Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finally Realizing the Appeal

As a kid I never understood what all the fuss was about with matchbox cars, fire trucks, and bulldozers.  However, after last weeks work on the grant project, I must admit I now get it. 

With less than a month to go now and one more project to finish, things have been getting quite busy out here in La Boquilla.  I am really starting to spend that grant money and in doing so find myself on the phone calling up community members and bargaining more than ever. "What is the absolut lowest you can go for a school project that is endorsed by a nun?"  I call that one the religious appeal.  I almost feel like a business man, not that I would know what that feels like though.

After FINALLY filling the donated plot of land with dirt/rubble the next step was to level all of it.  Now this is a big project and with only a limited time, I was not confident that a group of five high schoolers could complete such a task in less than a weeks time.  So my counterpart and I had to start brainstorming about alternatives.  As we were doing said task while simultaneously walking around town looking for the head of the local government, we saw a random bulldozer.  Now after two years this is the first bulldozer I have seen in town.  I then pushed my counterpart into the path of the oncoming machinery to get the attention of the texting driver.  JK we just waved him down and agreed on a good price on behalf of the nun.

That bulldozer completed the job in less than 30 minutes and was just crushing everything in its path; Pretty amazing really.  My life's only mission quickly turned into, "How can get to drive that thing."  And those who ask shall receive, so I sat in the drivers seat with the strange man and together we went a few inches.  Childhood dream I never had, completed!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Holiday Season Top 10

With the holiday season comes numerous best “........” lists: albums, sports highlights, books--you get the point.  So now that the holidays have come and gone here are my 10 favorite things about Costeño Christmas/New years.

10.  The Flags come out
Every year in December, the folks in La Boquilla start to drape little flags around town.  I will now forever associate these with costeño "winter."

9. Concerts
December and January seem to be the months where the most famous artists come to town.  This year 's lineup included: Tego Calderón, Carlos Vives, Marc Anthony, and Summerland (electronic music festival)

8. The burning of año viejo 
Starting in early december you can find these scarecrow type guys sitting around town.  At midnight on NYE they are burned to represent the start of a fresh new year.

7. Yellow Underwear:  It is said that by wearing yellow underwear on NYE you will have good luck in the upcoming year.  Couldn't really get a picture of this, you will just have to trust me on this one.

6. This racially insensitive Black friday advert (technically seen in november) 
Definitions of racial insensitivity in Colombia and the United States may be a bit different

5. New paint jobs: Every holiday season Boquilleros dust off their paint cans and brushes and repaint their homes.  This means lots of bright pink, orange, blue, and yellow in town.  

4.  Baseball season
Colombia's professional baseball season starts every "winter" and the Cartagena Tigres games are quite the bargain: $3.00 fist deck seats

3. Fireworks: Every NYE in the centro there is a spectacular fireworks display that attracts over 1,000 

2.  Recycled Christmas trees
No evergreens here on the coast so the trees here are made with 2 liter bottles and plastic bags 

1.  The Breeze:  I can't believe I am about to say this, but with the breeze in December, January, and February I can walk around somewhat comfortable.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Swim Camp

I woke up early Monday to cut huge sheets of styrofoam into little rectangles.  I was attempting to make kick boards for the campers, but with my lack of fine motor skills and a dull machete they came out looking more like pentagons.  However, I now had bigger problems as I was late to meet the campers in front of the elementary school.  So I left the house in a brisk power walk, sweat running down my neck, with all of those annoying little styrofoam scraps and balls still on the ground to clean later.

I ended up arriving at the school only 5 or so minutes late, but much to my surprise there were already seven students waiting.  So for the first time in my Peace Corps service and maybe the history of Peace Corps Colombia, students turned up to an event before the volunteer!!!  Once at the beach we split up into groups:  tiburónes (sharks), estrellas del mar (sea stars), cabballitos del mar (sea horses), and delfínes (dolphins) and hit the waves with our pentagonal floating devices.

Rule # one: Never put your head under the water.  Yah, that lasted about 5 minutes.  The majority of the campers were fearless and were flailing about, most definitely terms to get disqualified in any given stroke, before we spoke about floating on ones back.  It was obvious the kids loved it and I was astonished by the high retention rate.

“Great sucess”

Kick, Kick, Kick
Again, "Don't put your head under water"

MVP of the week! 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Una Hora Sin Basura

After going through the VERY long and sometimes tedious process of writing my first grant, I have finally received the money--YAY!  Months ago when I first started discussing project ideas with my counterpart (local High School art teacher, Environmentalist, Neighbor, and amateur donkey whisperer) we both agreed that getting the community involved in the ‘good fight‘ was vital to the project's success.  Thus hatched the idea, one hour without garbage (Una hora sin basura)

I barley slept on Friday night because I was so nervous no one would show up.  Now this is a legitimate fear of mine because there is so much pena in this community that when asked a question about attendance, “no” doesn’t exist.  That means “yes” is a maybe and a “possibly” means sorry compa‘ but I have other things to do or novelas to watch.  Luckily, all of those phone calls to remind the group members of the event paid off because nearly  50 participants (and a few fellow Peace Corps Cartagena Volunteers) showed up ready to do some serious garbage pickup.  

