jueves, 31 de mayo de 2012

Home Sweet Home!

With my upcoming trip to Chicago just DAYS away, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on the things I won't be taking for granted stateside...

1.  Toilet Seats

I don't knw what Colombian's have against toliet seats. Maybe they are just a popular item to be stolen or maybe they have thighs of steal and can squat all day, but more often than not when you're out in public, and even in my own home, there are no toliet seats! 

2. Toilet Paper...that you can flush!

So, any good traveler knows that you always have to bring your own toilet paper while out and about.  But on the coast here (who knows, maybe it's different in the rest of the country), due to bad plumbing you almost surely can NOT throw your toilet paper into the bowl.  There is a garbage provided next to the toilet to throw your used toilet paper into.  Not gonna lie, this one took me a while to get used to...a habit of 25 years is hard to break! Looking forward to no smelly toilet paper bins next to the toilet stateside!

 3. Garbage Dumpsters

 In most places on the coast, people don't use garbage bins or garbage bags, they just put garbage in small plastic bags that you get from the store.  Because of this, the garbage men come by three times a week to collect these small bags full of garbage...and smelly toilet paper.  However, you can't just throw the bags out front any time of the day because of rodent issues and rainy season so you have to do it late at night, or before you leave the house on garbage days...which I always forget to do!  I miss the days of garbage dumpsters and garbage bins you emptied when necissary and the rest was taken care of...instead of having a weeks worth of garbage pile up : (

4.  Washing Machines Hooked Up To The Water

Fortunately most families that the volunteers are living with do have washing machines (although a few don't!).  However, not very many are hooked up to the main water supply.  Instead we have to take the washing machine outside (so not a rainy day activity!) and use the hose to fill it with water and then rinse the clothes off.  Luckily I've been able to evade my host mother's suggestion that I wash my white load first so that I can reuse the (dirty) water for the next load. While doing laundry here there is no downtime.  To do one load takes about an hour of constant working and monotoring. The days of spinning a dial, pushing a button and relaxing for the next 40 minutes are looking pretty good!
5.  Air Conditioning

This one's a no-brainer!  Every day for almost two weeks the heat index has been between 107 and 109.  Maybe if you were sitting perfectly still, barely breathing then the fan in my room would cut it and keep you from getting heat stroke, but add any movement or activity to this heat and it's brutal.  True Story: The teachers at my old school told my students I didn't work there anymore becaue I had a 'sweating disease.' If that were the case, I wouldn't be able to work anywhere on the coast!!

6.  Seasons

Okay, so I'm not exacly hoping for another massive blizzard, but I sure do miss the weather changing and having that change to look forward to.  This heat would be more bearable if I knew it lasted only a couple of months! My dad has always said he could never live without seasons.  I take all my scoffing back father, I now agree with you 100%.  I want all four beautiful seasons and all they bring with them!

7. Sidewalks

The sidewalks that I've grown accustomed to here, when they exist, are woefully inept!  Now part of this is due to old neighborhoods that lack planning and crazy rainy seasons that wash everything away, but I look forward to walking down the street without having to watch my every step (to the point where you can barely have a conversation with the person walking next to you you're concentrating so hard)  or jump out into the road and join the none-to-friendly drivers whose greatest joy in life is honking their horns.  
8.  Reasonable Public Transportation

                                                                          Public Transportation is kinda out of control...especially in Barranquilla!  The buses are so full you can't breath..and you also can't help but sweat all over people.  There's is an itty bitty aisle that people have to stand cramped together holding on for dear life as the bus driver (or chofer) drives like a maniac.  I'm pretty sure they're all still learning how to drive stick..and then when someone has to get off the bus and squeeze through the aisle, the real fun starts.  Some of the worse experiences I've had in Colombia have been on buses in Barranquilla!  And while we'e at it how about letting pedestrians have the right away!  Nothing Strikes terror in my heart quite like having to cross the street in this country...fairly certain their aiming for me. Bonus points for gringos?

9.  Express Check-Out Lines

So hot, coastal areas have a reputation for doing things slowly.  It makes sense when you think about it.  But my god do I miss express check-out lines!  You will loose 30 of your life, minimum walking into any grocery store here.  The lines move excruciating slowly.  Excruciating.  And in the grocery store by my house you can pay your utility bills too...so you never know you got behind a ridiculously long transaction until they pull the bill out of the purse or pocket!  10 extra minutes for that transaction alone when all I really wanted to buy was this bottle of water...
10.  Food Variety

Okay, I am clearly not wasing away down here, but the lack of  variety and spice on anything can be frustrating!  I pretty much get the same meal every day from my family consisting of rice, beans, and either eggs, chicken, or fish.  We don't even have an oven in the house! Luckily there are a handful of ethnic food places in the center of Cartagena, but dining out tends to be beyond the Peace Corps Volunteer's budget!  A friend of mine lives with a family who owns a restaurant and actually had to introduce them to pepper...that how little spices are used!  I am looking forward to some home cooking from my mom, crab, sushi, mexican, deep dish piza, lasgna...well, you get the point!

