Friday, July 31, 2009

Vacation time!

Headed to the Caribbean coast today where we will spend the next seven days lounging in our hammock campsites on white sandy beaches. Jealous, much?

No internet there (we're cutting ourselves off), so have a great week, everyone! And we'll try to post Thursday when we get back before we leave.

Sending lots of smiles your way.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

For Will Irvin:

I know you read this everday at work. The fact that you take and take and take (in the form of using us for entertainment) don't ever give (in the form of a comment) repulses me.

(For everyone else out there: this is a joke. For Will: I am SO serious!)

Hope everyone is well!


The Weekend

Basically when people here give you plans for the day that are outside of the usual workday flow, you should plan on not actually doing said plans but something different. Example 1: telling us we were going to fiestas and instead ending up at two masses. Example 2: telling us we're leaving at 11:00am today for lunch with Umpara (a woman who works here at CAMIG) at her house where she will then give us manicure/pedicures and instead end up leaving at 3:00 eating 7+ empanads while watching a really good Spanish movie cuddled all in bed together and then leaving before 7:00 sans manicures but full of fried dough.

We've played with two little Peruvian boys all weekend who were staying here with their family enroute back to Peru from Venezuela due to the violence in Venezuela. 5 year old Manuel had clear little brother / only child syndrom and thus was a handful, but his 10 year old cousin Renato was hilarious. Overall they were some fun company during lunch and after, teaching us made up card games.

Each day gets more and more comfortable here... the Hermanas are fabulous and Leda particularly is hysterical. We watch the news EVERY night during dinner and anything super noteworthy is cause for a cease in coversation or prayer so everyone can gasp and gossip about what's happening. After dinner is the 8:30 Brazillian soap set in India that they watch religiously. Its pretty intense but in Portugese so Katie and I only try and guess whats going on.

Only three more days of atencion and work here. Sad times. The office we go on the internet in has literally hundreds of documents of displaced peoples that have come through here. Its crazy to think we've heard first hand some of these stories but crazy in a different way that those we've heard barely touch the tip of the iceberg. I can't help but wonder if after literally 40+ years of displacement how in the world anything can acutally be solved or rectified.

<3 Roxie and Katie

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Life is Good

Didn't realize Roxie posted last night. I cosign everything she said. Time has flown by (although that first week it seemed to just drag). This trip has reaffirmed for me that "service" is 99% about the person doing the service. And I dont mean that in a selfish way (or maybe I do). What I mean is that those of us "serving" are really just opening ourselves up to experiencing something that will impact the rest of our lives. At times I feel bad because I feel like we're not really contributing much to CAMIG, and I originally thought that was our purpose. I better understand now that our purpose is to spend time getting to know the center, the people who work here, the work they do, and the displaced. Really getting to know how it all works and have that impact our lives. I dont know how a conversation I may have with someone here may affect them - maybe I am impacting Colombia more than it feels like. What I know for sure is that I am gaining so much knowledge and understanding and plan on bringing that back to my "real life" in the States.

I cannot wait to do the month-long fundraiser Roxie and I have already started planning (and have already contacted numerous campus departments and organizations about being involved with... we're not over-achievers, promise!) and send the money back here to contribute to the center monetarily. I know that our physical presence has been very important, but an organization doing this kind of work has a very real need for money as well, and I am looking forward to helping in that arena. The reality of displacement here in Colombia is also something we arelooking forward to sharing with the DePaul community. It is my goal that by the end of the coming school year, every student who spends time at the Lincoln Park campus at least knows that there is large scale internal displcement going on in Colombia. And I want as many of them as possible to have a greater understanding of it all. Going back to the title of the blog, I want DePaul to understand that Colombia is more than drugs and kidnapping. I want them to know real stories of real people.

We have also created a 5-page syllabus/proposal for an Independent Study Spanish class in the fall so we can continue examining in an academic manner the history of the violence in Colombia. We have a faculty advisor and have sent the proposal on to the chair of Modern Languages. Finger's crossed it gets approved.

I feel so lucky to be having this experience and to have so much left to look forward to this summer. Life is treating me very well, yall, and I am just so thankful.

This evening I played a card game with a 10-year old Peruvian boy who I swear to God was making up the rules as we went. It was a Go-Fish! type game, and in the end when we counted cards to see who won we both had exactly 26! It put a smile on my face. We're scheduled for a rematch tomorrow.

