5 Reasons Why I Say I Don’t Want Kids

Babies are everywhere these days. The ubiquitous mini-humans are all over my Facebook feed; the mall is full of strollers; my friends talk about their conception windows. Here in Colombia, baby season (roughly 9 months past Carnaval) is upon us.

What is it about being a young female that people look at you and think, “she looks like she’d love to wear maternity jeans!”? The pressure multiplies when you hit your mid-twenties, regardless of your marital status, your economic fortitude or, you know, personal opinions.

Suddenly, the all-consuming question is, “When are you going to have kids?” 

It’s a common icebreaker, considered within the appropriate range of small talk. And in some cases, it can be. But it shouldn’t be an assuming, leading question that frames the concept in a “not if but when” format.

This has got me thinking. Why do we think it’s okay to ask women this question? No one asks my male friends when they’re planning to procreate.  They get asked about their careers and their cars.  Especially here in Colombia, where women struggle against the prevalent machismo culture and teen pregnancies, I feel that it’s important to present an alternative view to the assumption that “women are for making babies and keeping house.”

I used to laugh it off, but lately I am more likely to challenge the idea. It usually starts a conversation where I can voice these opinions and try to broaden perspective on the issue. So sometimes I say “I never want kids” just to rebel against the assumptions.

“I don’t want kids,” I’ll say.

“Never ever?” they ask incredulously.

“I have other priorities,” I declare.

Now, let me clear. I don’t actually know whether I want to have children. Maybe so, maybe not. That’s for a private decision in the distant future. And furthermore, I am not advocating against having children, or criticizing well-meaning, curious small-talkers. Nor do I want to detract from the absolutely beautiful concepts of motherhood and building families. This isn’t an argument for or against having children, or wanting children, or even liking children. It’s simply an argument against the subliminal underlying assumptions of this question.

So I am going to challenge the basic presumption of “When are you going to have kids?” until we start asking the questions that matter. And on that note, here are five reasons that we should stop asking that question.

1.Being a mother is not my raison d’etre

Despite the fact that we live in the 21st century, society’s treatment of motherhood continues to be archaic (see also: outrage at breastfeeding in public; anti-abortion laws).  This extends to society’s ideal of what womanhood is about. Let me start by saying that womanhood and motherhood are NOT THE SAME THING. Not being a mother doesn’t make me any less of a woman.The assumption that a woman’s highest purpose in life is to procreate is, simply put, sexist. It suggests that her value is not measured by her intelligence, her creativity, her strength, her compassion and her unique human spirit.

When a woman becomes a mother, something I’m told is life-changing and intrinsically beautiful, she adds a new, intimate relationship to her existing plethora of experiences. She grows as a person and develops new perspectives and wisdom, but she doesn’t become valuable for her new role in society. She is already valuable.

2. I want to be remembered for my work, not for my offspring.

From what I can tell, having children has biological and evolutionary importance. Historically, biological offspring are a way to carry on one’s legacy in the gene pool. The more children, the more allies; the more DNA you spread, the more likely you can dominate and ensure survival. Luckily for me, I’m not a cavewoman. Hear that? My survival isn’t determined by physical tribe-on-tribe battle. My legacy gets to be something else. Like whatever I want. So there.

I don’t want to detract from the obvious benefits of a genetic legacy. It must be beautiful to see your own DNA duplicated in a mini me. Children can carry on your family name and values. However, I’d prefer to define my legacy by things that I’ve done. In particular, I want my words and experiences to be my legacy, and whether that’s by writing them down or by telling them to offspring is up to me.

3. I don’t want to define my success based on other people’s standards.

My  goal in life is not: “get married, buy a house, have kids.” I see that our society still defines success as having a family (especially for women.) You haven’t reached success until you fit that standard. It is disgusting to see the amount of pressure that society uses to teach women that their purpose in life is to have children, whether it is through subliminal gender messages in the media and toy store or well-meaning but insulting comments that seem to say, “I know better than you what you should do with your life.”

