Posted by: pckatie | January 28, 2013

Two Months in Bayunca!

*NOTE:  As I have not been able to update anyone for about a month and a half, and as these were my first weeks in site, a lot has happened!  I have received a lot of emails with questions and it is easiest for me to answer everyone at the same time!  This is going to be a long post….in the future they will be more frequent and condensed!

*Second Note: I wrote this on January 10th.  I wasn’t able to post it until today.  I have started working in the school and on some community projects and will update soon J

Hola from Bayunca….. the pueblo I am now proud to call home!  I have been here for seven weeks and the time has flown by.  I do not have internet here in Bayunca and after weeks of researching, asking around, going door to door, and various trips to Claro I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I am not going to be getting internet.  It appears that Bayunca is just not quite ready for WiFi!  I bought a modem that allows me to connect (albeit VERY slowly) to the internet when there is a cell signal (however this is not very promising as we are currently going on two weeks without a signal).  So it looks like I will be using the internet when I get the opportunity (sometimes at the school, in Cartagena, or when I get lucky and the modem decides to work!).  The best (really only) way to keep in touch with me will be email.  You can (and please do!) send me an email and I will check them when I get internet, save them, write responses, and reply the next time I have internet.  Also, an update on the mail situation.  I have successfully received two packages and each took about 9 days to get here sent in the US Postal Service regular mail.  One was in a small box and the other was in a padded envelope and both arrived unharmed!  I have a new address that seems to work better so if you are going to send something email me and I will share the address with you…I don’t want anyone to lose anything else in the mail!  Okay, enough with the logistics…….after a seven week communication hiatus you may be wondering what I am doing here in Bayunca?

Let’s recap (I’m going with an FAQ format….)

What’s your host family like?

I live with Marlene (a 50ish year old woman), Numa (a 50ish year old man), and Alfredo (a 93 year old man).  Alfredo is the father and he has 11 children between the ages of 40 and 60 (Marlene and Numa are two of them).  Of these eleven children, each has between 2 and 4 children of their own.  Of the grandchildren, each of them have 2 or 3 of their own children as well.  Basically what I am implying is that the family is absolutely huge.  I have personally met at least 60 family members and I interact with about 20 on a daily basis.  Our front door is always open and people just wander in and out at all hours of the day (usually for no apparent reason).  Almost all of the grand children and great grandchildren (ranging in age from 3 to 37) are boys and I am experiencing what it is like to have brothers.  The girls are all much younger than me (the oldest is 15) so the one I spend the most time with is Alexandra.  She is 33 and has three children between the ages 11 and 15.  Somehow there is no one the same age as me in the entire family.  The closest are 18, 20, and 32 (and all three are men).  I absolutely LOVE my host family.  I feel like I have known them forever and they couldn’t be any nicer.  Marlene is great because she doesn’t have children so she isn’t the typical smothering Colombian mother type which gives me some more freedom.  Her sister Marlin (who is here almost all day, every day) is my mother figure here and is exactly what you picture when you think of a Colombian mother (she crosses me, kisses me, pats me on the head, tries to feed me all the time, and bosses me around).  


What is Bayunca/your house like?

Bayunca is a relatively large pueblo (to put it in perspective you could walk the whole town, but in comparison to other pueblos it’s considered large) that is located about 45 minutes outside of Cartagena.  The majority of the population of Bayunca is AfroColombian.  It is surrounded by fincas (farms), lots of flat land with cows and horses, rolling hills, and trees with anteaters in them.  Once you enter Bayunca it is not quite as green as you would expect because the nature was leveled to build the town (many people seem to be under the impression I live in a jungle…this is not the case).  There are two paved roads that run through town (one is the highway) and the rest of the roads are dirt/mud.  There is electricity and water but both have frequent outages (like three or four times a week).   The power outages are generally pretty short (an hour or two) but the water outages last longer.  The most fun is when the lights go out and I am in the shower (which has happened three times).  The water isn’t really a problem because Bayunca only got running water about two years ago so the homes are still equipped with huge water storage tanks which they keep filled for when there are water outages.  So while the water frequently goes out, I have never been without water.  There is no sewage system in Bayunca so the sewage runs in canals on the sides of the streets to a nearby creek.  This does not smell or look as bad as you would imagine….it’s kind of like green, watery mud that you just  hop over J  A few of the nicer houses have septic tanks (I live in one of them) so there is no sewage river in front of my house.  The toilet fills with drainage water from the shower so if you need to flush the toilet and no one has showered recently you open the bathroom window and scoop water from a tub and pour the water into the toilet. 


