Tag Archives: south america

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.

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Girls Leading Our World: Camp GLOW in Colombia

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Camp Glow 2015: 37 Colombian teenage girls from across the Caribbean coastal region and 13 PCVs pc: Richard Grijalva

Summer camp…

Singing songs around the campfire.

Hiking and friendship bracelets.

New friends and wind-up cameras.

The idea of camp always energizes me. As a camper, then a counselor, wrangler and finally director, I’ve seen summer camp from every angle.

And from every angle, the camp experience continues to be unique, unforgettable and powerful, with the potential to be life-changing and to act as a catalyst for learning and growth for all the kids involved.

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A camper helps pick up trash with a positive service attitude.

Camp and PCVs  One of the most rewarding project opportunities for a PCV is to bring that once-in-a-lifetime experience to the kids we  serve.  Continue reading Girls Leading Our World: Camp GLOW in Colombia

Presenting…Project #CarasDeColombia

Note: This is the first post in a series titled “#carasdecolombia.” I will be posting stories, pictures and interviews using this hashtag. Please feel free to add to the collection with your own pictures and stories! And yes, shout out to @humansofny for the initial inspiration for such a project.  

The Colombia that I’ve gotten to know these past two years can be described in one word: vibrant. The colors are bold, the music loud, the smiles bright and

Agriculture and livestock industries in Colombia
Agriculture and livestock industries in Colombia

the hugs warm. This Colombia boasts abundant natural resources (Amazon rainforest, deserts, coffee farms, rivers and two oceans). This Colombia was recently featured on CNN Money for its “booming economy” and growth in the technology industry. This Colombia teems with trendy backpackers and cruisers, drawn to the colonial coast and lush interior. This Colombia, to me, is enjoyingherselfcharacterized by the photo at right.

But unfortunately, this Colombia has been overshadowed by a different Colombia. It’s got several decades of darkness and a reputation that hangs over the present generation. Of all the conversations I’ve had with thousands of Colombians, a constant question I get is, “what do Americans think about Colombia?” What they mean is, “do Americans think that Colombians are all drug traffickers and terrorists?”

Honestly, I hope not. But thanks to Hollywood, TV stereotypes and some mean kids in New Jersey who teased my student’s Colombian-American cousins, there is still a lot of work to do.

Though it would be impossible to define an average Colombian, I can capture real, living and dreaming people and show their reality.

This project shares snapshots of conversations and the stories of Colombia.This project aims to show the new face to the name Colombia, utilizing the hashtag #carasdecolombia, or faces of Colombia.

This is your, my, our Colombia.

To Flush or Not to Flush: 5 Indicators You’re Entering the Cultural Transition Zone

One of the most baffling truths of modern transportation is that in the space of a couple of hours (more precisely, two cat naps and one plane-bathroom break), one can take-off in one culture and climate and land in a completely different one. Breakfast in 90-degree Colombia, lunch in 20-degree America.  Let’s call this the “cultural transition zone.” 

#1.    What’s the very first sign of the “cultural transition zone?” The toilet paper. During your pre-boarding pee break, you don’t even blink when you have to perch on a porcelain bowl and throw the paper in the trash can. You’ve done it for like, 500 days already. Continue reading To Flush or Not to Flush: 5 Indicators You’re Entering the Cultural Transition Zone

A Beautiful Reality: My Peace Corps Site

I’ve been taking mental portraits and landscape panoramas of my host town for over a year now, but only a few of the shots have made it into digital format, and even fewer have landed in a public forum.

There are at least two reasons for this:

First, I’m not keen on toting my big DSLR or my smartphone around town; it’s not great for my safety OR my reputation. Part of my integration strategy has always been to minimize the “OMGlookatthegringa” effect as much as possible.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I want to protect the dignity and privacy of my town’s beautiful people. That’s always been on my mind, but the more I get to know them, the more it matters–I care about them, they’ve shown me respect and love, and I want to do the same for them. So I’m trying to be careful to use my photography to support and promote my town, not to degrade or expose it and its inhabitants.

That said, I have spent the past 15 months living a distinctive day-to-day reality in a setting that just taunts this photographer’s eye! Every morning on my ride to school, there’s a view over the aqueduct that the morning sun just glorifies; the afternoon ocean is the bluest of the whole day. The popcorn man has the brightest smile and my students–my students are each and every one of them a portrait just begging to be captured! And at the same time, there are some less-photogenic aspects of our life here: pollution, poverty, underachieving infrastructure and neglected streets, buildings and dreams.

Continue reading A Beautiful Reality: My Peace Corps Site

One Year!

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.IMG_4862.JPG Continue reading One Year!

On Barrios

It’s hella hot today. It’s rainy season but the streets are dry and the people are sweaty. My long dress sticks to my legs as I walk, scratching the mosquito bite collection on my calves.

I pick up two bags of apples, little Galas imported from Chile, and wander the supermarket aisles, looking for rice cakes and inspiration. I find corn tortillas, inspiration enough to send my mind back to the carne asado tacos at Azteca’s in Napa Valley. Broke college student food, but here it’s barely in the budget for a broke Peace Corps volunteer. I’ll come back for them.

On the way home, I realize I’m whistling the Jeopardy theme song when a security guard leans out of his window to find the source of the tune–I laugh out loud, embarrassed, and keep walking, and the next house down catches my laugh and smiles back.

Stephanie says the white flowered trees are plumerias; they make good leis. Maybe we’ll harvest the neighborhood for the host family appreciation hula performance. How would we get these delicate, perfectly curved petals off the trees, into backpacks, onto buses and into the venue?

Two houses away from home, Simon smells me and drags Nerelia down the street, the dog leading the walker. Simon, Ricky and their companion, the stray girlfriend dog who sleeps on our porch, scratch in the trash on the sidewalk. Nerelia tells me that abuela sometimes leaves food out for the girlfriend dog. I knew it! I’ve wanted to feed her for weeks, but the abuela always bemoaned her presence, that dirty street dog nuisance. You sneaky abuela!