4. Having kids isn’t on my priority list.

People used to say, “oh, but just give it a few years! You’ll come around!” Yet here I am at 25 years old, and I still don’t see them in my 5- or 10-year plan. The truth is that while I love kids, I can’t imagine them in the foreseeable future. I see many other priorities.

One of my priorities is to further my education. I am heading for my master’s next year, then I’ll probably pursue a Ph.D. sometime after. I love to learn and analyze and teach, something that won’t likely change.

Another goal is to work in a field that continuously challenges me and brings me close to people and places where important things are happening. I love to be close to the action, and I love to be part of the difference being made.

I have so many other dreams and visions and goals and for now, children would just be an obstacle to accomplishing what I feel I’m setting out to do. No one should have kids unless they are ready for them. They’re not on a to-do list.

5. I don’t feel any need to say “yes” to satisfy societal pressure.

I am sick of people asking when I’m going to have kids. Why don’t they ask if? I understand that it’s a common thing to do, but it’s not fair to assume that just because everybody else is doing something that I should, too. Don’t teach me to think for myself, then tell me to follow the crowd. You’re being inconsistent, society.

This recent article in the Huffington Post, about talking to little girls, shows the powerfully deceptive ways that gender roles are perpetrated.  The author made me think about how we phrase our assumptions in the form of a question. When we ask the question a certain way, we’re suggesting that the answer fit the same format. So if you say, “When do you want kids?” I can’t answer with a “yes” or “no” or “maybe.” It has to be a time frame. And that’s not fair.

Ask me another! 

I am speaking up for my fellow women who, whether or not they have or want children, are worthy of their dreams and goals. I am writing for everyone who has felt pressured to fit into a societal box or to fulfill “a biological paramount.” I am standing up my right to say, “if” or “never” or “ask me a better question.”

Let’s try to empower women for their abilities instead of reinforcing their stereotypes.  Here is what to ask next time:

Q: When are you going to have kids? 

Q: What are you passionate about? What are your dreams?

Many young women are doing exciting things and have unique perspectives to share about their passions, their interests, their dreams. Take that as a conversation starter and see what you can learn!

So, the next time someone asks me, “When are you going to have kids?” I have my answer ready: “I don’t know if I’m going to have kids, and that’s okay. Ask me about my dreams!”

On Proximity

It occurs to me that maybe the reason that America has wide sidewalks and Colombia has narrow ones isn’t because of the difference in the size of the people–most Americans are quite a lot taller and wider than most Colombians–but in fact, because of the differences in comfort zones. Here, we all brush shoulders and graze elbows into those curves of the human body that are usually reserved for hugs and tickles, and we turn our bodies to swing our hips and handbags around each other.

Waiting in line to board a flight to LA from Panama, the two vacationers in front of me turn periodically to check on me, despite my best efforts to not look like I am eavesdropping. Then I realize it’s not my invasion of their conversation but my encroaching into their personal space that bothers them. I am lining up like any good Colombian would, with the minimal amount of space between me and them, breathing down onto their wheeled suitcases.

My waxing lady (yes, I now have one of those) asks what I’ll miss about Colombia. The human connections, I tell her. In my country, lives are separated by fences and decorative lawns and closed up, air-conditioned bubbles. Here, we live in each other’s spaces, sharing the same experiences.

The same tiredness as we try to stay balanced in a creaky, careening bus home, holding each other’s groceries and toddlers to balance each other’s load. The the same helplessness when the rain comes and we all lose power at the same black, startling moment, and we can hear each other through the walls and open windows in the stillness that follows. The same community pride when we all press together into the main street, a sea of yellow soccer jerseys, to watch the hometown hero, Carlos Bacca, parade slowly to the plaza atop the volunteer fire department’s best rig.

Empowering Our Colombian Girls!

Another perspective on our recent Camp GLOW, through the eyes of a PC staff member passionate about gender equality and actively inspiring us all as she works in the field.

Oíste

By Jeimmy Bernal

Jeimmy_1

Being invited for the second time to Camp GLOW was such a rewarding experience! Finding girls who I met last year, receiving their passionate emails, and being a “model for them” was such a touching practice!

