A Love Letter to my Local Mall

Maya Sadagopal is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Sucre, Colombia.

They say you always want what you can’t have.

Though we frequently apply this adage to stories of unrequited love, I’ve found it describes all aspects of life. We wish for the warmth of the sun in the dead of winter or dream of snow after deciding to live in the Caribbean for two years. People with naturally straight hair reach for the curling iron and hairspray on special occasions, while us curly haired folk gaze at our friends’ low-maintenance silky straight locks with envy. And then there are the times when all you want in the word is an Auntie Anne’s pretzel.

You might be thinking, “Wait…what? I came here to read about how Peace Corps Colombia volunteers deal with stress and find inspiration. Why is she talking about pretzels? And of all the things to crave from home, this girl wants an overpriced mall pretzel?”

Indeed, querid@ Oíste reader, I do want a mall pretzel. That’s because, by some odd sequence of events over the past year, I’ve found myself living in a small Colombian pueblo where I consider a trip to the nearby mall the most luxurious form of self-care.

Self-care is all the rage these days and though I’ve seen the term employed by millennials with varying degrees of sarcasm, I see it a lot. Some people make bullet journals using fancy watercolor brush pens and share their ~*Healthy Habit Tracker*~ on Instagram. Others treat themselves to extra guac on their Chipotle burrito bowl and file the expense away under “self-care”.

So what does a self-care day entail here in Colombia? Seeking relaxation and inspiration, I do something I’d almost never do at home – I head to the mall. Guacarí, a brand new mall about 30 minutes away from my site, is nothing special by US standards. The Mall of America and Southdale Center, the largest and oldest malls in the US respectively, are both within 20 minutes of my childhood home. While it lacks in the pretzel department, Guacarí has central air, iced coffee, and clean bathrooms, and that’s enough to make a Peace Corps Volunteer’s day.

Everyone says Peace Corps changes you, but I really didn’t see this one coming.
In my old life, a fun Sunday afternoon was biking to Georgetown, paddle boarding on the Potomac, and grabbing a balanced dinner of overpriced salad and ice cream with friends. Now, a trip to Juan Valdez and lunch in the food court with my site-mate are the re-set and re-charge that I need to get energized and motivated after a tough week. Maybe I had a hard time explaining market feasibility studies to my 10th grade students or got stood up by the same association three times this week, but at least the guy at the burrito place knows my name!

(DISCLAIMER: In case our Program Manager reads this, I feel obligated to mention that the mall isn’t all fun and games. We’ve made some great connections with local entrepreneurs and university students there that have helped us further the work we’re doing at site, and one of these entrepreneurs happens to sell delicious churros. )

To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I had a mall pretzel, but the next time it’s an option, I’ll pay big money for one. Until then, you can find me networking over churros and calling it “self-care.”

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