11. Wine

Speaking of things out of the Peace Corps Volunteer's budget!  There's nothing quite like relaxing with friends and a glass of wine to chat or forget the stresses of the day.  Seeing as we don't have spaces to call our own to invite friends over to, and the fact that small mixed-gender gatherings are frowned upon culturally, and the fact that I'm not eating delicous food that I would want to pair a delicious wine with, I've been managing to cope...but I know I've already got a few bottles of full-bodied reds waiting at home for me.  I can't wait to share them with the ones I love and catch up on the last 8 months of my life. 

Miss you all and let's make a deal to see each other or chat when I'm home next week enjoying everything and everyone I've missed so dearly!

jueves, 24 de mayo de 2012

New Site!!!

Me standing in front of my brand new site, and NGO called Granitos de Paz

Those of you keeping up with the blog just learned all about the work that I had been doing at my primary site, the local High School where I had been working.  However, four months in Peace Corps has decided to rock my world and change my site!  Allow me to share a little bit about the process that brought me to my new home away from home…away from home...

I arrived at my original site, CASD Manuel Beltran, knowing that the school was on probation of sorts.  The previous volunteer did not recommend a new volunteer be sent there and the higher ups in the the Peace Corps office had a serious talk with them that if they didn´t shape up, I would ship out.

After several months of banging my head against a brick wall and a routine check-up by the office, they recommended a site change.  I was told that all they could do was encourage a site change, but the decision was up to me.  I was told that the site change would be a unique opportunity, allowng me to be the only volunteer working outside of  a school setting and with an NGO (for more information on Non Governmental Organizations please see the following link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ngo) I asked for more time to consider my options, the feeling of quitting weighing greatly on me.

After several weeks and no answer from me, I got a surprise visit from some of the staff from Barranquilla.  They came all the way to Cartagena to introduce me to the enthusiastic folks at Granitos de Paz, or Grains of Peace, the NGO they wanted me to work with. Basically they came to give me the kick in the pants I needed to make this difficult decision.  I spent an amazing morning getting to know the people at Granitos de Paz and about the work they do.  Their enthusiasm was astounding and infectious.  Although it pained me leave CASD, I felt it would be foolish to let such enthusiasm and grandiose ideas go to waste.  The following week I started visiting Granitos and have now started working with them full time.

Granitos de Paz is an NGO created in 2004 to serve one of the poorest communities in Cartagena in the neighborhood of Olaya.

The program is centered upon the entire family and focused on sustainability. By the entire family participating in five main pillars of the foundation or fronts, they hope to permanently move these families and the neighborhood out of extreme poverty. These five pillars are: education, health and family planning, habitation and environment, training and income generation, and culture and sports.  

Granitos has a wide variety of programs including their own 15-room early learning center for infants through preschoolers. Seeing as 21 out of every 100 children in the area are malnourished, basic health and nutrition are covered as well as classes for the parents in values, job training and health.  They also have an air-conditioned center for the older community members where they receive a daily balanced lunch, health care and develop educational and leisure activities geared for active aging.  Focused on sustainably there is an urban farming project that extends from food-producing backyards, to a community restaurant and a distribution apparatus to sell the fresh produce to local hotels, restaurants, and stores. Other projects include a store at the port where they cell handmade artisan goods from the community, an industrial sewing course, a sports school for children between 5 and 16, a computer room with internet and digital literacy classes, construction to provide adequate housing, waste removal construction to combat the lack of a sewage system, and a bakery to create revenue to fund other projects.

Finally surrounded by kiddos again!!

The outdoor play area at the Early Learning Center
Part of the 'productive patio' project turning useless backyards into growing areas for fresh vegitables and herbs. These community memebers are then able to suppliment their diet with fresh, healthly, organic food and sell the excess to local hotels and supermarkets for quite the profit!

My first day working with Granitos de Paz I worked with a group of American doctors and volunteers who came to provide free health care to those in need.  All day translating and learning some new technical spanish!  A far cry from my first day at CASD where I was left in the staff lounge alone for three hours!!

Obviously I will be focusing my efforts on education.  I have specific plans to support local teachers thus making my work here sustainable and Granitos de Paz has a goal to hire a full time Enlgish teacher when funding is available that I will help train. I will be focusing on three main areas:  the early childhood center, the primary school, and teaching English to those seeking jobs in tourism.  However, I´m looking forward to learning more about the community and how to best offer support.  I am already planning charlitas regarding HIV/AIDS  as well as financial planning classes to help the families who are seeing an influx of money into their budget.

The support that I am receiving from Granitos de Paz is overwhelming and I can´t wait to see where this partnership takes us!  After the difficult move to Barranquilla and another big move to Cartagena just as I was getting settled in there, I'm looking forward to a little stability  with no big traumatic changes! 
Miss you all and can't wait to be back stateside for my birthday is less than 2 weeks!!

domingo, 20 de mayo de 2012

HIV/AIDS Training

This past week I did what thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world have done, I went through a week long intensive HIV/AIDS training.  In many countries, Peace Corps volunteers arrive with their 2 year mission being to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS and provide medical care to those infected.  However, all volunteers who serve in Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, regardless of their primary focus, are trained in basic HIV/AIDS prevention and care.  It is a worldwide initiative that is seeing results.