Dressed in our brand new, now sweated through, matching shirts we hit two major plazas and cleaned those suckers up real nice.  Simultaneously the megaphone man, not sure he has another name, drove around the town asking everyone not to litter from the hour of 10:00-11:00am; Much like he had the previous two days.  As the noon sun crept overhead, we decided to finish the activity up by walking around town and asking store owners if we could hang up environmentally themed posters outside for the public to see.  

Getting help from all ages

This kid thought it was BYOB (Bring your own bird).

The signs going up.

The Clean up Crew.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winter is Only a State of Mind

My alarm sounded at 8:30 this morning and I woke up feeling guilty, like I needed to be somewhere.  It took me a minute to remember that school was out and all of the students are now on vacation until early February.  For me this means I need to change my mindset and start using a “winter” break state of mind.  For us Peace Corps english teachers this can mean a few different things.  One thing is for sure though, almost everyone will somehow be involved in a camp.  Over past breaks volunteers have held tons of camps involving numerous sports, team building exercises, and gender issues.  

Form the week of December 9th through the 13th I am going to be teaching one of my 3rd grade classes how to swim, with the help of a few good PC friends.  The idea all started in class, about a month ago, when my counterpart and I were teaching I like and I don’t like with sports.  One student said, “I lie eh-swiming.”  Than another admitted that she didn’t know how to eh-swim so I took a quick poll and to my surprise more than 90% of the class, including Gerledis who just said he lied eh-swiming, didn’t know how to eh-swim.  So after handing out a permission slip, we are ready for 5 days of eh-swiming lessons.  I am currently in the process of making kickboards out of styrofoam. 

For the rest of break I will be hard at work on the grant supported Mi Boquilla Florece project.  The goal is to finish the tree nursery before school starts up again.  Also we now have a symbol and a big event this Sunday so I will be back with more updates soon!

The design a 10th grade student made for the Mi Boquilla Florece environmental group

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rainy with a Chance of Cabildo

In Colombia, Carnaval de Barranquilla remains king of kings in regards to week long celebrations--there are a surprising amount of week long festivals in this country.  However, every November, a bit further south, Cartagena hosts the National Beauty Pageant.  This year the schools in La Boquilla, where I work, raised enough money to throw their own parade/Cabildo in anticipation for the excitement that comes with the fiestas novembrinas.  

All four elementary schools participated in the event as did two high school groups and a number of community groups.  There were uniforms, face paint, firecrackers (busca pies), and unfortunately lots of rain.    The downpour only delayed the festivities briefly and luckily for me, one of my students moms decided to take it upon herself to use the weather delay as a good time to braid my hair, giving me a more appropriate look.  

Once the rain stopped and all groups were organized, we all began to walk/dance down the only paved road in La Boquilla.  I was asked by one of my counterparts to participate with Madre Bernarda elementary school.  Although I did not have a costume that resembled a tiger or face paint, I made up for it by providing tons of foam to spray and cornstarch to throw at students/bystanders, no one is innocent at cabildo.  It was a fantastic day to be in La Boquilla and see the community come together and celebrate.  

Keepin' it 100 
War Paint on some of my 4th graders at Madre Bernarda! 
4th graders at San Juan
Lost drummer boy
Crowd shot
EVEN the babies aren't spared

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Home Stretch

October 14th marked my two year anniversary in Colombia and I couldn’t help but thinking about everything coming to an end and what my life is going to look like when I get back to the States, but then I smelled something....It was puppy poop.  So after getting a plastic supermarket bag and disposing of Quilla’s do do my mind began to wander once again.  Recently, there have been days where I feel like I just got to site yesterday and others where I feel like it was 5 years ago that I lived with the catholic priest.  These contradicting ideas do not put my mind at ease when i wake up questioning whether i have 24 months left or if I need to start packing because I only have a week left; I guess that is just part of realizing that my two years of service are almost over.  Although my 29 months are coming to an end, I am very content knowing that La Boquilla will continue to work with the Peace Corps.

The other week I met the next Volunteer who is going to be calling La Boquilla home until 2015.  She was wide eyed and had tons of questions, much like I imagine myself two years ago.  She starts in a few weeks and I am looking forward to introducing her to all of the great people I have met and showing her some of the cool things my counterparts and I have accomplished over the past two years.  The so called passing of the torch is no doubt going to be hard, but I trust my Boquillero counterparts to welcome the new PC volunteer with open arms much like they did for me two years ago.
Quilla is 2 months!