Hay, Dios mio! What an exciting day!
This morning we had a few more sessions before lunch, then found out what our host family assignments were going to be. We each had our names called in random order, then were handed a card that had the description of the family, if they had any animals, and anything else about the family that we might want to know. During my family interview, I said that I liked children, that I was okay being around animals (including chickens), and that it wasn’t important whether or not I was going to have wi-fi at my house; I figured it would be nice to be able to be unplugged while I was here.
I got my family assignment and the first thing I looked for was whether or not I was going to have a sibling. I saw that I was going to have a 4 year old little sister, and seriously made me so happy since I brought so many arts and crafts with me (naturally!). The rest of the family includes a father, mother, and another older son who lives on his own but who visits frequently to the house. The next thing that surprised me was when I checked to see if there were any animals. In the description, it read that there are NINE ANIMALS (what?!?): a dog named Doky, 3 gats, chickens, roosters, hens, chicks and a parakeet. That also hyped the excitement, as I wasn’t sure what to expect of the living situation.
At 1p.m., we picked up our water filters, then gathered our belongings and made our way to the host family municipalities, which were about an hour away from the city in which we stayed; I slept in the van on the way there. My municipality has two volunteers currently living in it and then 4 trainees (including myself) came to stay today. In a town close by is the central “hub” for where my technical training will be held. I’ll be going there a few times a week for my training, but mostly I’ll be staying in my municipality for the next three months to integrate into my community.
As we drove through this little town with wet dirt roads and potholes, the people stared at us. We were new, outsiders and gringos to them. Some of them know about Cuerpo de Paz (Peace Corps, in Spanish), but not all of them, so our presence in the town was abnormal. As we drove through, I could see through some of the houses; their doors were open for the airflow and often, people were sitting in lawn chairs on the patio. One of the PCVLs explained to us that they wet the roads because of the wind, that they don’t want the dirt getting into their homes.
I was the first one off the bus and I was so nervous!! I received a warm welcome from my host family, said goodbye to the other CII-11 team members, took a photo with my parents and finally went inside. My home is similar to the others that I saw – you can see through the living room to the other side. They usually keep the doors open, except from 5-6p.m., I learned, because that’s when the mosquitos are most prevalent. The living room has very tall ceilings, rocking chairs to sit in front of the TV with, a table with chairs, and another set of nicer chairs. The walls are a light pink color and have some religious wall hangings. I settled my bags in my room, then went out into the backyard / patio and sat with my new parents to talk. We talked a little bit about ourselves, what the last few days have been like for me, what kinds of foods I do and don’t like, the last two Peace Corps volunteers that they hosted (Kati and Rachel) and had some other conversation. I haven’t spoken a word of English with my family, and, therefore, it’s been a challenge to get some of my ideas across.
All of the animals are outside (thank goodness for that). Doky has a dark brown coat and was tied at the waste near the chickens, in case anything got near them I imagine. I also saw two of the cats, the birds (there are many in cages hanging on the trees – my dad and I whistled to a blue one), tortoises (the father tortoise is big and can roam at his own pace but the babies are in a smaller enclosed space), chickens and hens.
I could hear a ton of chickens fairly close by and learned that a neighbor had a chicken farm; how interesting!
One thing that I really love about this home is that there are so many fruit trees in the patio area: lemons, plantains, bananas, mangos, guanabana and another fruit tree that I can’t think of.
Soon after we sat outside, we had a flash flood, and I mean it DOWNPOURED. There was a lightening strike very close to where we were sitting and the water ended up getting on the entire covered patio. It didn’t take very long for the electricity to go out, so when we went inside, we did everything by candle light.
The electricity came back on and, for dinner, my host mom made a chicken salad with potatoes, lemon, onion, and I think something cheesy. I had two slices of bread to go with it and a glass of cola. My host brother (the older one) and his daughter came by and introduced themselves to me and we all ate dinner together. It felt so… natural, like nothing different was going on (although I didn’t understand all that they were saying). They treated me as one of their own, and not as anyone different from their family.
Afterwards, my host mom asked me if I liked to do crafts, so I took out my paper quilling kit and book, which she absolutely loved!! I started to work on a project with her (a butterfly) but it was getting to be a little late, so I decided to go to write this then will be going to bed.
My room has a twin bed in the middle, an armoire that fits my clothes very nicely, a hamper, a trash can and a side table. The walls have a strip of white around the center with flowers painted on them (I believe this is normally my little sister’s room, considering the teddy bears and My Little Pony wall hangings, but it is charming in its own way.
Different things I’m feeling right now:
- Nervous about my language skills. It’s taxing on the mind to only be around one language when you don’t understand some of it. I can’t say exactly how many times I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” or “repite, por favor” (please repeat that), or “Si, entiendo” (Yes, I understand), or “No, no entiendo” (no, I don’t understand)… but it was a lot. It also depends on the person’s speech – I can understand someone better once I hear them for a little while, but it was difficult to understand new people until I listened for a while. I will say, however, that my family is extremely patient with me and will explain something to me if I don’t understand. They’ve been wonderful so far.
- Safe in the space where I am. Like I said earlier, it feels very natural for me here.
- Tired. I’m an absolute introvert, and it’s been a few days of constant contact with other people, group settings, sharing rooms etc… I’ve been trying to maintain my rest, but I need to find my new habits here.
- Excited. I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing when I’m supposed to be doing it, and that’s seriously an amazing feeling.
- Lastly, I feel grateful for my health, for the incredible opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself, and for this generous family that is hosting me here in Colombia to help me in my training.
I’m slowly settling in, but so far so good!!