For a volunteer living on a peso-pinching budget, the past two months in Colombia have felt surprisingly rich while making trips to Cartagena de Indias and discovering things to do in Barranquilla. Adversely, the months have also felt like tests of patience and resilience, with frequent on-the-spot lessons in how to improvise. The heat of Barranquilla has cooked the thermal sensor of my Macbook, damaging the RAM and rendering it useless until a visit can be made to the Apple store.
New challenges in email communication, maintenance of two websites, and preparation of final exams, as well as the effort to keep up with friends and family, are proving to be extremely difficult. Relying on older, pay-by-the-hour PC’s with low-resolution screens and grinding processors is painful but bearable, as I consider the alternative which is… nothing.
As a teacher and a writer, working without a computer must be how a runner feels with a severe limp: the handicap is not enough to stop everything, but it definitely impedes speed, distance, achievements and endurance.
Fortunately, to a determined runner (or teacher and writer) with a plan, it’s not the end of the world, though it often seems like a cross between torture and a difficult test. Regardless, it is possible to assemble a list of recent non-computer-assisted accomplishments:
Exploring without traveling. Frequent visits to the George Washington Library at the Centro Colombo Americano mean enjoying back issues of Condé Nast Traveler and thick, glossy books about the history of Colombia. While discovering new places to visit and smelling Hermès perfume sample pages, it’s also nice to indulge in the icy air conditioning of the library.
In addition to escaping through magazines, I recently read two compelling, 800+ page books by Stieg Larsson: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. Anticipated next, the final book in this excellent trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.
Cleaning, donating and downsizing. In preparation for December departure as a WorldTeach volunteer, there are papers to sort through, a year’s worth of faded, ill-fitting clothes to donate, and the clever schematics of fitting everything from souvenirs to unworn winter clothing into two small suitcases. The once-tight skirts and no-longer brilliant blouses will go, but the Alpaca hats and aji amarillo will stay.
Gifting Candy and Giving Thanks. The 5th grade students of Distrial Colegio Hogar Mariano graduated this week, transitioning from primeria into secondaria. With little Congratulations! tied to the sticks of Tipitin paletas, its obvious these students definitely deserve more, but with 160 of them, the gift of candy is realistic on a volunteer budget.
The fantastic teachers in the school received colorful, laminated collage bookmarks, handmade and decorated with words in English. At the graduation ceremony, the students and faculty presented me with the humbling surprise of a monetary gift.
Accepting the gift in front of hundreds of parents and students, I joked that it might have been better to get me a Spanish dictionary, which I received the following day. Although this volunteer year seemed impossible at times, it has all worked out, with many thanks to Hogar Mariano for being a great school.
Listening to Audiobooks. Not everything can be done on the iPhone, but it is possible to download some audio books. Bossypants, written by comedian Tina Fey, tells stories of growing up nerdy, befriending theater geeks, and adoring her father from an early age. These wild true tales read by Fey in a witty delivery and interspersed with hints of sarcasm, catapult listeners into fits of laughter.
Learning to Cook Colombian. On a Saturday afternoon, WorldTeach volunteers Andrea and Shauna joined my host Marina and me for lessons in cooking Colombian food, including arroz de coco, patacones and jugo de maracuya. Marina previously taught me how to make arepas and cocada blanca. An experienced cocinara, she serves a Bandeja Paisa so delicious it would make Juan Valdez blush.
Secured Work for 2015. Somehow, without a computer, I managed to secure an opportunity in Cartagena which will return me to Colombia in 2015. Through the help of two generous friends, one miraculous Skype interview, several emails, and a teaching website (maintained through internet café PC’s), I greatfully accepted a position teaching with Aspaen Gimnasio Cartegena de Indias. Yes, among the constant confusion of living in Colombia, the decision to return in 2015 and work with Gimnasio came easily, enhanced by a love of Champeta and Vallenato, arepas and Pony Malta.
As the volunteer year comes to an end, there are still things left to do, like sifting through dried up board markers and maintaining this blog at dial-up Internet speeds. While it’s true Colombia may have cooked my Macbook, diving back into this sizzling country means there is still more to experience in South America. Life ahead still feels like the crap shoot that usually it is, but now it’s happening one inspiring, challenging, improvising moment at a time.