Spring Break

I got back to Barranquilla Saturday night after a fun and very relaxing vacation. Here’s a quick play-by-play of my trip:

Friday 3/26: Left for Cartagena in the late afternoon and arrived a little after 5pm. Went out dancing with Hillary and a friend of her sister’s from the states. We had fun, but the centro was filled with Western tourists so it wasn’t really our scene.

Saturday 3/27: Had lunch in Hillary’s neighborhood before heading to the mall for a little shopping. Tara came in from Barú and met us there. I had Yogen Fruz for the first time, which is frozen yogurt that is blended with the fruit of your choice right in front of you – DElicious. I’m kind of obsessed. (The franchise is international, so if you ever stumble across one, try it!!) We were all kind of tired, so we opted to stay in and cook dinner instead of going out.

Sunday 3/28: Spent most of the day in the centro with Hillary and Tara, checking out the shops and buying cheap jewelry on the street. I also bought a really cute green and white floral print dress for 25,000 – that’s 13 bucks! We met up with Courtney (our WT field director) for a yummy Colombian lunch,  then she treated us to ice cream cones from our favorite chain, Crepes & Waffles. That night Tara and I went with Hillary to a former student’s birthday party (don’t worry, Hillary teaches at a university.) We ate typical costeño food, drank Costeñita beer, danced a bit, and had a really good time. We also spoke in Spanish the whole time, which was really good practice for me.

Andres, Ivon (b-day girl), Hillary, Me

Monday 3/29: Deciding to take it easy before leaving for Tolú, we stayed around Hillary’s neighborhood and got mani-pedis. I usually don’t get manicures (though I love a good pedicure) but it was so cheap I went ahead and got both. That night we cooked a delicious dinner of coconut rice, curry, and passion fruit juice with chocolate pudding for dessert. YUM. We put on a movie afterward (Everybody’s Fine) that unfortunately turned out to be really depressing.

Our freshly polished toes LOL

Tara and Hillary showing off our yummy dinner

Tuesday 3/30: Woke up, packed, grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed to the bus terminal. After a rocky 3 hour ride, we arrived in Tolú, where we promptly hired 2 bicitaxis to bring us to our hostel. (A bicitaxi is just what it sounds like: a bicycle-taxi. Those and regular bicycles are the main form of transportation in Tolú.) We were really excited about our hostel’s  rooftop lounge area, which included hammocks, cable tv and couches. We explored the town a bit and had dinner at a not-so-Mexican Mexican restaurant called Orale Guey.

In a hammock on the roof!

Wednesday 3/31: Spent most of the day on a tour of the San Bernardo Islands. This included beach time and lunch on Isla Mucura, where the waves are gentle and the water crystal clear, as well as a tour of the ridiculous “aquarium” on Isla Palma (where we saw everything from turkeys to a massive water buffalo.) Later we strolled along the malecón, people-watching and listening to music, and ate street food.

Lunch on Isla Mucura. Yeah, that's the ocean a few feet from our table.

Posing in front of the flamingos on Isla Palma

Thursday 4/1: Took a bus to Coveñas to spend the day at the beach there. The water was really warm, like a bath, which was kind of weird, but I still enjoyed it. I spent most of my time reading a book while getting a nice tan on my legs. So relaxing. That night we decided to finally check out the nightlife. By this point Tolu was packed with tourists, but we barely saw foreigners, which was great. Instead the tourists came from other Colombian cities like Medellin and even as far away as Cali. The malecon at night was filled with people drinking, eating, dancing, playing instruments – it was great. So alive.

Our spot on the playa in Coveñas

Friday 4/2: Surprise, surprise – another beach day! This time we took the advice of a local and headed to Puerto Vieja, which was closer than Coveñas. The beach was really nice, even if the water had a bit more waves than I usually like. We rented an umbrella and some chairs and barely moved until sunset.

With Hillary at sunset

I <3 sunsets :)

On Saturday we headed home, though none of us really wanted to leave.

Top 5 Favorite Things About Tolú:

  1. Pimped out bicitaxis. I forgot to take a picture, but some of these things had giant speakers, flashing lights, even video. I’ve never seen anything like it.
  2. The artisans
  3. The boardwalk
  4. The greenery
  5. The laid-back vibe. It felt like a Caribbean island.

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En Barranquilla Me Quedo

I don’t know why I’m so terrible at this whole blogging thing! I think part of the problem is that everyone I know is on Facebook now, so I just assume that the photos and status updates I post on there are good enough. There are still a few people out there who want me to blog, though, so here I go…

Life here in Barranquilla has been really good lately. With our new, permanent (or so I hope) schedules at school, I no longer teach huge classes of 48 by myself, and one of my 4th grade classes was assigned to a different teacher. I was able to pick up an 8th grade class instead, which I am co-teaching with my favorite Colombian English teacher. I love it. I truly enjoy older kids  so much more than younger ones. I guess I just relate well to 14-year-olds! Not sure what that says about me, haha. There are, of course, still a lot of work-related challenges. One of the biggest for me is the general disorganization and lack of communication between the administration and the teachers. For example, I showed up bright and early to teach my 7am class today, only to find out that – due to meetings, of course – the kids weren’t coming in until 8. Had I known, I would’ve slept a little later and eaten a nice leisurely breakfast at home. But as usual, no one had told us anything. It turned out ok; I hung out, conversed with some of the other teachers, and ate an arepa con huevo from the snack bar. (These are like deep-fried corn patties with a fried egg inside. Delicious, not so nutritious.) I did manage to find out that 3rd grade and below are coming in at 9am tomorrow (don’t ask me why, I truly don’t know) so I’m planning some super sleeping-in for mañana.