Hoping you and your loved ones are healthy and happy,


PS: Roxie almost made a whole post about this earlier, but decided against it. I'm going for it as a "ps": we really enjoy writing here, and know that you all are reading (and we appreciate it!) but dont be afraid to leave a comment every now and then! We miss you all!! :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Monkey Brains

For those of you who don't know, I read exceptionally fast. That being said, I read a book last night. This book was a gift from my friend Cindy who went to China with me. I knew it was about traveling and basically some sort of travel journal but I didn't realize HOW amazing it was. It took me all of three hours and by the time I was done I could not go to sleep (though that might have been the coffee with dinner) and Katie and I talked for about four more hours about traveling. Basically.... I am in love with traveling and going places and don't really ever want to stop.

Also because I read so fast, reading HP in Spanish is KILLING me as I have to stop at least once a page to look something up and I really have to analyze everyword. Ive been here for two weeks and HP is just now arriving at the World Cup.

I don't know how I've been here for two weeks. Neither does Katie and she's been here 3. I feel like I haven't done anything. But then I go back to journal and I'm like NO WONDER we're exausted!!! The experience is super educational and Katie and I are going to attempt to score some class credit come fall because neither of us are really done looking into the displacement and politics here. Everyday we learn some new formof red tape surrounding these people. For Example:
Every Colombian must serve either 1 or 2 years in the military. You cannot get a job until you've done this. Well, people who live en los campos maintain all of their own work and lifestyle so they've generally not done or needed to do this to get work. But then when they're displaced and arrive in Bogota or other large cities, they can't get jobs because they haven't done their military term. You can buy out of this term, but they're displaced and have no money. The government and humanitarian aid organizations try their best to aid in finding jobs. But this is all a catch 22 to me.

Will told me to try this fruit. I hadn't yet because Katie didn't like it. But Will said "no try it! It looks like monkey brians!" Well tonight at dinner they had said monkey brain fruit. So I tried it. And it did look so much like monkey brains that I couldn't finish it because it was like eating sweet monkey brains with a crunch. Thanks Will for that visual. Way to ruin my dessert.

Katie and I have less than a week here at CAMIG. It seems unreal that we leave so soon. We're excited to get to Cartagena... but we feel like we just got here, just got the swing of things.

What a summer this has been.... very overwhelming all around, but loving every moment of it!!


Monday, July 20, 2009


When nuns say that you are going to two fiestas in one day. What they really mean is two MASSES in one day. NOT. THE. SAME. Quite disappointing. We learned this little fact on Thursday. They knew we aren't Catholic but took us anyway. And then woke us up at 6 for mass the next morning. Someone send me to Cartagena NOW please.

But seriously we very much love what we're doing. I just got a little overwhelmed? horrified? stircrazy? over all the praying. I mean its a lot of praying. I dont know how much I can stress this.

Luckily there is so much coffee cheese and bread POST mass that I can have something to get me through.

More atencion tomorrow! I hope my Spanish is coming along better so I can slowly and surely try to fully understand the stories we hear.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Brace yourselves for the first joint blog entry:


Soooo, I haven't updated since Roxie got here, I know. My appologies; I swear I'm still alive. Things are just going really well, and I am always so tired at night that I have been lazy with updating. But, heeeeeeeey! I'm baaaaaack!

The experience continues to be humbling and powerful, and I feel much less along, which is an added bonus. The Spanish is improving, although it's hard to imagine it ever just clicking and becoming second nature. I have only been here a few weeks, though. I cannot stress how amazing the sisters we are living with are. Hermana Isabel smiles everytime she sees me smile or doing something goofy, commenting on how much happier and relaxed I seem now that Roxie is here. She hit the nail on the head. It's been an amazing couple of weeks.

On Friday we went to a big march downtown for the displaced. It was led by various organizations that help out with the issue (the Catholic church and archdioses stayed out of it because they like to act as politically neutral and a "mediator" as our impromptu guide, Diego told us. He's a social worker for the archdioses and said he was there as a Christian, in solidarity with struggle. There were no banners or anything with any sort of Catholic organization on them, ours included, in the effort to remain neutral.) The march was such a mixture of emotions - it started out very small, but byt he time everyone had gathered, nearly four or five city blocks were full at a time with particpants (the police shut down the streets). One of the main chants everyone kept shouting was "El pueblo// sin techo// que siga sus derechos" ("the roofless people who are after their rights", more ore less). There was a brochure handed out that outlined exactly what they were after which I'm really looking forward to reading in detail to get a better grasp on the whole thing.