Almost everyone who lives in Bayunca also works here and the large majority work out of their homes.  My family has a tienda in the house where they sell plastic disposable goods.  Almost every house sells something or provides a service (hairstyling, butchering, tailoring, internet, clothing, etc.)  There are also a number of houses with ‘restaurants’.  When you walk through town it literally looks like one huge strip mall because every house has a store front.  You can get almost anything you need here, although the prices are higher because they are brought in from Cartagena and then marked up in order to make a profit.  I have found that many of the products I use (particularly hair products for my gringa hair) are not available here.  There is no post office or bank/ATM so I have to go into Cartagena to take out money to pay my family.  There is no grocery store here but there are lots of tiendas, carnecerias, and panaderias where we buy food. 


The houses vary in condition from very nice (where I live) to very modest.  The houses on my street are made of concrete with tin roofs.  My house is very nice and has been completely remodeled within the last year and has plaster walls painted white, wooden doors with metal handles, tile floors, and modern fixtures.  On the other hand there are many houses made of tin, broken pieces of wood, cardboard, palm, and mud with dirt floors.  The majority of the houses are somewhere in between these two extremes.  The average house is made of cement or wood, tin roof, open windows without glass, cement floor, and most have sheets hanging where doors would be. 


Colombia is on a strict strata system (stratas 1-6 which I believe are based on income).  In Barranquilla I lived in a strata 4 neighborhood.  Bayunca has stratas 1 and 2.  There are some families that are doing just fine (for example the family that I live with).  I don’t mean to say that money is not an issue for them, but rather that they are not living in abject poverty as are some of the families in Bayunca.  In my home there is always enough money to pay bills, enough food of good quality for everyone, and they have a car which they bought as a whole group.  There are many families who are living far below the poverty line.  There are many foundations and organizations who have already established themselves in Bayunca.  One of the most common is one where people in the US ‘adopt’ a child from Bayunca.  They receive a picture of the child and their home and then make monthly donations (monetary or material) to their ‘adopted’ child.  The problem with this is that the money or the items come directly to the family and often the child never benefits from the donation.  The parents use the money for themselves and the kids are often seen on the streets trying to sell the donated items.  There are kids who are clean, healthy, well dressed and fed.  There are also a lot of kids who do not have shoes, are covered in dirt, haven’t eaten in days, and have never been to a doctor.  I knew that there was a lot of disparity between Cartagena and the surrounding towns, but I was not prepared for such disparity within the same pueblo. 
Although it is a larger pueblo, everyone knows everyone.  I have gone out (when I say go out I basically mean walking up and down the main road and occasionally stopping at a tienda) with some of the cousins and when I get home everyone already knows everything I did, where I went, and who I was with. Generally speaking the people in Bayunca are very welcoming, laid back, and happy people.  They work very hard and then spend a lot of time relaxing and having fun (i.e. drinking, sitting on the porch, or dancing…usually a combination of all three). 


What about work?

I arrived in Bayunca just as the school year was coming to an end.  I spent the first week and half going to school every day to take part in the end of year festivities (graduation, ‘Dia de los Mejores’, etc.)  I was invited to the end of year paseo on a finca outside of Bayunca where we ate sancocho and I got to know all of the teachers better.  After December 14th the school is officially on vacation and since all the teachers live in Cartagena I was left to get to know Bayunca.  Teachers return to school on January 14th and students return on January 28th.  I am going to go on the 14th because I want to be involved in whatever is going to happen for the two weeks before school starts.  My guess (based on my observation at the end of last year) is that not much will be going on.  I hope to establish a schedule for the year with the principal and if I can accomplish that I will be happy.  My standards of what is considered an accomplishment have changed drastically since coming to Colombia.  Things generally move very slowly here.  When I get to school it is basically required that I stand around greeting everyone for a solid half an hour before we actually start anything.


