos in the streets after a Colombian victory!

-Challenge/Adventure.  When I arrived to Colombia two years ago I spoke virtually no Spanish, had never been to South America, and was three thousand miles from everything that I knew.  Every day provided a new challenge and even the smallest tasks felt like little adventures.  While most things have become routine for me now, there are still random and crazy things constantly happening that challenge me to be flexible and maintain my sense of humor.  I will miss the randomness and excitement that comes with living abroad and experiencing new things each and every day, and I am thankful for the wonderful (and often hilarious) memories that I have made these past two years.

Two years ago after the first time I successfully hand washed all of my clothes outside and hung them to dry!

Two years ago after the first time I successfully hand washed all of my clothes outside and hung them to dry!  After two years, I am a pro!

-People.  My fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, Peace Corps staff, Colombian friends, host family, co-teachers, colleagues, students, the porteros, the fruit man on the corner, the lady at the tienda, and every other random Colombian I have had the pleasure of interacting with over the last two years.  I came here with the expectation that I would be teaching English and teaching methodologies.  I had no idea the profound impact the people I lived and worked with would have on me.  In my ‘Commitment to Service’ at the beginning of my two years, my closing statement was, “I promise to do my best to learn the language, take part in a cultural exchange, keep smiling, and get busy working alongside strangers who will become family, in a country that has already begun to steal my heart away.”  If I thought a part of my heart belonged to Colombia then, after a mere three months, the love I feel for this country and the people I met here today is indescribable.  These people have made my Peace Corps service a life changing experience and I will be forever grateful to them.

Too many people I love to post pictures....but this group is at the top of my list!  CII-4 love!

Too many people I love to post pictures of everyone….but this group is at the top of my list! CII-4 love!

That’s it for part I of this post, but be on the lookout for part II coming soon featuring the things I am looking forward to back home!

Until next time…..paz y amor.

Posted by: pckatie | September 11, 2014

Quarter of a Century

While Peace Corps is commonly referred to as a two year service, it is actually 27 months when you include the three month pre-service training.  That means that anything that happens during those first few months will happen THREE times during your service instead of just two.  For me, since I have a September birthday, I got to celebrate three birthdays here in Colombia.  I left home when I was 22 and I will be returning as a 25 year old!

Throwback to my first birthday in Colombia!

Throwback to my first birthday in Colombia!

I spent my first Colombian birthday  with my Barranquilla host family dancing, eating, and learning how Colombians throw a fiesta!  My second birthday here was spent in Santa Marta where I celebrated with friends at happy hour and treating ourselves at a sushi restaurant.  The whole week of my birthday last year was a national teacher strike, so I wasn’t at school all week and therefore none of my teachers or students knew it was my birthday!

An acrostic poem by my teachers!

An acrostic poem by my teachers!

This year on my birthday, there was a transportation strike (something about my birthday apparently instigates strikes…) so school was canceled.  I started the day by having some coffee with Dana and our favorite barista Karina at Juan Valdez, spent the afternoon seeing a movie (in ENGLISH!) with Nina, and ended the day at one of my favorite restaurants called Ouzo with some other volunteers!  When I got home, I Skyped with my parents and opened the birthday package they sent me.  I got a bunch of treats like almond butter and face masks!  The best part of the gift was the card that explained my parents had made a donation to an organization called Heifer International and that a flock of chicks had been donated to family in need!

Dana and I at our favorite place for coffee and air conditioning!

Dana and I at our favorite place for coffee and air conditioning!

American (or I guess I should say Italian) style pizza at Ouzo!

American (or I guess I should say Italian) style pizza at Ouzo!

Nina, Andrew, Dana and I at my birthday dinner!

Nina, Andrew, Dana and I at my birthday dinner!

Birthday Skype date with the padres complete with hats and decorations!

Birthday Skype date with the padres complete with hats and decorations!

Flock of chicks!

Flock of chicks!

Since there was no school yesterday, I was not able to celebrate with my teachers and students.  Although they tried their best to keep it a secret, I knew that something was in the works for today!  When I got to school people kept mysteriously ‘needing help’ with things until around 11am.  Suddenly I kept hearing teachers yelling, ‘IT’S TIME!’.  First, all of the students sang ‘Feliz Cumpleaños’ and I was assaulted with little abrazos and besitos.  Then, I was ushered into the teachers lounge where my teachers belted out Happy Birthday (in English!) and gave me all their birthday blessings and wishes for health, happiness, and of course expressed their hope that I hurry up and find a Colombian husband….:-P

My wonderful teachers!

My wonderful teachers!

Opening the card signed by all the staff at my school.

Opening the card signed by all the staff at my school.

Me with Emma, who gave the pre-gift speech.

Me with Emma, who gave the pre-gift speech.

Carmen....the closest thing to my real Grandma I have here in Colombia :)

Carmen….the closest thing to my real Grandma I have here in Colombia :)

More teachers!

More teachers!

It is not the norm for the teachers to receive gifts when they celebrate birthdays at school, so I was surprised when they pulled out a big birthday bag!  One of the high school teachers got up and gave a very nice speech saying that as a group they not only wanted to wish me a happy birthday, but also thank me for everything over the past two years.  She said many very kind things and I got a little emotional before people started screaming ‘open it! open it!’.  I opened up the bag to find the most beautiful mochila which is something I have wanted the whole two years I have lived here!  While there are a variety of mochilas available here in Santa Marta and around Colombia, this bag was the one I had my heart set on.  Through careful questioning over the last few months, my teachers managed to discover my obsession with these mochilas and decided to give me one for my birthday so that I could ‘carry a piece of Santa Marta with me forever’.  This type of mochila is made by the women of an indigenous group in the Sierra Nevada mountains called the Arhuacos.  The bags are handmade of 100% virgin sheep wool by the women in the Arhuaco community and it can take more than a month to weave a single bag.  I was told by my teachers that each bag is representative of the Arhuaco culture and has been blessed.  The particular bag I received was made by a friend of one of my teachers.  It is a beautiful gift that is full of meaning for me and I know that each time I carry it in the future, I will be reminded of my time here in Colombia.

My beautiful mochilla!

My beautiful mochila!

I received so much love both here in Colombia and sent from back home, so thank you to everyone who helped make my last Colombian birthday a memorable and special day!

Until next time….paz y amor.

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