There was also a common chant that essentially said "get out of our country, gringos". When this one started, Diego asked us how it made us feel. I tried to put into words that I felt like an intruder on a struggle and a movement that was not my own. He tried to articulate that more than individuals, they were refering to North American politics in latin American countries, Colombia in particular. It still felt odd like me and my giant camera were... expoliting, might be the word, the demonstration. I hate feeling like I'm coming into an on-going fight and struggle and problem and movement, taking my pictures, and leaving. I know that's not what we're doing here, and I know that these photos are being taken so that we can spread the reality of displacement in Colombian to as many people as we can who still think of Colombia as nothing more than Cocaine. I know all of this, but I still feel uneasy snapping the photos at movements.

On a less heavy note, the bathroom still STINKS! Not sure if Roxie wrote about this, but the water in the shower is brown. But it's decpetively brown because it looks liek regular water as it's coming out of the shower head, but cup your hands and brown water piles up. Or squeeze out your hair in the sink: brown.

We're at Kim's now though and the hot, clean water is amazing.

Going to a small beach 30 miles south of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast in a couple weeks. So looking forward to lying in my hammock, getting some sun, going swimming and sipping yummy drinks for five days.

I have been very happy (and, thankfully, healthy) as of late. Life is good. I'm learning and growing and enjoying myself. I cant wait to see everyone when I get back. I miss and love you all.

A couple pieces of not so good news: my grandmother was recently addmitted into the hospital for pnemonia and while is out of ICU is still in the hospital. Also, a close family friend recently discovered she has an agressive brain tumor. Please use whatever energy or prayers you believe in and keep my family and the island community in your thoughts.

Ok, novel over. Roxie's turn! :D

Ummm... Ditto ....

Miss you all...

<3 Roxie & Katie

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oreos y el Baño

I brought a large pack of oreos with me when I arrived and we demolished them in two days. Luckily the corner store has them so we restocked. Could we be more American?

Our bathroom REEKS. In China I thought this too as the water was always stagnent. Here, its a combo of stagnent and poop. Real fun. We can't leave the bathroom door open because then our room smells, but we cant keep the door closed because obvi that makes it worse. SO we went to the corner store today and bought a toilet bowl freshener of the pine variety and bamboo scented airspray which we spray any and every time we enter and exit the bathroom. So far it still smells like poop and stagnent water. We are hoping to change that to overwhelming fake-mountain smell. Also speaking of the water. Its pretty much brown. It doesnt look brown when it comes out of the faucets, but try squeezing out your hair post-shower over the sink, its brown. And no thats not my hair dye coming out.

In terms of the work week Katie's posts dont lie about being intense. The past three days I've sat in on what are called "Atencíon". They are basically intake appointments. People line up outside to come in and share their story in hopes that they can recieve some kind of aid from CAMIG (the org we're here with). It's story after story, spanish after more spanish. By lunch and especially by 3pm we're overly mentally stimulated and ready to crash. Its a lot to just hear these peoples lives and even more to make sure you can understand all of it. I went on a trip with my family to New Orleans in high school and there one of the volunteers told me that really as much as people need basic necessities, they also need someone to listen and to talk to. I've tried keeping that in mind when I get too overwhelmed.

Today too we went with one of the social workers to check on a family we've seen three times now who recieved first months rent from CAMIG. It took the three of us an hour by bus and a steep walk to find she wasn't home. Though disappointing, Katie and I really got to see the barrios which are so far on the outskirts of town. Luckily the government is making more of an effort to have transit be more accessible so they aren't cut off. The bus ride was like a mini driving tour.

Katie and I read a lot here. She just finished Eat Pray Love for the second time and I finished Women's Travel Writing 2008. We plan lots of trips in our minds after dinner. I'm now very slowly trying to plow through HP Goblet of Fire in Spanish. It's just as good in another language.

Chao, Katie and Roxie

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Guatavita, Car Rides, and Vegetarians

All three of the things found in the title of this blog are terrifying in this country.

Car Rides.
(Parentals please skip ahead to the next section. I promise you I´m not in danger but you´ll freak out nonetheless.) 5 people + one car + being caravaned by another car + windy roads that rival Siverlake + potholes that rival the south side of Chicago + speed bumps as bad as the ones on Fern Dell + drivers who cannot as easily manuever said potholes likeMK or speedbumps like my family + sing alongs to music Katie and I do not know the words too = terrifying on the way to Guatavita and makes it hard to sleep on the way back.

