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Winding Down

But Looking Up

semi-overcast 14 °C

My days of hearing "pro-fay" and "teacher" being shouted down the hall as student try to catch me to deliver whatever late work or excuse they have have come to a close. When I submit grades on Thursday I will no longer be a university professor. While I can't say I'm sad to be leaving that role behind I have had a hard time feeling accomplished there. I know there is the whole 'exposure to a native English-speaker thing' and I 'brought new perspective' to their routine lessons and yadda yadda, but accomplishment on a personal (albeit selfish) level.

My goals in coming to Colombia were little more than to volunteer with the YMCA and travel in South America. I'll make a pretty good dent in the latter but its the former that I struggle with. Its that particular struggle that has not made me reevaluate my decision to come or stay (not having done either of those would have clearly been a mistake), but 'reconfigure' my expectations.

In all honesty I tried not to have expectations--easier said than done! Not because I was afraid the experience would somehow fall short of those expectations, but more because I really didn't know what to expect. As we became acquainted with the Y and its work, I developed some hopes as to what and where I would be working yet some days even the smallest and most basic of hopes seemed to go unfulfilled. Other days the gratification from some trip or adventure far surpassed any expectation I could have had. Nevertheless, frustration and disappointment embedded themselves pretty firmly into my experience here yet they haven't quite left the destructive path they are known for. Quite the opposite actually.

The things we learn from our struggles far outweigh those we are granted in our triumphs, but we would never know that if we weren't faced with challenges (enter: Monica Zigler- University Professor). Perhaps my tallest mountain was my time at the university, although there were no small shortage of steep foothills leading up to it. It seemed that while my resume ballooned, my connection to the YMCA and its work was collapsing. I always had their support, and my work at the university was in the name of building a reputation for the Y, but that wasn't what I had come for, I thought.

The further I got into the semester the lesser the time I was spending with the organization and people that had brought me down to Colombia in the first place. Initially angry and betrayed-- I had come to work for the Y and yet they still seemed to be pushing me elsewhere-- I wanted to be working with the social programs. The ones they told us the Y in Colombia did so much work with. The ones where you are actually helping people who can't help themselves. But as irony plays its cruel tricks on us all, turns out I was helping exactly those who couldn't help themselves- the YMCA. I was right in the middle of all I thought I was neglecting. I was exactly where there was a need.

In Colombia, aside from a foreigner being a novelty, English speakers are highly sought after. In a nation desperate to be among the ranks of the modern world, they have committed themselves to learning a language which would allow them to operate as a player in the big bad business world. The Y's mission is to serve the greater community in Colombia and the world and the Y was using my talents (English) to serve a community in that way. I had to put on hold my own mixed feelings about teaching English to a country with such a strong sense of pride drawn from their own language to see my work as a service. When I put myself in the Y's shoes for a moment, I could see it. When I saw it as a waste of talent, they saw English as a way to generate interest in programs, further the English teachings and hopefully generate just a little something extra which could be diverted to the social programs I wanted so desperately to be a part of. As the Executive Director and our boss explained to us, "We are building right now. To do what we want and what the people need we have to build relationships, generate interest and make the Y and important part of life in Colombia for ALL". If I have done nothing else here, I have at least helped to build when and where it was most needed. Maybe just a few bricks here and there but a building crumbles without even the smallest part of its foundation, right?

So, in my time here, while I may not have clothed the naked, I have fed those hungry for something a little less literal. I have got a long way to go before I reach any sort of savior status but I have climbed a rather daunting mountain and laid the first few bricks of what we can only hope will be a large and welcoming building.

Quite possibly the greatest gift I have received from all this is the good sense to suck it up, if only for a moment, and if for nothing more that to clear my head and go at it again. Without this (and I have many to thank for it), I don't think I would have discovered this next part:

'The true spirit of volunteerism is not doing what you think will be the most helpful, but being at the will of others who can tell you how you can be the most helpful.' I can't really say that I have mastered this type of humility yet, but I'm working on it and that really is the best any of us can do.

Posted by tuffchix 22:48 Archived in Colombia Tagged educational Comments (0)

Bochica Camp

Where the rainforest meets crazy!

all seasons in one day 15 °C

It has been hard to concentrate on anything but the election since getting back to Bogota after this weekend, but our time at Bochica Camp, the YMCA's only campsite in Colombia, deserves more than just a nod.