I was under the impression that I would be working with the high school students in the main school site.  I found out that the school is really interested in having me work with primary which is wonderful news for me as I am a primary school teacher…and I love little kids!  There is only one school (IED Bayunca) but it is split into three sites.  The main site is right across the street from my house and has 6-11th grade.  The other two sites are about a 10 minute walk from my house.  They are much smaller and have all of the preschool-5th grade students.  There are two jornadas (sessions) at the school.  The morning is from 6:45 to 12:30 and the afternoon is from 1:00 to 6:00.  In deciding where/with whom I will work I voiced the opinion that I agree with the administration that I should work in primary.  The high school English teachers speak relatively good English and have a fairly stable and developed English program (although it could certainly use some work…and I hope to give methodologies workshops).  In the primary school none of the teachers speak ANY English.  When I looked over the English curriculum with the primary teachers…they weren’t able to read the curriculum as it was written in English (a list of topics: fruits, animals, numbers, etc.)  There is an English teacher who goes into the classrooms to give English class.  However he only works with 4th and 5th grades.  This means that preschool, kindergarten, first, second, and third grades are receiving no English instruction when they should be receiving 2-3 hours per week.  It was decided that I will work in all three sites throughout the week, teaching preschool through third grade.  I will work both jornadas and bring my lunch to school because although I live about 10 minutes from school, in this heat it is not worth it to walk home for lunch! 


In addition to my work in the school I will be holding English classes for the community on Saturday mornings.  I have three, one hour classes (basic, advanced, and children’s).  I hope to start a club for young women (women’s empowerment/women’s health/pregnancy prevention/HIV-AIDS) and possibly another for young mothers that focuses on maternal health and infant care (there are a LOT of pregnant 13 year olds).  I am currently looking for a Colombian counterpart (preferably a successful young woman who would be a good role model) who would be interested in collaborating with me on these two projects as I the information would need to be delivered in Spanish which we all know is a work in progress for me.  Another thing I am interested in is a community project to clean up Bayunca.  The amount of trash thrown around is literally shocking especially considering there is semi regular trash pick-up.  This would be a shorter term project and possibly as simple as choosing a different sector each weekend and setting out with trash bags (I found someone who is interested in donating the bags).  Finally, Heidi (sister of the woman I work with) is interested in starting a foundation for children with special needs (she has a 15 year old with Down Syndrom).  I am really interested in collaborating with her and we have already held the first two meetings and there seems to be a lot of interest.  We have started going door to door doing a census of Bayunca and gathering information on the children with special needs.  We hope to find a space to offer physical therapy, recreation, and socialization for these children.  There are a lot of children with special needs here and they are generally refused services at the school and kept in their homes. 


What have you been doing for the last 7 weeks since we last heard from you?

On the one hand I feel like I have been constantly busy and that SO much has happened.  On the other hand, when I look back, I had a lot of downtime (I am currently reading my 16th book). I have only been into Cartagena a few times to buy things.  I have not seen other volunteers since training and really have only talked with a few.  As I do not have internet and my cell signal is so bad I have been a little cut off!  We have an amazing group and I miss seeing everyone all the time and knowing what everyone is up to, but on the other hand I have really come to enjoy spending time in Bayunca.  I have gotten to know my family really well and I have Colombian friends.  I learned to crochet (I am currently making a mochilla), I sit on the porch for hours at a time, I spend time in the tienda selling plastic stuff and chatting with neighbors, watching Colombian telenovelas, I am learning to cook all kinds of Colombian foods, and I go from house to house greeting people and drinking juice with them.  Since I wanted to wait to start any formal classes until I get established in the school, I have been giving individual and small group English classes as well as working on the project for children with special needs with Heidi.    


Highlights from the last 7 weeks:

-IGUANAS: I was sitting in a chair in front of a tienda when I spotted an iguana in the tree (not uncommon).  I pointed it out and the next thing I knew the woman I was sitting with had snatched the iguana and was slicing it open and taking out the eggs.  She then discarded the iguana and walked into the house with a huge smile on her face and a handful of iguana eggs.  I think my mouth was actually hanging open.  I have since learned that it is illegal to sell/eat iguana eggs as they are endangered.  Apparently the eggs are worth a lot and this is a common (albeit illegal) practice.  That will be the last time I point out an iguana.


