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!
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!
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!
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
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.
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.