The second Camp GLOW Colombia took place last month due to the great team work of our PCVs. This was a wonderful opportunity to encourage girls in different skills, such as self-esteem and leadership. It was also a great way to support the Gender Equality initiative which has become a priority for PC Washington. Currently, each post is incorporating this initiative at its own pace.

I have been invited to give many lectures at different universities and events. However, lecturing in front of girls whose faces were full of hope, passion, curiosity, and happiness was such an emotional and challenging experience. I was invited for a second time to share with…

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Update part 2: Parents and GLOW

Crumleys in Colombia!

My parents finally came to visit! They set aside three weeks to come and follow me around my PCV life, going to classes with me, meeting all my pueblo friends, and even tagging along to girls’ camp. It was both surreal and exciting to have my parents–my biggest support during my service, always available via Facetime or Skype to listen to my successes and challenges and to give me toilet-plunging advice–finally in Colombia. Getting to merge my two worlds for a few weeks was both stressful and rewarding, stressful because of the 24/7, two-way translating, and rewarding because it gave me a chance to see my host country through fresh eyes.

In spite of Spirit Airlines, they made it to Cartagena (only a day late and baggage-less.) They flew in and we made it into the city just in time for sunset over the historic walled city, making the cathedral domes glow. As

My parents in my pueblo!
My parents in my pueblo!

we walked around the enchanted city, we saw a wedding procession with cumbia drums, and watched a mapale presentation in the park. My parents tried their first arepa con queso, then jugo de mango. 

When they AND their baggage both finally arrived in Puerto Colombia, I got to introduce them to my Colombian life. I took them to visit each of my favorite families, meeting the kids I’ve watched grow and hearing the stories the grandpas love to tell over and over again.

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My mamas, L to R: Rocio, Linda and Mildred
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My dads, Frank and Don (missing Mario, in Argentina!)
As my American parents were coming in to town, my Colombian mama was moving out, going to Argentina to be with her husband. Before she left, we had a goodbye dinner with all my “parents” present: my American parents (theonesthatbirthedme), my Colombian mama (missing my Argentine papa!) and my Colombian papa and Ecuadorian mama, all at one table! This kid felt pretty loved, all of them sharing stories and conspiring to get me married (this is a dangerous combination.) Family, in all forms and definitions, is one of the things that makes life most worth living.

I was able to introduce my parents to all aspects of my Peace Corps life, including classes at my school; my weekend class in Barranquilla; each of the families I’m closest to here in my town; the Peace Corps staff; other volunteers; my favorite Colombian foods.

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Mom getting to know some of my students
At my school, they sat in on a few of Ines’ and my 10th and 11th grade classes. That week, we were working on reading comprehension and test taking skills, but before class started, I introduced my parents and made the students ask questions in English. The best part was when they taught my dad some of the local slang–he was a hit!

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That finca life

The last few days of their visit, I took my parents to visit two different fincas, or farms in the hills near my town, farms owned by family members of my friends. There, we took advantage of the laid-back, simple lifestyle of drinking fresh mango juice, helping to cook over the fire, and sitting around telling stories in the darkness when the solar panel electricity runs out. Some of the most special memories in Colombia happen in these moments, away from the complicated mixture of society and instead captured one savored story at a time.

Their visit was well-timed in terms of my cultural integration cycle (the PC gives us this scarily-accurate graph of a PCV’s adaptability phases) and I felt privileged to be able to introduce my parents to the Colombia that I know so well now. It’s nice to be a “local”, to understand most jokes and know how to get around. Seeing my parents interact with my host gente made me proud of the people and places I’ve grown to love. This really is an incredible place, filled with great people, and seeing it through my parents’ eyes was just the perspective I needed.

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Happy to introduce my parents to the enchanting Cartagena de la India

This Is How We Date Now

Because choice. Our choices are killing us. We think choice means something.” 

I already brought this article up in conversation before I had even finished reading it, truth by truth. We need to be careful of how we choose to define “settling”, “commitment” and also “more.”