-CRITTERS/ANIMALS: Since coming to Colombia just over four months ago, my tolerance for critters has increased immensely.  As I am now outside of the city, the critters have increased in both quantity and variety.  I am now completely fine with the little salamanders, ants, spiders (which are on steroids and grey here), grasshoppers/crickets (also on steroids), and the small variety of roaches.  These things either don’t hurt me or can be easily killed.  There aren’t really mice/rats in my house but there are in all the other houses, stores, etc.  They don’t bother me as much anymore (as long as they stay out of my room).  There are tons of burros, horses, pigs, cows, roosters, and chickens that wander around town and I have no idea who they belong to but I kind of like them.  Except for the roosters.  I don’t know who spread the rumor that roosters crow at sunrise.  While it may be true that the coincidentally crow at sunrise, they also do it in the middle of the night, the very early morning, and all day long.  Or maybe the Bayuncan roosters are just confused.  I still really don’t like cockroaches, crazy tropical scary bugs, snakes, frogs, and centipedes. 

My new  critter pet peeve is known here as un murcielago, aka BAT.  I have never been in very close contact with a bat before and I never imagined they would bother me.  I WAS WRONG.  These guys don’t just slowly float into the house and drift around as I had always pictures them doing.  They come barreling in through the doors, windows, cracks in the ceiling and immediately FLIP OUT.  They fly in all directions at top speed and swoop at me like they are actually trying to give me a heart attack.  They are scary looking and impossible to get out of the house.  Not only that but I am told that they bite and that they have rabies!  I usually react by jumping up and running away from them until I can find Numa who has a weapon that looks like a cross between a fly swatter and a tennis racket.  If we are near a door or window he tries to shoo them out, if not we say a little prayer and it’s lights out for the little guy.  My family thinks I’m crazy because they know I am terrified of the bats, but I always scream in protest when they go to kill them.  I explain that there are lots of things I don’t like that I don’t necessarily want dead!  I think they just add it to the list of my crazy gringa tendencies.


-INVITATIONS: They told us during training that the best way to integrate is to say yes to EVERYTHING.  I have been following this advice and literally saying yes to every invitation I receive.  Sometimes, if no invitation is extended, I just show interest until someone invites me!  I have been to weddings, baptisms, births, birthday parties, anniversaries, paseos, fincas, community celebrations, various churches, soccer games, graduation, cock fights, the UltraMar concert on the beach, other pueblos, a bull fight, and eaten dinner in the homes of countless other families in Bayunca.  Most of them were very positive experiences and a few were not so enjoyable (i.e. the cockfight that I ended up leaving early…).  I think this advice was the best I received because I feel like a part of my community and have had some really unique experiences and gotten to know a lot of people! 


-PICTURES: I regularly have random people come up to me and ask if they can take a picture with me or of me to send to their daughter, cousin, mother, son, etc.  Basically they want proof of the gringa who has come to live in Bayunca.  Everyone knows me (whether I know them or not).  I am the only gringa here (obviously).  I thought since I do not have blonde hair and I am pretty tan I might blend in.  Wrong.


-THE CIRCLE OF LIFE: Since coming to Bayunca just over a month ago, I have been witness to the circle of life in a whole new way.  I have personally watched (at close range) the births of a burro, a horse, a cow, six puppies, four cats, countless chicks hatching, and one human baby that was born in the home.  I have also seen a number of dogs and cats run over by cars on the highway in front of my house, a dead horse being carried away, a pig being killed for a celebration, a goat sacrifice, and have attended three human funerals. 


-STREET VENDORS: People walk around selling things like bollo, fruit, etc.  For example there is a man who pushes around a wheelbarrow with a tub full of fish.  At first I was a little alarmed that the fish I eat for lunch many times a week is being pushed around in an open tub in a wheel barrow down dirt roads, many of which are caked with sewage, and is not being refrigerated in any way.  When you buy the fish the man lays it on his wheelbarrow, scrapes off the scales, cuts it open with a knife and scoops out the guts with his hand and throws them on the ground, and puts the fish in a plastic bag.  I felt the same alarm when I noticed that the carnecerias have all parts of pig, cow, and chickens bodies (I’m talking organs, heads, etc.) hanging from hooks in front of their stores. This means the meat we eat is hanging out in the 90 degree burning sun for who knows how long.  One of the major health problems here is that there is no slaughterhouse (I know there is a nicer word for that but I can’t think of it!).  This means that the family who run the meat stores butcher the animals in the street in front of their homes and the carcases are thrown out with the trash or washed into the creek with the sewage.  It also means the meat we eat (before sitting in the heat all day) is butchered on a dusty wooden table that is rinsed off with unfiltered water at the end of each day.   A good friend and fellow volunteer gave me some advice awhile back which was “When in doubt, do as the locals do!”  I have been following that advice and have had no problems.  I now consider myself a recovered germaphobe J


