Chaney Skadsen is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Bolívar, Colombia.

We’re all in the same boat here: foreigners in a new pueblo, around new people trying to do a job much bigger than ourselves. Some of our boats have motors, seats, and roofs. Some have bongeros and room for livestock. Either way, any day can be a struggle to balance the hardest job you’ll ever love with self-care.

My self-care strategy is not something I planned. It was not a suggested method shared in training. It fell in to my lap, just like Carmen.

To be honest I don’t remember the first time I met Carmen, but it was early into my service. Regardless of the first time we were introduced to each other, it was a swift beginning to what I hope will be a life-long friendship.

Carmen is a community leader that proudly calls herself my guide to our community. I remember thinking how nice it was to have someone walk to my house everyday with a seemingly endless list of places to go; an association, a community event, a meeting with the Madres Lideres, anyone. She is as equally committed to the success of my service as I am.

I think what really makes our relationship special is how it has transformed. It all started to change from socio to amiga when I got sick and couldn’t cook for myself. I was sick for weeks on end, no energy, losing weight and my appetite. She’d bring me vegetable soup because I couldn’t stomach meat. As my health improved, I began to help with food preparation.

Now we have dinner plans at least three days a week.

We were fascinated with making spaghetti sauce, and through this we found a mutual hobby of cooking. Now we take turns exchanging favorite dishes and specialties with each other. Carmen’s three youngest children and my host sisters and mom love to join the meal, too.

Here’s what usually happens. Carmen and I enjoy a glass of wine or two while chopping, sautéing, and stirring. The kids play dominoes and talk while Carmen and I cook. When the meal is ready, we all sit at the kitchen table to eat. We play games, and talk about each others’ day. In the midst of the stress of my new life, it reminds me that I can still have a big family away from home.

To me Carmen is in between a mom and a best friend. She’s 47 with 6 children and has so much to teach me. There’s nothing we don’t talk about, especially with a bottle of the cheapest ARA red wine to accompany our favorite dinner: homemade spaghetti sauce with veggie meatballs.

Of all the self-care options I envisioned before coming to site, creating meals with Carmen and sharing them with her children not one that I anticipated. However, it has quickly become one of the best parts of my service.

It reminds me how comforting meal time can be, how its a way of creating something together. We start with a bag full of veggies, a cutting board, a couple knives, and some tomatoes and create a meal that feeds a family, and makes this Peace Corps boat feel a little more like home.

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