It’s a Friday morning, and I was still sleeping until my fan went off. I checked the time; there was a planned electricity outage starting at 7, but if it was already 7, I was running late. 4:20. Ugh. Outside my bedroom door I can hear my host mom and host sister exclaiming and scrambling to get candles lit. They’re almost always up this early, getting a start on the daily cleaning while the sun’s hiding and not beating down relentlessly hot rays. All I want is to fall back asleep. And then I hear it: rain pounding on the rooftop. That beautiful sound, which I had never heard here and supposedly hadn’t been heard in months, put me right back asleep.
That was how site placement day started. For the previous weeks our training group had been talking nonstop about where we’d be going, where we wanted to be going, and the millions of rumors that had been circulating about sites. “Two people will be going to Guajira!” “I was told most sites would be smaller than 1,000 people!” “I heard as many as nine people would be placed in cities!” We had no idea what towns our sites were in, only that they are located in 4 of the coastal departments: Bólivar (where Cartagena is), Atlántico (where Barranquilla is), Magdalena (where Santa Marta is), and La Guajira (where a big ol’ desert is).
It felt like we had been waiting forever to find out where we’d all land for the next two years, especially since Peace Corps staff took advantage of a nation-wide strike to be able to push back our site announcements and site visits. In one session, our Safety & Security Manager teased, “I’m not seeing anyone’s faces today, just your sites.” One week out we were thrown a little bone by being shown maps of each of the departments with the possible sites marked on them – which sent half the group into a Googling frenzy to figure out where they wanted to go and where they absolutely were hoping not to go.
So that Friday morning finally came, it rained, there was no electricity, and we were all abuzz because all these things were happening on the same day. First we had to get through a technical session during which none of us could fully concentrate. And then we got a big announcement that turned our excited anxiety into nervous/worried anxiety: two of our cohort members wouldn’t be moving forward in training and were being sent home.
After a break during which we all panicked and then calmed ourselves down, the 26 of us remaining were gathered outside where there was fresh air. It seemed like everyone was there. Peace Corps staff, our Volunteer Leaders, even our Spanish teachers. To start things off our program manager Lilia gifted each of us an adorable baggy of goodies with symbolic items inside. Gum because no matter what we stick together, erasers to forget our mistakes and start over, markers because we’re going to make a mark on our sites…so adorable, but come on, just tell us where we’re going!
Finally, Lilia started the announcements. She would be giving clues about each volunteer, and after we guessed, the volunteer could come forward, their site would be announced, and they could receive their site info packet. She would be going department by department. La Guajira was first. Only one volunteer, not the two rumored, would be going there. When we correctly guessed from the description that it would be Bryce, he did a little celebration dance.
The next round of volunteers were told they’d be going to Bólivar. The first 2 volunteers were in the site farthest from the central office. It was a site that I was interested in, so I was a little sad and jealous that I wasn’t heading there. But look how adorably happy they are to be placed together!
Atlántico was next. As soon as Lilia started giving the clues that “This volunteer is a master chocolate cake baker, loves chocolate chip cookies and all things chocolate,” I knew it was me. As I stood up to hear the actual site name, I was nervous – there were only two sites in the department that I was at all interested in. Fortunately, as you can tell by the first image in this post, I ended up in my favorite of those two!
It was a relief to know where I would be going and to finally sit back and not have to wait to hear my description. The whole process was interesting to be a part of. Some people had their hearts set on places where they weren’t assigned. Some people had their hearts set on anywhere except the one place they were assigned. Some people got exactly the site they wanted.
I really wish they would tell us more about why each of us was selected for our sites. When we found out the town names, we were told a little bit – they take our experience and expertise, our personalities, and our preferences, and try to fit all of those into the puzzle that makes the best combination for all of us. I just feel a bit guilty because my site literally fits all of my preferences (with the possible exception of the no kids thing, since I don’t yet know who my host family there will be). It’s a small town only a 15 minute bus ride from the edge of the city. I’m approved to own a bike. It’s right on the ocean. I’ve visited twice since the site assignment, and I couldn’t be happier that it’ll be my new home! I’ve even already made a friend!