-HONESTY: It is common practice here and not considered rude at all to comment on the physical appearance of other people directly to their face or to others.  At first this was a little uncomfortable for me but I am slowly getting used to it.  We will be sitting in a circle on the porch and someone will walk up and someone will say something along the lines of, “Wow, Marta, you look really fat today!”  It is common for people to have nicknames like ‘gordo’ or ‘flaca’ (fat or skinny).  When I wake up in the morning it’s like a little game I play to see what they are going to say.  Somedays I am looking thin, other days I am looking fat.  I never know if I should be flattered or offended because some people think skinny is good and others consider gaining weight good news.  Sometimes I look taller, sometimes I look really white.  If my face is broken out they will point it out and tell me it’s because I took my shower before the sun came up (it couldn’t possibly be because I sweat all day…).  If I am sunburned they will tell me that I need to put their weird home remedy on immediately or I will have ugly skin.  If I don’t have any makeup on they will tell me I need to put some on.  They do not mean any offense with any of these remarks, they just call it like they see it! 


-NOVIOS: Everyone in the entire town of Bayunca is determined to find me a Colombian boyfriend so that I will get married and stay here.  When I was introduced to a political leader in the community he shook my hand and the first words out of his mouth were, “We need to find a man for her to marry so she will stay in Colombia.”  People I hardly know will ask me what I think of men in Colombia or what I am looking for in a husband.  Everyone is shocked to find out that I do not already have a husband.  The typical conversation goes something like, “Are you married?”  “No.”  “Why not?!”.  I usually explain that I have other things I wanted to do before getting married (i.e. college, live abroad…).  They look at me with a confused expression and then start hatching a plan to marry me off.  They tell me I am good wife material (I am young, healthy, don’t have any children yet, and then of course there’s my gringa status).  I have had women bring their sons to my house and present them as potential husbands.  They will tell me all the reasons I should marry their son while he stands staring at me (he speaks some English, he went to college, he works on a farm, he doesn’t have any children yet, etc.)  It’s pretty awkward and also hilarious. 


-JESUS CHRISTO: I am Catholic and have never been happier to be able to say that as it makes my life here much easier.  While there are some Evangelical Christians here, I would say like 99% of Bayunca is Roman Catholic.  There is a sign on the front of my house that says, “We are Catholics, sons and daughters of the Virgin Mary, and we are not going to change our religion.”  A similar sign can be found on the majority of the houses.  I’m not sure who they think is going to try to change their religion since they are ALL Catholic….. “The Last Supper” hangs over the dinner table in every single home I have been into, portraits of Jesus and other various saints adorn the walls of every room, and there are crosses over a majority of the doors.  I have a calendar hanging in my room with Jesus on the front and a different saint on each page that was a gift.  I have various religious materials strewn around my room that have been given to me by family members.  We make little alters with candles and pictures of saints for everything and then we pray over them.  I cross myself every time I pass a Catholic church because I was told that is custom, and then reminded the next time I failed to do it.  I am crossed by other people an average of 5-10 times every day.  If I am going to go into Cartagena on the bus by myself I am usually prayed over by at least one family member, and the last time my aunt put a rosary around my neck before I could leave.  I go to church every Sunday and then on random weeknights when people feel like it as well as all holidays (religious or otherwise).  The church here is a very small cement building with small windows.  There are old wooden pews that snag whatever clothing you are wearing.  I am always wearing the same white eyelet skirt because it’s the only skirt I have that goes to my knees.  There are ceiling fans but they turn them off for the lighting of the candles.  It’s basically a sauna.  Not to mention it is ALWAYS jam packed, which means you sit with your sweaty, sticky arms pressed against the sweaty, sticky arms of the people next to you.  It is also not uncommon if you are a woman sans children for other people to put their babies and children on your lap (many single mothers with multiple children).  Outside of church I also spend a lot of time praying.  We pray at the beginning of every meeting at school, every community gathering, and most family gatherings.  Luckily the only part I have to say is, “In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit…amen.”  I have mastered that in Spanish along with ‘gracias a dios’ which people add to the end of nearly every sentence. 


