I sit in the volunteer lounge, listening to my fellow volunteers chat. They’re the same topics as always: sweat, food, bureaucracy. But I can tell that we’ve been here for a year. Without looking, I can predict the facial expressions and gestures they’re making; we flow along with the ease of having shared the same ups and downs and persevering.
The office is overflowing with volunteers and staff. Today is an important day for Peace Corps Colombia: all at once, we’re saying “goodbye” to our deputy director and “hello” to our new group of trainees.
In the space of a couple of hours, our little post will change dramatically.
Cramped into the volunteer lounge, I grab the only available resting place–sitting on a box of donated clothes!–and look over pictures from our own arrival in Colombia. It seems like last week; it seems like a decade ago, too. My blond highlights have grown to my chin since the picture Izzy and I took in the Miami airport, thumbs up and shiny visas in hand.
I don’t feel like it’s been a year already. Rather, I don’t feel like the “seasoned volunteer” I’m supposed to be when we greet the newbies this evening. I still have so much work to do, and I still have days where I have no idea what’s going on. I still don’t understand why Colombians do the things they do, or how to get my point across when my coastal Spanish falters. I still have so many lessons to plan and projects to share.
It feels reminiscent of the American Shanna, who had a to-do list through the next century and a Type A inner voice to propel her through. She has a very delicate balance for productivity: too little to do and she gets lugubrious; too much and she sacrifices sleep and can’t focus until she OCD-cleans something.
But then I look at us and see how much progress we’ve made in these nine months in site. We’ve started clubs and danced in parades; we’ve trained teachers and run camps. We’ve pooped and puked and gotten lost and eaten street food at 5 am. I, for one, ate my body weight in mangos this year.
Running on the beach this morning, I relish the realization that I have my usual people to greet and my usual routines around town. Coming into Quilla, I know all the routes and the bus drivers and the street salesmen and the fact that I’m early, even as I’m 10 minutes late.
And later, when I cheer for the new trainees at the airport, I’ve seen so much since I walked through that international arrivals door at the petite Barranquilla terminal 12 months ago. Now I’m the welcoming crew, trying to make the newcomers feel welcome, comfortable, supported.
I see Colombia through two sets of eyes: those of these newbs, seeing the streets, pedestrians, traffic and pollution for the first time, and through my own eyes, which know what to expect and how to survive.
In Puerto, they tell me I’m half porteña already. I say I’m glad, and cheers to our next year together.