The campsite itself is its own little rainforest paradise just an hour south of Bogota. Past a huge 'salto' (waterfall), down the windy cliffside road, along a contaminated thus smelly, although picturesque Bogota River, you arrive at Bochica Camp. The pictures say more than I ever could so you will have to take a look!

Like any campsite filled with high schoolers, things get a little crazy. However, the constant sound of flowing water, amazing flowers, trees, coffee plants (yes, I saw my first live coffee plant and coffee berries growing on it!), adorable little red roof cabins connected by cobblestone pathways and nearly hidden by rainforest vegetation were just the ticket to enjoy camp in a new way.

It all started on Friday morning when the kids arrived (ahead of schedule) and our week of planning was shot to hell. You see, we had planned for 4 days of activities, games, stories, skits, songs and more for a group of fairly good English speakers only to be notified as they were walking in the door that they actually didn't really speak all that much English. Awesome. Enter stress. Like most first time campers, they were shy and reserved, nervous about speaking what little English they knew (turns out a lot of them actually could understand us pretty well). Meanwhile Marty and I are half mad that our week of planning just got blown to smithereens and half scrambling for what we were going to do for the next 4 days with a group that didnt have a clue what was going on.

Like most things at camp, you just take what you get and go with it. So, as the kids warmed up, remembered that "oh yes, I have taken English before" and started to relax, we got the show going. The games began, literally, and we just tweaked the schedule as we went. A lot. But it worked, and the kids loved it, so much so they didn't want to leave (thankfully not an option), and they had nothing but good things to say about their camp experience.

Aside from walking away with a nasty head cold, this weekend's work was probably the first time I have walked away from something I have done with/for/on behalf of the Y, that I am proud of. Its definitely more the kind of work I was hoping to do here. Still a pretty big focus on English, but the reality of the weekend was the English level meant that a lot of our activities, explanations, discussions, etc were either English and Spanish or purely Spanish. Which meant the cultural exchange was mutual. More importantly, I have spent more than half of my life a part of a community of campers who have learned to and love to live in community with one another. To learn from each other and to stretch yourself while pushing others to do the same. In coming to Colombia, I was and still do hope that these are the kind of experiences I have and I provide for others, whether it be in or out of camps. It is this kind of service that the Y promotes and this kind of service leadership that I came here to do. I guess what I'm saying is; FINALLY!

Finally I feel like I am in the right place doing the right things, and when you are thousands of miles from home doing things you never thought you would be doing in a place you never thought you would be doing them, the question of whether you are doing the right thing is a constant. Thankfully, there are weekends like Bochica Camp to remind me that I have figured at least a few things out and seem to be on the right track. Yesssss!

Unfortunately, like all good things, camp comes to an end. We made the trek back into Bogota on Monday to arrive back at our apartment which was roommate free!! A nice little surprise ending to an accomplished weekend.

Since then we have been glued to CNN watching election coverage (Wow!) and I have managed to squeeze in another not-so-small adventure to the Colombian post office. Apparently 2 kilograms (less than 4 LBS) is the max for any package you want the Colombian postman to carry. Overweight packages require a bus ride to nowhere, a walk even further, an entry process not unlike a CIA background check, a hefty fee, a bunch of paperwork and the joy of hauling it all back on crowded transportation after getting out of the post office just in time to make rush hour traffic! Nevertheless, it was soooo worth it. If it hadn't taken so long, I never would have gone back to the Y office to meet up with Marty wrapping up English club and thus never would have had the priviledge of trying a Santanderean treat; ass ants. Read here and take a look here. Ok, but really-- getting home and being able to open 2 boxes filled with Trader Joe's goodies, Halloween candy, a cookbook for the oven challenged, cute decorations and a whole lotta love just makes your day- Thanks mom, dad and grandma!

This weekend we are taking our comp days earned from camp so we will have a nice 5 day weekend. Looking into Medellin in what will probably be our last big break before the holidays. We hope all is well at home!

Posted by tuffchix 18:14 Archived in Colombia Tagged educational Comments (0)

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