-DIA DE LOS VEILITOS:  This holiday is celebrated on the night of December 7th each year and it also symbolizes the beginning of the Christmas season (even though everythings been decorated since October).  It has something to do with the Immaculate Conception (wikapedia it if you’re interested).  Apparently there are different traditions throughout Latin America, and even throughout different parts of Colombia.  Here on the coast the tradition is to light candles really late at night (there was some debate as to what time) and then keep them lit until 5am. We went to Cartagena in the evening so I could see the Centro at night for the first time and once it was dark we went and walked through the beautiful Walled City.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  Around 11:30pm we all headed out to Bayunca (Heidi…another sister….and her family live in Cartagena but spend almost every weekend in Bayunca).  We set up chairs on the patio and everyone sat around in the typical Colombian circle of plastic chairs.  Even though this is a religious holiday…they wasted no time in bringing out the whisky (people here drink either aguardiente or whisky on ice…for this reason I said I usually only drink beer which seems to be fine with everyone…they drink a LOT of beer).   We sat around talking, eating snacks, dancing, drinking, and relaxing.  Around 2am we lit the candles along the edge of the porch.  Then we sat around talking, snacking, dancing, drinking, and relaxing some more while keeping the candles lit.  Around 5:30am we decided to pack it in and call it a night as the faintest hint of sun was visible on the horizon.


-CHRISTMAS: Around December 14th extended family started showing up in Bayunca.  Some were staying with us, some with other family in Bayunca, some in other pueblos, and some in Cartagena.  I was never informed ahead of time when someone new was coming and I got the feeling sometimes no one knew when they were coming.  This continued all the way until Christmas and by the time the 25th rolled around I would estimate there were around 50 people here (10 of which were staying in the house).  On Christmas Eve we sat outside and waited for midnight so we could wish everyone a Feliz Navidad.  We ate bunuelos (like a ball made of cornmeal and cheese)and natilla (kind of like flan with raisins) which are both traditional for Christmas.  Alfredo (brother of Marlene) showed up with a dead giant rodent he had shot hunting.  It was hideous and terrifying.  What was more terrifying is that I knew I was going to have to eat it.  The men went in the backyard and built a fire and roasted him.  Then they covered him with foil and placemats and laid him on the table overnight (really…refrigeration is overrated…).  On Christmas Day the women spent most of the day cooking.  I watched “Santa Buddies” in Spanish with my grandpa.  For Christmas dinner we had fried fish and the grilled rodent.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (kind of resembled pulled pork) but I was seriously missing Christmas dinner at my Grandma’s house!  We spent the rest of the night sitting on the porch dancing, drinking whiskey and talking.  Marlene surprised me and had put credit on her phone for me to call my family.  My grandma answered the phone and I got to talk to my whole family.  This was my first Christmas away from home and it was really hard for me.  I hadn’t heard my families voices since we Skyped before I left Barranquilla.  Getting to talk to my family was pretty much the best gift I could ever receive.  It was definitely a very Colombian Christmas J


-NEW YEARS: Apparently New Years is a bigger deal here than Christmas.  We again spent the whole day cooking and around 7pm everyone went to change and get ready for the night.  Dressed up in Bayunca is a little different than in Cartagena or what I am used to at home.  I wore jeans and a sheer black top and was more than dressed up enough.  I came out when I was ready and one of the female relatives asked me if I was going to put make up on (I already had my makeup on… more than I normally wear).  I laughed and said of course and went back to my room and caked it on until I looked officially Colombian.    We had ham and coconut rice for dinner and then went outside where the drinking began around 8pm.  I decided to take one for the team and drink whiskey with everyone else (just at a much slower pace).  I lost track but I think the group went through somewhere around 10 bottles of whiskey and countless beers.  I watched one woman single handedly drink an entire bottle of whiskey.  At midnight we set of terrifying DIY fireworks and I was convinced someone was going to get fingers blown off (don’t worry…no one did).  Also, everyone makes mannequins out of paper and straw and then at midnight they light them on fire and dance around in the streets with them.  This was awesome until the fire spread and we all had to go inside and the men all ran out with water and put the fire out.  Once the smoke cleared we went back out and the dancing/drinking recommenced.  The house across the street had speakers set up one on top of another that were approximately the same height as their house.  They blared music so loud that I had to be almost touching my ear to the mouth of whoever was talking to me and I didn’t have a prayer of understanding anything.  I went to bed around 5:45am and the last people went to bed around 8am.  The music continued the rest of the day and into to following night.  Have I mentioned that Colombians know how to party? 



