Several months ago, I made a pact with the Universe, focused, prayed, manifested, practiced Visioning® and now I’m here, in Barranquilla, Atlántico, where I asked to be. As expected, the past week has been a mix of everything from confusion and frustration to gratitude and joy, as I settle into my placement. Graciously, my friend Mark reminded me in a recent chat that it’s only a matter of time before I’m situated and living comfortably with my host family, their cute dog and two birds.
My primary reason for coming to Barranquilla is volunteering for a full year with WorldTeach Colombia. Fortunately, my school is a beautiful, all-girls Catholic institution about 20 minutes walking distance to my house; with local traffic being a cross between the classic arcade game Frogger and the streets of Vietnam, I am very thankful for the location.
The school is large, with an open courtyard and large classrooms holding between 32 and 40 students each. In addition to a gymnasium and cafeteria, the school has it’s own tienda inside the gates – humorous to me but safe for students during the daily break. I teach early in the mornings, arriving at 6:30 a.m, and I’m finished around 12 p.m, leaving afternoons free to lesson plan on the back patio of my host family’s home, where my friend el pájaro performs his serenata and whistles with me.
My classes average an hour each, and students are engaged for nearly all of the lesson. Since this week includes introductions, we sang songs, wrote conversations in notebooks, recited greetings and played a few games. I am delighted with the smiles of the girls when they realize they understand something in English, and I enjoy the colorful stickers they give me before and after class.
I have only had to separate a few students when the talking is incessant, especially during the announcements and prayers. Remembering that Oprah Winfrey describes herself as “the girl in class that never stopped talking“, I try to be gentle but firm with these future superstars, whose beautiful Colombian names (Roseangelita, Mariajuliana, Estefany) are my biggest learning challenge so far.
During the week my new friend Oscar took me to his family’s finca near Malambo, a small town with colorful buildings and small streets just past Soledad and the airport. As we rode in his farm-ready, 1983 Nissan Patrol through acres of mango trees, the breezes kicked up dust and swirled yellow tree flowers across the road – like the scenes in animated movies where pixie dust paves the way to a wonderland.
For hours I chased chickens, talked turkey, patted piglets, cuddled kittens and embraced my favorite, the burro, as well as milked a cow for the first time in many years.
I still don’t know why I’m so enamored with farm animals, but it was great talking with all of them, my vegetarian conscience clear and happy.
On a second visit in the same week, my friend and WorldTeach compañera Shauna joined us for homemade sancocho and long walks around the property. We both agreed fincas are the answer to relaxation and rejuvenation in Colombia, with beautiful Santa Cruz being our first experience.
Over the weekend, I joined several WorldTeach Colombia volunteers from “Club Quilla” for a day at the beach. Turipaná was a noisy, warm 45-minute bus ride north, and as we walked across the black sand towards salty surf, I remembered the credo of our training: no expectations! I’ll admit I felt sad, not seeing white sand and blue water, but after a cold Aguila and a swing in the rope hammock under our palapa, I let go and felt South America soak in.
A delicious lunch of fried fish, coconut rice and patacónes helped put my mind at ease, and as I devoured the day’s comida, I remembered there are other beaches to visit, including the picturesque Santa Marta, and a year ahead to see many places.
After standing for the entire bus ride home and feeling a bit of a sunburn, I stopped with our group to take in the delights of a Cumbia dance party going on in the street, complete with live music and traditional clothing.
Finally, I made my way home on the bus and collapsed in my twin bed after a refreshing cold shower, thinking about how completely different my life is now from this time last year. I decided at that moment to let go of the comparisons, lose the expectations, and accept my new mantra:
It is what it is.