As far as statistics go, Colombia is about on par with the United States, both having an adult prevelence rate of .6%  This is a far cry from Swaziland, a country in Africa with the highest percentage of adult HIV/AIDS cases at at staggering 26.10%  Can you imagine more than one out of four people over the age of 15 having HIV or AIDS?  Or in South Africa where there are 5.3 million people living with HIV or AIDS?

The last time I sat through any informative session on HIV/AIDS was over a decade ago in high school Health class, and I must say there was some misinformation on my part and serious gaps in information.  Although it made for some long days sitting in a conferenc room in Barranquilla listening to technical Spanish, I learned a lot and am excited to implement some new projects at my site.  Focusing on sustainabilty, every Peace Corps brought a 'counterpart' from the community to the training as well. This way when we leave in a year and a half, we don't take all the information with us!! I brought Marling from a fantastic NGO called Granitos de Paz who is a social worker working in the areas of health and family training in one of Cartagena's poorest neighborhoods.  I can't wait to see what programs we can set up together for the community.

Our training covered everything from facts and statistics about HIV/AIDS and how it attacks the human body, how the virus is and ISN'T transmitted,  prevention, behavior modifaction techniques to target risky behaviors that transmit HIV, presentations from a Colombian doctor to discuss HIV/AIDS in Colombia, presentations from local ONGs who are working in the area of HIV preventions, a panel of experts, correct condom use, stigmas and discrimination and their effects on those infected with HIV/AIDS, sex, gender and HIV, and lastly how to present the information and impower various groups in our communities...as well as some icebreaker/team building activities to keep the day moing along and participants in high spirits. 

Abby not so enthusiastically modeling the newly learned pinch and roll technique of applying a condom in order to keep air out of the condom and reducing the risk of the condom breaking
One our fantastic trainers who is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Latin America giving us the condom talk. Always remember to check the experation date and check that there is air in the condom package, open the packet with your hands NOT your teeth, pinch the top of the condom while rolling the condom down the hard shaft to keep any air out of the condom and then remove it carefully from the base while still hard after sex. 

A visual representation of how HIV affects/attacts the body, weakening the immune system so opportunistic diseases such as the common cold, diarrhea, and pneumonia cause serious problems.  A great activity to be used with a younger audience!

And handout on how to promote abstinence amongst adolecents.  In a country where a lot of cildren start having sex around 12, I'm not sure how effective telling them to go horseback riding, write each other poems, and comunicating privately with their eyes will be...
and having way to much fun doing it!!
Doing and activity where I play
my group like a piano...

And what Colombian, or rather Costeno because I hear the folks on the interior are quite different, event would be complete without a raging party? We were celebrating 3 Peace Corps volunteer birththdays during AIDS training and about 10 participants in the month of May so most people chipped in, bought a birthday cake, baloons, hats, and masks to celebrate in style.  This is a common occurance at all of the schools we work at on a monthly basis.  It's a kinda crazy...

I'll be the first to admit, this is entirely overbard...

but when in Rome!

Well, like always, thanks for reading folks!  Stick around for a few more minutes if you want to test your knowledge of HIV/AIDS.  (Answers at the bottom!)

1.  Which on of the following liquids does NOT transmit HIV?
a)  semen    b)  breast milk  c)  saliva  d)  blood  e)  vaginal fluids

2.  Rank the four bodily fluids that transmit HIV from most potent to least.

3.  Who are more likely to transmit HIV to their partners, men or women?

4. How long is the window from potential exposure until an HIV test can come back positive?

5.  What does Vertical Transmition refer to in the transmition of HIV?

6.  Spitting out the semen after giving oral sex greatly lessens the risk of contracting HIV?  T/F

7.  How long after contracting HIV can you go asymptomatic?

8. What are the three ways of preventing the spread of HIV, sexually speaking.

9.  Which sex act has the highest risk of transmitting HIV: anal, vaginal, or oral sex?

10.  There is effective medication to prevent the spread of HIV from mother to child in utero? T/F


 1.  SALIVA!  So kiss away! 
2.  Blood  -->  Semen -->  Vaginal Fluids  --> Breast Milk
3.  Seeing as semen is a more potent carrier of HIV, MEN are more likely to give HIV to their partner.
4.  After potential exposure, the earliest you can know if you have contracted HIV is three months, but most cases become evident between 3 and 6 months
5.  Vertical Transmition is when a mother passes HIV to her child during pregnancy/childbirth
6.  FALSE!!  Once the semen is in your mouth it is being absorbed through pours in your mouth and the damage is done.
7.  A person with HIV/AIDS can go up to 10 years without showing any signs of the virus/disease.
8.  Abstinence, fidelity, and proper use of a condom.
9.  Anal sex has the highest risk of spreading HIV.
10.  TRUE.  If a pregnant women with HIV or AIDS takes proper medication she can reduce the chance of vertical transmittion from 33% to around  5%