I’m really excited to share my first guest-blogged post, from fellow Peace Corps Colombia CII-8 Volunteer Helena Vonk! Helena and I first met when she walked into our hotel room in Miami the night before staging. I was immediately taken in with her because she radiated cool but was also totally relaxed and approachable. I also felt much better about the amount of bags that I had packed after seeing her luggage (which I now know was like 50% hair products, and totally feel). Since then I’ve gotten the chance to know her better, and let me just say that her coolness is a godsend in this ridiculous heat.
It’s about 6:30pm and you’re kinda hungry… you know you need some exercise n you’re not gonna do it after you eat. Now that you wake up at 4:30am on a regular basis, there’s not much happening after dinner. You chug water, grab your keys and head to the park… On this ten to fifteen minute walk you pass the moto drivers congregated on the corner. The older fellas throwing back frías (cold beers) and young boys pounding the barrio video game at the local tienda. You flash a smile and utter “buenas” to the men that don’t seem to be undressing you with their eyes.
Amidst the groups playing basketball and soccer, you finally see women, lots of women!!! Ladies of varying shapes and sizes…some still young students, others already grandmothers. They’ve got their finest n brightest spandex on with sweat rags n water bottles placed equidistantly across the patterned concrete to mark their “personal space.” You all await Jorge, a wiry man who looks 20 something when you’ve got all that tiled concrete between the two of you. But when you approach to pay him, homie is well over 50; still, “he’s got moves like Jagger…” – arguably better.
For anyone that hasn’t witnessed Zumba, or as we call it here, rumba terápia, it’s like jazzercise but based in Afro-Latin dance. Fast forward 10 minutes: there’s sweat rolling down your face, you’re jumping, waving your arms to n fro, you’re moving your hips in ways you forgot you could, and it all feels so damn grand. Why? Well for one, it’s so much better than doing crunches, but really because you and at least 20 other women are claiming space smack dab in the middle of overt machismo central. It doesn’t matter that men have taken residence in the shadows of mango trees or that a few are actively whistling and hissing at you, you’re not just exercising, you’re making women visible in a way that doesn’t serve the interests of men or institutions like church and school.
Just imagine the workout you get when every move feels like a nut punch to the debilitating gender expectations of our world. You’ll be back, I’m sure of it. ?
Helena Vonk is a recovering teacher now working with teachers in Colombia… Bay Area all day!