I scare myself sometimes. It’s not a fear of commitment or even of intimacy that I have, I don’t think. Rather, it’s a fear of choosing. A fear of choosing my “rest of my life” and putting faces and names to fantasies and ideals. A fear of choosing a person and then having to let him in, then take the risk of losing him. A fear of making big decisions that will impact the life that I’m still building, still dreaming up.

If the original link doesn’t work, here is a manual one:

http://thoughtcatalog.com/jamie-varon/2014/12/this-is-how-we-date-now/

Thought Catalog

iStockphotoiStockphoto / MmeEmil

We don’t commit now. We don’t see the point. They’ve always said there are so many fish in the sea, but never before has that sea of fish been right at our fingertips on OkCupid, Tinder, Grindr, Dattch, take your pick. We can order up a human being in the same way we can order up pad thai on Seamless. We think intimacy lies in a perfectly-executed string of emoji. We think effort is a “good morning” text. We say romance is dead, because maybe it is, but maybe we just need to reinvent it. Maybe romance in our modern age is putting the phone down long enough to look in each other’s eyes at dinner. Maybe romance is deleting Tinder off your phone after an incredible first date with someone. Maybe romance is still there, we just don’t know what it looks like now.

When we…

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But first, an update!

This week, I’m taking a break from #carasdecolombia to tell you why I haven’t written lately. It’s been a busy few weeks with ending second quarter classes, graduation for our weekend class, my parents visiting and finally, Camp GLOW. Here’s a first peek at all the happenings.

Coorposur Graduation

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The school that hosted our weekend classes
For the past few months, several friends and I have been teaching weekend English classes through a friend’s non-profit, designed to help students from an under-served community access an opportunity for better education and employment.

What he didn’t tell me is that he and his uncle had brainstormed a way to help their vulnerable community and decided that the solution was English class. However, they weren’t English teachers. No fear, said Estefanel, I know a PCV! (With his brains and charm, this guy is going to be the president someday.)

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L-R: My parents visiting, Uncle Humberto, a student, me, PCV Megan and teacher Yuranis.
Without telling me I was the answer to their problem, he invited me to check out the project and see if I wanted to help. “Come see our non-profit, Shanna!”

That first week, I taught an English lesson to 106 students, between the ages of seven and 66,  and after that first visit, I was hooked by their motivation and discipline.

I went to my fellow PCVs next, asking for some help with a new community class. “They are so excited to learn!” (With my brains and charm, I’m going to be a diplomat someday.)

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The teachers in our favorite post-class lunch spot! L-R: Angela, me, Janne and Megan. Missing: Kathleen, Yuranis, Estefanel.
The next week, Megan came and we split the group in half, kids and adults. Then, we added Angela and Kathleen, then a Belgian exchange student, then two Colombian teachers.

Every class, seeing those students was the highlight of my week. After a long week of struggling in projects and politics, I felt like my heart grew a size when I saw these kiddos.

I memorized their names (mostly to say, “Elian, sit down!” a lot) and loved watching the little personalities connected to the names as they grew more confident and creative with their English.

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My graduates!
We closed the class term with a graduation ceremony, handing out certificates and taking a million selfies with students and parents. My parents were visiting, so they provided the candy and video recording.

I’m so glad I said yes to that first class visit–working with these kids has been a highlight in my year. It’s been hard for me to feel like a “real teacher” sometimes, without the certifications or experience that many other PCVs have. But these kids were gratifying test subjects, helping me develop my lesson planning and classroom management skills (ha ha.) I look forward to seeing where they go next.

Primary Projects 

In PC lingo, primary projects are those that fit the initial job description. Mine are any projects that are English language-related, including my assignment to the school in Puerto Colombia. In addition to the above class, I’ve continued working in the school, partnering with an incredible Colombian teacher in 10th and 11th grades.

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My 10th graders meeting my mom
Together, we’ve reached a really comfortable teaching and planning relationship. Lately, we’ve been planning lessons that integrate life skills, such as debate, powerpoint and public speaking, with the English curriculum we built. To this day, they mention the lesson we did on Malala Yousafzai, and recently, I saw a group of girls plan a project proposal with a great powerpoint.