Well. Our goal was to make it to Guatavita but thanks to Carlos, husband to a woman who works here, who wanted Katie and I to have and memorize every important aspect of Colombia, insisted we take a 3 hour detour to hike up to a lagun. BTW It rained the entire time.
Finally making it to Guatavita was great. Cute pueblocitas or CASITAS (ehem hollllla!) as they are know, dot the hills leading to Guatavita which consists of cobblestoned streets and vendors along with similarly looking white houses with terracotta roofs.
It took us 4 hours to get home because the policia narrowed the road to one lane for god knows why. JOY. (Keep in mind here the driving portion of this post)

Dont tell anyone in Colombia you are vegetarian. They do not know what to do with you.

Katie and I are going to see HARRY POTTER this week!!!!!!!!! And you all thought we´d have to wait till we got home. PSH.

Katie and I also booked flights to Cartagena!!! We´re going to the Carribean ladies and gents!
(Note: due to said purchase souvenirs may or may not happen as the amount of money spent on airfare for chicago, colombia, and baltimore have vastly depleted any sort of money I once thought I had. lo siento)

<3 Roxie and Katie

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I FINALLY got to Colombia!

So. This trip has been long awaited and I am quite excited to FINALLY be here! It took a replacement passport and way (and I do mean way) more money than anticipated... but those details aside Katie and I are roommates in Colombia! Kim and Katie picked me up from the airport. It was rainy and took some time to find each other, but Katie and I were the two gringas screaming and hugging out of relief and joy as everyone else tried getting to their taxi´s. Our room is adorable. Two beds with sea creature bedspreads and a bathroom that seems to be too big for a two person room... but I´ll gladly take it! PS mom, you were very correct. The location of our site looks and feels EXACTLY like downtown LA. I did get sent to the right place right? Just kidding. I got pretty much no settle in time as today was the yearly fundraiser so I had to jump in with my people skills, in Spanish mind you, and help people with raffle tickets. Don´t worry, Katie and I got plenty of time to enjoy the cheese, croissants, and hot coco snack. (Dear Colombia, carbs + cheese + chocolate, someone finally got the concept of a fantastic meal perfectly!) I danced in front of 200 people today at the fundraiser with the MC of the event. I have not been here 24 hours and publically sort of humiliated myself. :) Katie and I went to get a cerveza at a Ruma club early this evening with some of the other 20ish year olds. Very fun. We then came back and had dinner with the hermanas (sisters) which was hilarious.

So far I am understanding a lot more than I thought I would which feels really good. The sentences that come out of my mouth on the other hand.... not so good. You win some you lose some.

I´m stoked to see what the next month has in store. Katie´s been telling me a lot and I feel I have so much to learn about the country and the people we´re going to be working with. Wish us luck!

<3 Roxie
ps Katie and I are currently planning a trip to Cartagena to enjoy the Carribean for our last week here. Yeah, I know you´re jelous!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Roxie got a plane ticket!!!

She gets in tomorrow night!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As I was sitting on the couch of a friend's house this afternoon, feeling very overwhelmed and a little bit like I didn't have what was needed left to continue my trip here, a song came on my iPod called "Breathe". The song samples Norah Jones' voice in such a way that it sounds as though some one is breathing for a few bars, and then finally is saying "just breathe". I don't know what song it samples; there are no words, just instrumentals; and the song is only a couple of minutes long, but it immediately calmed me and reminded me that I will be fine.

Let me explain how I got to this particular couch, listening to this particular song.

I'll start with the song: my iPod was on shuffle and it was the first thing that came on. If you don't believe in the power of music to do what nothing else can do, and to do it at just the right time, I don't know what more to say to convince you.

How I got to that couch is slightly more complicated.I tend to be long-winded (as friends and professors alike well know by now), so I will try to condense a week and a half of the most trying and moving moments of my life into a short blog. (I'm off to a great start with the length at which I wrote about a song, no?) Roxie hasn't made it yet; she was due last Friday. Anyone who travels with any sort of frequency (and many who don't) knows how much of a pain the bureaucracy can be. Between lost passports, national holidays and ridiculous ticket change fees, my traveling and working companion is still in LA. I recently went to the ER for less than pretty reasons, but suffice it to say that a midnight hospital visit conducted entirely in a foreign language when you are groggy and feeling awful is less than a walk in the park. The altitude here is 8,600 feet and altitude sickness is a real thing (who would have thought?). And, icing on the cake, I have a head cold that I cant seem to shake. Oh, and the place where I am volunteering has it's annual huge fundraiser Saturday, where over 600 people will be descending on our humble abode to sing, dance and eat chocolate.

