Audrey White is a Practical English for Success (PES) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Magdalena, Colombia.
Friends are people who invite you to the river at the last minute. They tease you knowing you take things too literally and laugh with you when you finally figure it out. They invite you over and over to things even though you flake half the time.
Friends feed you. I mean they don’t just give you meals; they feed your heart and soul. They are there for you when you most need it. They listen to you when you cry, when nothing is going right, and they celebrate with you when you are on top of the world.
My first friend at site was the 50-year old P.E. teacher at my school. His name is Anibal and he jokes with me and teases me and is just about the only adult who corrects my Spanish. I’ve nicknamed him Mr. Bromas and he gets a kick out of that. He likes to talk politics and has a cat named Winston Churchill. He invites me to play volleyball every week, but since I teach community classes at night, I can only come sometimes. He doesn’t give up on me though, and I appreciate him for it.
Another friend is Camila, a 21-year old guitar player who I just adore. She isn’t afraid to make a go of it in a realm dominated by men. I see her up on the stage jamming away with the best of them. She is an artist. She draws pictures, plays instruments, photographs and edits videos. She introduces me to new music and even taught me a bit on the ukulele.
My counterpart Luisa is a boisterous, energetic woman. She embraces my crazy teaching ideas and brings her own creativity to the classroom. I always try to bring a little gift for her sons when I visit her home.
My site mate Helena has been with me on this adventure since the beginning. She shares her cooking with me, she listens to me on bad days and broadens my view of the world. Her patience, humility and forever giving-attitude have taught me to give more of myself to my community and those I care about.
The meaning of family for me has changed…changed isn’t the right word…it has evolved.
Family used to be the people I am related to: my mom, dad, brothers and sisters. However, my experience in Colombia has shown me that family is so much more than that. Family are people you can be completely yourself around. People who love you regardless of your shortcomings, who take care of you, who support you and who love you no matter what. In my community I couldn’t have asked for a better family. They aren’t perfect by any means. They fight, argue and get on each other’s nerves. But they also love, protect, and care deeply for one another. My host family invited me into their home with open arms, telling me from the beginning how comfortable they felt with me.
My host mom Norma has seen me cry, has helped me get my community class going when I was depressed and didn’t even know where to start. She doesn’t mind that my room isn’t always as clean as it should be. She gives me space when I need it and is open and welcome when I want to interact. She is a hard worker who teaches all morning and cares for her children the rest of the time. She is an honest woman, who gives good advice and is a patient teacher.
My host dad Armando is a religious and kind man. He is active in his daughters’ lives and helps around the house more than I see other costeño men. He is eager to practice English with me and is not afraid to try my spicy Valentino’s hot sauce.
I also have 2 host sisters Anna Paulina, who just turned 9, and Elisha, who is 5. They are curious girls, fascinated by anything new I bring home. Anna Pau is a bit of a tomboy. She likes sports, board games and making puns. She is shy and despises getting her picture taken. Elisha, on the other hand, can’t get enough of the limelight. She twirls and dances in front of the mirror, enjoys singing and dancing and loves all things pink. These girls teach me to look at life through a different lens, how to not take myself too seriously. They show me that it’s ok to let go and accept that life isn’t always neat and tidy, that the more you give of yourself, the more you get in return. Even though we come from different cultures and have different beliefs, I am proud to call Norma, Armando and their daughters my family.
I will carry all of them in my heart long after my Peace Corps service has ended.