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Serena and Elliot entrancing the kids with their British accents
Outside the classroom, two British volunteers and I started a reading program in the primary school. After months of empty promises from the school administration for a library space to contain the donated books, we decided to just show up at the primary, throw out a blanket and starting reading books to the kids!

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Before…
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Two helpful students in the “during” picture, with books moved in!
After a few weeks of that–and a lot of renditions of “Yoga ABC’s”–the library idea started to take shape through the help of my co-teachers, some strong 10th grade boys, and even the elderly lady who sits at the primary school entrance, who took it upon herself to organize the textbooks we brought.

I don’t have an “after” picture yet, because we’re hoping to get the wall and bookshelf painted. Ideally, we’ll be able to paint another world map–a beautiful space is much more conducive to making reading an enjoyable, sought-out experience.

One of the truly frustrating aspects of my service here has been facing the reality that people often just don’t want to make any effort to change things. People love to say, “yes!” and “we want change!”  but don’t follow through. I once wrote an entire grant for a project, only to realize that the people who asked for it didn’t really have the time to make it happen, and me doing it myself defeated the purpose.  This library has been just one in many struggles between promises and outcomes.

But I have to keep taking small steps, following the people who DO have the combination of vision and grit, because they’re here! My students wowed me this week when they masterminded an anti-self-harm awareness campaign all by themselves, complete with a project write-up, a powerpoint and a design idea! Despite being shot down by admin, they’re optimistically re-designing the project to make it work.

So stay tuned to hear how the painting process and the anti-self-harm campaign turn out…if I’ve learned anything in Colombia, it’s that progress is slow, but not impossible. And usually happens with the most unexpected helpers and innovators.

Thanks for reading! Next, I’ll continue the update with my parents’ visit and our girls empowerment Camp GLOW. 

“We are Wayuu, we are the sons of the earth and the rain” // “somos Wayuu, somos hijos de la tierra y la lluvia”

Author’s note: I met David Caceres through a mutual friend at a poetry event. He cut a striking figure, his traditional indigenous ensemble contrasting with the Coca-cola in his hand and Ray Bans covering his eyes.

David turns out to be the official representative of the Wayuu community, a young leader with a strong passion for his people. This is the first part of his story. 

“First, I wanted to greet you in my native tongue, my mother tongue. I am the voice of a million people who are called the Wayuu; we are people of the desert.

We are an Amerindian group that has inhabited the Guajira peninsula for 4,000 years, according to anthropologists. We have dual nationality because our people live in the border region of Colombia and Venezuela…but our identity is one, unique: we are indigenous, we are Wayuu, we are the sons of the earth and the rain.

The Wayuu can’t be defined as a particular group but rather as something heterogenous, because not all Wayuu are fishermen, miners, farmers, shepherds or hunters and gatherers.

I myself am a specialist, a man of the desert, and I live in a peninsula at the edge of the sea, so my role is to be a fisherman, or a man of the sea. In wayuunaiki, we are called “aparanch.”

Our concept of time is spiral, and the spiral of time is simply related with the spiral of the universe, which is what we observe every night in the sky. There is where we focus and learn. All our ancestors are all the stars in the universe, so the Wayuu people will never cease to exist (laughs), because we carry on in the stars.”

[ This is a post in the series titled “#carasdecolombia,” a collection of stories and photos portraying the diversity and beauty of the Colombian lives around me.  Please feel free to add to the collection with your own pictures and stories!]


En Espanol:

Primero, queria saludarte en mi lengua nativa, mi lengua natal. Yo soy, en este momento, la voz de un millon de personas que existimos entre colombia y venezuela y nos llaman desde hace miles de anos como Wayuu. Somos un grupo Amerindio que habitamos la penisula de la Guajira desde hace 4,000 anios y somos gente del desierto.

Nosotros los Wayuu tenemos un carácter binacional por estar en una zona fronteriza, pero…La identidad es una, unica: somos indigena, somos Wayuu, somos hijos de la tierra y la lluvia.