Speaking Spanish, eating rice, eating fruit, eating weird meats, eating in general, killing mosquitos, watching telenovelas, talking to locals, saludos (greeting people with a kiss on the cheek and a como estas?), sweating, talking about how hot it is, listening to other people talk about how hot it is, thinking about how hot it is, sweeping, cooking, walking up and down the main road, explaining why I am here, explaining why I don’t have kids, explaining why I drink so much water, explaining my strange gringa habits in general, learning to crochet, sitting in people’s houses drinking juice, sitting on people’s porches drinking juice, pronouncing things in English for people, praying, going to church, thanking Jesus for things, sitting in my family’s tienda, saying adios to everyone who walks by the house, dancing, watching people dance, listening to very loud Colombian music, and occasionally I find time to shut my bedroom door and sweat it out in a natural bikram yoga session 🙂

Overall I am SO happy here in Bayunca.  I had some rough days when I first arrived and around the holidays, but I feel right at home now.  My family is amazing and they honestly feel like they are my real family.  My Spanish is getting better each day and I think I might even be getting used to the heat!  I miss my friends and family from home a lot (especially Heidi!) but in a different way than when I first got here.  I am where I want to be and I am so grateful for this opportunity.  I will update again as soon as I can. 


Paz y amor!


P.S. As I mentioned in the beginning of this SUPER long post…email is going to be the regular form of communication from now on so PLEASE send me emails…not on facebook…to my actual email address….I really want to hear from all of you! (or letters…it costs like a dollar and it’s fun!).  My email address is

P.P.S. I will likely not be posting many (or any) pictures to my blog anymore since the internet is so slow.  All of my pictures will be posted on the Facebook link (click on my PICTURES tab at the top of the page). 

P.P.P.S. Shout out to two wonderful families!

#1: The Mulvaney Family!  Thank you SO much for the package and especially for the card with such kind words (it brought me to tears!).  I haven’t been able to get in touch with you because I haven’t had internet but I asked Andrew to thank you for me and I hope you got the message!  It meant so much to me and I can’t thank you enough 🙂

#2: My wonderful family.  Thank you for the package and for your unwavering love and support.  I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for you.  I miss you and think of you everyday 🙂




  1. Hi Katie, I knew you were going to a small, rural town as soon as you mentioned it’s name. I’m sure is was a bit of a shock at first, and you seem to be acclimating well. Hopefully, you have fresh produce from the local farms, and the meat and fish are well cooked. I don’t know what the “giant rodent” was, but was surprised that it was “shot” by a hunter. Beef is almost all grass fed there and has a much different flavor than here. The fruit juice is very likely safer to drink than water, and one use for all that whisky, is to kill what ever was in the water!!

    You seem to have established a very busy schedule for yourself. I hope you have allowed enough time to relax and recover from your long days. Your family sounds very typical of a “Latino” family, and I am not surprised the everyone wants the “bragging rights” to getting you married off!! They will get the message eventually!!

    Have fun,and stay safe!!

  2. Hi Katie! SOOOO good to hear from you.. We ask Andrew about you all the time, and he did tell us that you received the package. 🙂 I am glad that you are well and adjusting to life in Bayunca. You are an amazing young woman! The Peace Corps and the people in Bayunca are lucky to have you! You already have enough crazy stories added up to make this an experience of a life time! Don’t know how you do it, but you must have a great sense of humor! Stay safe. You are in our thoughts and prayers, Katie M!

  3. I’ve just been accepte into the Peace Corps (Colombia) and I wanted to let you know how helpful your blog is. I appreciate all the details and honesty.

  4. Lexi,
    If you want to talk or have questions send me an email anytime at I’d love to hear from you, and congratulations!

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