I must say that my social life has gotten a lot better recently. I’m finally making Colombian friends! It feels really good to be meeting people on my own rather than always hanging out with my host sister’s friends or people from school. I recently met a lot of people at Universidad Atlantico, a college close to where I live. My friends Wismine, Lauren and I have been putting flyers around the campus to find people interested in private English tutoring. We’ve only gotten a few bites as far as the lessons, but lots of guys have offered to show us around or take us out! LOL. On Monday night Lauren and I went out with this guy Jefferson and his friend Edgar. Jefferson goes to Atlantico, but that’s not where we met him – that’s another story.

Basically it went like this: A few weeks ago, we were at Panamericana (Staples meets Waldenbooks) so that I could buy a Harry Potter book en español. We wandered into the children’s book section, where a salesperson asked if we needed help. After bringing us to the HP books, he sort of just stood there, so Lauren and I kept making conversation. He was really friendly, and I’m all about practicing my Spanish, so I didn’t mind. After finding out that we were English teachers, he promptly recommended some bilingual books and videos. He even put on the DVD I was interested in so I could see it. Jefferson also took it upon himself to recommend all of the parts of Colombia he thought we should visit. After exhausting my Spanish and his English – as well as every feasible ‘salesman’ topic – we told him we had to go. Before we left, he flashed a charming smile and told us to come back and see him soon. We left the store talking about how nice he was, then realized we’d made a huge mistake: we didn’t get his phone number! OH NO! What a failure. Here we were, constantly talking about how badly we want to make friends with Colombians our age, and we’d just missed a golden opportunity! Determined to make up for this error, we returned to the store twice – the second time, our new friend was working. He made a beeline for us as soon as he saw us, and after a spectacularly awkward conversation (which involved Lauren and I failing to come up with a good excuse for being in the store that day) we exchanged numbers and made tentative plans to meet up the following weekend. He called sooner than expected to invite us out for pizza. We went, and met up with him and his adorable (20-year-old) friend. They were sweet – paid for everything, even tried to pay for our cab. True caballeros, huh? ;)

Those who know me will not be surprised to find out that my favorite thing about Barranquilla – after the awesome people, of course – is the nightlife. Last Thursday we finally checked out Agua Helada, easily the city’s hottest club right now. I loved it. Beautiful decor, good musical variety, and generally great ambiance. (I was there with a cool crew of people, so I’m sure that helped as well!) Here’s a photo from online, just to give you an idea of what it looks like:

I’m so glad we ended up going out Thursday; none of us knew that Friday-Monday all of the bars & clubs would be closed under Colombia’s Ley Seca. Even stores couldn’t sell alcohol at this time. All because of elections! Strange law, huh? It was a waste of a 4-day weekend, let me tell you… Anyway, I’m excited for this weekend. It’s another long one; Monday’s a holiday of some sort. I think tomorrow I’m gonna check out the club that my friend Jaime invited me to – apparently, it’s the only hip-hop club in Barranquilla. Super excited! Y’all know I love my salsa and reggaeton, but it’ll be nice to get some variety in my life.

Anyway, this post is already way longer than I meant it to be, so chao for now! Look for a post after Semana Santa (last week of March/1st week of April.) I’m spending a few days in Cartagena, then spending the rest of the break in Tolu & the San Bernardo islands. I can’t wait.

Besos!!!

P.S. The title of this post is the name of a song I often hear while out rumbeando. Check it out via Youtube!

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So it begins

To those who’ve complained about me not updating: SORRY! I’ve been busy, and I wasn’t feeling well over the weekend.

Last week was my first full week of teaching. School doesn’t quite feel like it’s really begun, though. All that matters in Barranquilla right now is the upcoming Carnaval; school still doesn’t last a full day, and I won’t have a set schedule until the festivities are over. So far, though, teaching here is hard. They told us gringo teachers that we wouldn’t have to teach by ourselves, but because of a teacher shortage that’s exactly what’s happening. Let me tell you, 40+ kids with one teacher is not an easy class to manage. In my two 3rd grade classes the homeroom teachers stay in the room, so at least there is someone else to help with the discipline if not the teaching, but in my 4th grade classes – in which I’m supposed to work with the 4th/5th grade English teacher – I’m usually by myself. That many students with a young teacher they don’t know is a recipe for disaster! There have been some really chaotic classes, and I’m not sure how much the students have actually learned. I’m pretty sure my 3rd graders know the alphabet, numbers, and basic greetings at this point, but my 4th graders are behind because instead of teaching I’m constantly telling students to sit down, stop fighting, stop throwing things and trying to keep them all from going to the bathroom at the same time. It’s exhausting and frustrating, and I need to figure out how to keep control so that the students who really do want to learn have the opportunity to do so.