 Los Wayuu no se puede definir como un grupo particular sino mas bien como algo heterogenio, porque no todos los Wayuu son pescadores, no todos los Wayuu son mineros, no todos los Wayuu son agricultores, no todos los Wayuu son pastores, no todos los Wayuu son recolectores.

 

Yo, por lo menos, soy especialista y hombre del desierto, y estoy en una peninsula y el orilla del mar, entonces mi condicion es ser un pescador, o ser un hombre del mar que, en wayuunaiki, se nos llaman “aparanch.”

Nuestra linea del tiempo es espiral, y la espiralidad del tiempo es simplemente relacionada con la espiralidad del universo, que es lo que observamos todas las noches. Y ahi enfocamos y transmitimos y conocemos. Todos los ancestros son todas las estrellas que son en el universo, entonces pues, nunca van a dejar a existir los Wayuu (rie) porque sigamos en las estrellas.

 

 

 

“I was mother and father to my kids” // “Yo fui padre y madre para mis hijos”

 

Elisa

Author’s note: Elisa is a very special person in my house here in Colombia. She and my host mom have known each other for 20 years, sharing a friendship in addition to an employer-housekeeper relationship. She is a positive and patient presence in our house, teaching me her delicious cooking techniques and telling stories about her grandchildren. She is a perfect exemplification of the beautiful strength and endurance of Colombian women. This is her story. 

I left my village, Momil, displaced by the injustice

Momil is a town in Cordoba province
Momil is a town in Cordoba province

and violence. They killed a lot, seizing peoples’ homes and terrorizing everyone. People lived in desperation.

Continue reading “I was mother and father to my kids” // “Yo fui padre y madre para mis hijos”

Spanglish: A Poem about Identity

Last weekend, I was invited to recite a poem at two different events: the first was a Peace Corps poetry jam hosted by the Oiste volunteer magazine team; the second was the annual poetry and music exhibition in Pradomar, commemorating Julio Flórez, a famous local poet.

I wrote a poem about my experience with language acquisition, in which I have reached a point where the two syntaxes, cultures and, ultimately, identities meet, in a single, confusing mindset called Spanglish.

My brain speaks Spanglish–half and half, whatever comes out first. And that’s kind of how my concept of self has become–no longer wholly a single culture or perspective, but a mix of two.

I hope you enjoy!

Spanglish video

Transcript:

Spanglish

Yo tengo this thing, sabes

My lips, teeth, tongue

boca, garganta, lungs

They’re all vueltia’o

Running over, under, in and out

And quedan abusa’os

todos agota’os

All combined to one

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

that no one understands

no one but maybe tu

On one hand, hay

words, ideas,

quid pro quo

Irony, analisis, wit and GO!

Al otro lado, pues

rhythm, rrriccccoooo beats

Sensual, sexy, sweet

cogele suave, amor

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

not pa’alla ni aca

It’s Spanglish, this vaina!

It’s a viva thing

Two identities a la vez

Dos mundos, one fluidez

Jodaaaa, now what?

Aja, so here we are

que hay que hacer?

metamorphosis

Welcome to el nuevo ser
One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

Integracion

not here, not there

But somehow, everywhere

“I wear a different color ensemble every day” // “llevo un color distinta cada dia”

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Kike the Taxista

” I started driving a taxi after I retired, and I make enough money to pay for shirts and shoes. I wear a different color every day.”

“Have you ever seen “Yo Me Llamo?” I competed and we sang a salsa song. See here in this photo? That’s my face. Same face!”

“I don’t sing anymore, but I still dance. Give me your phone number and we’ll go dancing. Boyfriend? I didn’t see one! ”

//

“Despues de que me jubile, regrese a mi tierra de Barranquilla y compre el taxi. Gano suficiente para comprar camisetas y zapatos para combinar–llevo un color distinto cada dia!”

“Has visto “Yo Me Llamo?” Yo concurse. Ves esta foto? Soy yo! La misma cara!”

“Ya no canto, pero aun bailo. Dame tu numero de celular y te invito a bailar. Novio? Como se dice: No vio ninguno!”

La Vida Colombia as a Peace Corps volunteer

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