So there's the details, the complaints, the "poor me"s. I needed a break, and I needed to talk to Roxie on the phone to figure out what was happening with her plane ticket. She has a family friend here in the city (one of the nicest women I have ever met!) with a Vonage phone line that calls the states, so I decided to take a break from everything this afternoon and come on over to Kim's house to call Roxie and spend the night. Hence the couch, iPod, etc.

Self-pitty out of the way, on to the beauty that is the people of Colombia and the daily struggles they meet with courage, warmth and resilience:

In various regions of the country there is serious violence both on the part of the FARC and guerrilleras in the areas (homework: look up Colombian politics, etc for more information on the different paramilitaries). This violence effects the people, the everyday citizens more than anyone, as violence of that type so often does, and as a result many people are forced to flee their homes, farms and livlihoods. Much like any sort of internal displacement, the capital city is seen as the beacon of hope for some, and as such is the destination of many. What the center I live and volunteer in does is have "atendencia" every day. This is where between 30-50 people come through the doors, meet one-on-one with a social worker of volunteer and tell their story of displacement. Where they lived before, how many people they are with, reasons for leaving, etc. After this we give them a bag of clothes and a bag of food if we have enough. We rely entirely on donations, and while clothes are always plenty, food is harder to come by. The only people who are given housing are those who have arrived to Bogota that day, and have no family, friends, or place to go in the city. In these cases we give them 3-4 days housing in the center, and help them find a permanent, rent-based situation in some part of the city. We pay the first month's rent, and then they are expected to have found enough work to continue paying.

The first week here I sat in on these "atendencias". I listened to the stories. I search for appropriate clothing, and I kept children occupied while their parents sorted out details. I met with an 18-year-old mother to an 7-year-old daughter (we didn't believe it either, but papers proved it), and watched her be sent back out to the street with her 40-year-old husband because they didn't qualify for housing. It has been hard, to say the least, but my witnessing it is nothing compared to their living it. This I know.

There's a park in the town center called Parque Tercer Milenio (Third Millenium) where, for the past 5 months, there has been a "protest" for the lack of government aid to the displaced. It's so interesting to me that I was introduced to this with the title of "protest" because, in a way, it gives agency and power to the people living there. Over 1,300 families (not people, families) are living in this park, in shelters made of plastic bags and tarps. When it rains (and it rains every day here) everyone and everything gets soaking wet. While there is a good mix of mestizo and afro-Colombians who come through the center, almost all of the families at Tercer Milenio are afro-Colombian. While there is chaos that would be expected at a gathering of such size, the organization is awe-some. The shelters are divided into four "districts" each with a leader. Whenever any aid organization comes with large donations (as we did with food and clothing), the leaders are contacted, delivered the supplies, and then disseminate the supplies to their respective areas.

It has been an experience. I am tired. My Spanish is wanting, and I miss fast-food. But I do believe that the things that happen in our lives happen in the manner and time in which they do for a purpose. Yet, I also believe every experience is what you make it. I'm trying to roll with what I am dealt; cry less and smile more; understand that somethings don't get easier, and that that's ok; and fully embrace each opportunity I am presented with. Obviously all that is easier said (or typed) than done, but I'm a work in progress.

I have an ongoing joke with a friend that I tend to write in "novels" when we're talking via the computer. I tried to stay concise here, but clearly that was a failed effort. I hope this latest "novel" at least gave you a taste of my experience thus far.

The hardest thing is to be experiencing so much, and have no real way to express or debrief what I'm going through and feeling. That's where I thank you. I thank you for taking the time out to read this, as the written word is the only way I am able to come close to fully expressing what's happening. Spanish can only take me so far, and mine is rusty. So thank you for reading, and for the in-person conversation I know I have to look forward to upon my return.

You have no idea how much it helps. That and Norah Jones' distorted voice reminding me to "just breathe".

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I leave in less than 36 hours and have run through the gamut of emotions about the whole thing. Much thanks to Jackie Lorens and Will Irvin for calming me a bit; I am finally in a place of excitement with a healthy dose of hesitancy.

Roxie is currently at a big ol' fancy residential education conference in Baltimore, and I am sooo proud of her! It does mean I am in Colombia for a full three and half days without her, but I think I'll manage.

Anyway, not much to say now, except welcome, and thanks for taking the time to check in on us. We really do hope to share our experiences as they're happening becuase without all of you guys and your constant support, we are very aware that this trip would not be possible. So check back in on us in the coming weeks, and keep in touch through comments, maybe? Not really sure how this whole blog thing works.

Anyway, wishing you happy weekend!