It’s unbelievable to me that at this time last week, I was at Butcher & the Boar with my coworkers hugging them goodbye after my last day at work. That it’s been only six days since I said goodbye to all of my friends who were able to make it out for karaoke at the Moose. Only five days since saying goodbye to much of my extended family in Spooner. Four days since saying goodbye to my grandparents, siblings, niece, and Marty. Three days since saying goodbye to my parents and Clayton. It feels like it’s been 3 months already.
Monday morning my parents and Clayton dropped me off at the Madison airport after a good breakfast together. It was -9 degrees, but I insisted that they take this photo of me with my bags – I left my winter coat and mittens behind!
I had some time to kill in the airport, so I treated myself to my last bloody Mary & some coloring. Never let me order a $14 airport cocktail again. Sidenote: I brought a pencil sharpener, but the hole is too small for my colored pencils. A wide-holed pencil sharpener is currently my #1 wishlist item, closely followed by sriracha. (See this page for mailing details.)
Not long after arrival and checkin at the hotel, a bunch of us early arrivers went across the street to a Latin cafe for Cuban food – real good stuff. The next morning a group of us took advantage of our extra time and headed to South Beach. It was great to spend a little time getting to know fellow trainees outside of the forced setting of Staging, and check out the beach and art deco district.
Staging was a long day of sessions in which we learned about Peace Corps’ three main goals and 10 core expectations, and how to think about these when faced with different situations on the job. We also discussed preliminary safety and security measures.
The next morning we all had to be up bright and early to check out of the hotel at 6. Our flight didn’t depart until 11, but considering that our check-in and security process took 2 hours at the airport (coordinating 29 people is difficult!), if anything had gone wrong, we would have been glad for the extra time. As it was, we were at our gate very early and just laid around with all our crap until our call for boarding came up.
I was bummed to find I had a center seat, but luckily my neighbor Sam (who clearly loves window seats as much as me) let me lean over every now and then. I saw the tail end of Cuba, and a good chunk of Jamaica. I watched Straight Outta Compton, and saw this rainbow.
We were surprised outside of the airport with a ton of people cheering, yelling our names, and holding up signs for us. All of the current Peace Corps Volunteers and staff had come out to welcome us! It was such a reassuring sight, and great to meet faces who’ve been living through what I’m about to begin for a while.
Since then, we’ve been more or less bunkered down in a hotel in a nice neighborhood of Barranquilla, learning about safety and security, more about what we are here to do as part of Peace Corps, and going through exercises like receiving money to be able to pay our rent and cell phones to be able to communicate with one another. We weren’t really able to leave until tonight because we had not yet been told about the dangers and how to watch out for them, so it was great to be able to strike out tonight to the cash exchange, a food truck, and a great beer spot. Seriously, this is a really nice area of Barranquilla. My favorite part of this time, though, has been the conversations with current and returned Volunteers. They have just been a huge resource already in helping us understand the process and the culture we are walking into. We even received care packages with candies and things that we can use as teachers, as well as these granadillas. It’s a fruit that you crack open on the table and pull the peel off of, and then you’re supposed to suck out the seeds. That grossed me out, so I just used a fork. It tastes sort of like passion fruit with the texture of snotty giant chia seeds.
Tomorrow we learn more about our host family situations – what expectations there are of them, what the expectations are of us, and how to make those relationships good. I am excited to get out to a real life and meet my host family and begin training; I think that will help make this seem a little more real, since so far it’s just been a weird surreal thing.
Saturday we head out to our host families to begin training! The one thing I am least sure of at this point is my connectivity. I currently still have my US phone with me (T-Mobile has unlimited international texting), but I don’t know how long I’ll keep that considering I am a bit nervous to take it out with me and somehow have it stolen. I do have a Peace Corps smart phone so that I can use apps when on Wifi. Moral of the story being: you’ll see fewer photos from me and probably less frequent posts for a while. Sorrz!
(Side note: if you’re considering sending me mail, please see my updated “Connect” page – it has some important info. Also, if you add me on Snapchat, you can see more of what I am doing live as it happens! My username is alabrianna.)
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