Displaced Volunteers: A Commitment to Service

By Sammy Quezada

Arriving to Barranquilla was an overwhelming experience, so many lights, so many sounds, all the trees painted with various colors, an abundance of people that matched that of a metropolitan area back home, and music played everywhere. I wasn’t sure if this suited me, but having gone through Pre-service Training, and being warmly accepted at my school during site visit, the idea of Barranquilla being home for the next two years was nestling in my head.

If this was going to become home then I needed to get accustomed to what it was to walk the streets of Barranquilla. I had to make Colombian friends, learn the bus routes, go to local events, know where I could find the best arepa, and learn to accept the constant heat and humidity. I was determined to learn how to trek the streets with confidence and a sense of direction, oh, and distinguish what was a good panadería that I could visit on a regular…errr uhh daily basis.

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Living in Barranquilla, I saw that getting to the Peace Corps office was not a day long journey, it was there, disposable to me for any clarification that wasn’t communicated via email. It offered free printing, wifi, air conditioning and general gossip that happened throughout PC Colombia. And only two floors below was the Medical Office, ready to replenish me with bug spray, sun screen, and multivitamins. Not too far from the office was an abundance of establishments that were not tiendas, did not offer corriente, and had a more western feel.

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And let’s not forget the multiple air conditioned, consumer friendly safe havens that were the fine malls of Barranquilla. And, of course, the variety of cultural outlets throughout the city, that ranged from the events going on at la Plaza de la Paz, to only a few blocks down at Museo del Caribe, with its revamped Plaza Cultural. In my time living there, I saw different subcultural groups utilizing public space, doing varying styles of choreographed dance, cycling, exercising, performing music, playing organized sports, and my personal favorite, skateboarding. My peers and I were stoked to finally begin and continue our service. After some four months of indifferent feelings, I was sold. Barranquilla was home.

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But towards the end of December, a select group of us were called to put aside our new found comfort zone, and our commitment to service for this country was challenged when we were told that we’d make the shift from an urban site to a rural site.

For a few weeks now, I have been living in a quaint little pueblo, Usiacuri. Since I am not related to anybody and I am the only person with a full beard, I am immediately the stand out gringo living here. Most people say hi to me as I walk down the street, they are filled with curiosities as to why I am here, and find hilarity when I translate Spanish words for them. The amenities of Barranquilla are not immediate, but I’ve managed with the lack of running water and the search for the ever elusive wifi signal. After my first few encounters at the schools and with community leaders, I feel accepted by them and have a new found motivation to do well by this town.

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It has been drilled into our heads since Staging way back when: “Your service is what you make of it.” And here we are, in a time where we are challenged and asked to be flexible and resilient. I don’t think any of us were expecting so many changes to occur so quickly, some being very drastic, while others were minor. Whatever it is that has occurred to you in this past month, all volunteers can rest assured that where ever you go, from the smallest of towns to the most metropolitan of areas, you can get yourself an ice cold Aguila Light.

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