The craziest thing is that even the worst-behaved students shower me with hugs and kisses in the halls and seek my approval in the classroom. One of the boys who kept trying to fight another boy in class today was also the most eager to show me what he’d copied from the board. Last Friday in one of my crazy 4th grade classes, a handful of girls presented me with a heartfelt letter about how happy they are to to be learning English from me, along with a plastic necklace and matching earrings. I’ve received other notes, stickers, and candy from students as well. And it boggled my mind today when a girl who’d been rude during class and argued with me was the first to run up and give me a hug during recess. I’m not sure what to make of it, really!

Well that’s all for now… will probably not update again until after Carnaval! :)

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Our Media Debut

The WT Volunteers in 6th grade

Yesterday, one of Barranquilla’s major newspapers came to the school to interview “the gringos.” Basically, they got some comments from us, then asked to watch us interact with some kids. This was actually hard to orchestrate since school hasn’t really started yet so most of our students weren’t there. We all ended up going to one of Aisha’s 6th grade classes, where we introduced ourselves and answered the kids’ many questions about who we are and where we come from. I have to admit that I LOVED being with the sixth graders – they reminded me so much of my homeroom back at Roxbury Prep. Not that my 3rd and 4th graders aren’t super, because they are, but the 6th graders display a level of maturity and insight that is lacking in the younger grades. A good example is the questions they asked. In the 3rd grade, it was “How do you say shark in English?” In the 4th grade, students were fixated on whether or not I had a boyfriend and how to say ‘bonita’ in English (so they could call me “beautiful”, haha.) Meanwhile, the 6th graders asked things like, “What made you decide to come to Colombia?” Okay, I’ll admit I’m a little jealous that Aisha got 6th grade… but I know I’m going to have fun with my 8- and 9-year-olds. They have a ton of energy and are seriously some of the most caring kids I’ve ever met.

Anyway, our story was featured on the front page (bottom half, but still!) of El Heraldo today. We were sort of misquoted, and they got some info wrong (for example, I’m the history major who has always wanted to live in Latin America, not Lindsay) but if you can read Spanish check it out here: La ‘Misión Gringa’.

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Here we go!

As this is the first weekend I’ve had off since arriving in Colombia 3 weeks ago, I figured now was the perfect time to start my blog (my apologies to those who’ve been waiting.) So just to recap, I arrived in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, on January 4th. I spent two weeks there with the other volunteers for an intensive orientation. We took Spanish classes, got lessons on Colombian culture and safety, sat through hours of TEFL training, and even got to sample teach at a bilingual school. At times we all felt like we were on information overload, but for the most part the training was very useful. The best part of those two weeks, though, was getting to know the other volunteers. What a wonderful and impressive group of people! We all bring different skills and experiences to the table, and ultimately we all came for the same reason: to make a difference in a developing country through teaching English. Most of us also came with the goal of learning Spanish and with the desire to truly immerse ourselves in a Latin American culture. Now we’ve all split into our various sites (Cartagena, Isla Barú, Manizales, Quindio, and Barranquilla) and even though I miss being with the group I’m happy to be on the coast and I’m sure everyone is going to have an amazing year.

Women of WorldTeach Colombia 2010

Women of WorldTeach Colombia 2010

Men of WorldTeach Colombia 2010

Men of WorldTeach Colombia 2010

I’ve been in Barranquilla, Colombia for a full week now. Bogotá was an impressive city (check out my Facebook album if you haven’t seen it yet: If You’re a 5 in the US, You’re a 5 in Colombia) but I LOVE Barranquilla. Coastal Colombia is so different from the interior. I feel like I’m living on a tropical island. It actually reminds me a lot of Puerto Rico. Not to mention the fact that costeño Spanish involves swallowing S’s and using words like guineo and embuste – sound familiar? So to all of you who thought I’d come back with a Colombian accent, it turns out I’ll be talking like a costeña, which essentially means I’ll sound Puerto Rican! LOL. So, a quick list, since you all know I love lists:

Favorite Things About Barranquilla So Far

  • My host mom Margarita, who is downstairs right now making us blackberry smoothies
  • My host sister Katherine, who’s been teaching us how to talk like Barranquilleros (this involves using “super” and “full” a lot – as in “FULL-rico”)
  • The Caribbean breeze that makes 90 degree weather feel pleasant
  • The beaches
  • The fruit man on the corner who makes yummy malteadas de guineo (banana shakes) and gives me free samples
  • The empanada man who travels the neighborhood with his cart full of empanadas, arepas, and papas rellenas
  • My awesome co-workers from Aliarse, the organization running community classes at Pies Descalzos after school.
  • Chivas. These are multi-colored buses open on the sides and filled with benches. Add the Carnaval musicians in back, a few bottles of Ron Medellin, and aforementioned awesome co-workers, and you’ve got a serious party bus!
    Chiva

    CHIVA!

    And a shot of the musicians:

    Musicos

    Musicos Carnavaleros

    Well folks, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading! :)

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