Rebecca Nash is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Bolívar, Colombia.
Today was hot.
…Just like every other day here.
I left the house with my red bag filled with school supplies and tubes of paper sticking out, knocking against my head to the beat of my lazy step.
The heat is debilitating.
“Adiooos” I say with a smile to my neighbor as I walk by.
The grey-haired man sitting in his blue shirt and plastic chair greets me with a slightly crooked smile and an “adios Seño.” He gently lifts his hand and waves, then goes back to observing the street from his patio, just like he does every other day.
I walk the same path as I always do when I’m on my way to a class: over the plazoleta, past Carmen and Luife’s house, turn left at the buzzing billiards hall (someone spits out the barred window), cross the bridge with mucky water underneath, wave to Luz Elena at the bakery while she wipes down the tables, then stop in to say hi to Robert and his daughter Sofia at the music school. On my way out, I ignore the pack of greasy men on their motos who are generous with their piropos, then make my way down the dirt path to my high school.
There are things that I can always rely on here:
It will always be hot.
I’ll always have someone to count on.
There will always be someone to disappoint me.
I teach an entrepreneurship class at the local high school with 3 other teachers to a group of students who have elected to take this course. It’s been a while since I’ve seen two of the three teachers and many of the students have stopped showing up. Because it’s very normal for this to happen here, it really shouldn’t bother me anymore… but today it did.
I show up at 2:00pm sharp (the students asked me to make class earlier, which now causes me to have to rush my lunch) and nobody is there.
My one counterpart comes in just 2 minutes after me, like always, but also recognizes the emptiness in the room.
Between the small talk, I can’t help but get more and more frustrated, my internal narrative running:
“Don’t they care about their futures?… These teachers have agreed to teach this class, why can’t they complete their responsibilities?…I could be looking for grad school programs… I changed my schedule for them and now they’re not here… I spent time preparing and came early to set up the room… all for what?”
By 2:30, about 10 students have shown (out of the 25 that started), and are passing a soccer ball around the classroom to pass their time.
“Seño ven!!” They eagerly ask me to play with them.
No. Soccer is really not my thing and I’m just mad, hot, and tired at this point.
I continue talking with my counterpart for a few minutes about my frustrations and then it clicks.
I look over to these kids: sweaty, smiling, shoe-less.
But they are here.
“Vamos” I say quietly to my counterpart and gently nod my head towards the circle.
“Si?” He asks and raises his eyebrows.
“Vamos!” I repeat and get up to join the group.
The game is monkey in the middle, but in soccer form. They cheer when we join them, and I can’t help but smile. The frustration, being annoyed, feeling a little bit of anger even… it just melted away. They pass me the ball and I miss it; laughter fills the room (including my own), and the whoosh and swirl of the overhead fans make the joyous sounds echo and bounce off the walls. I’d kick the ball and they’d purposefully miss it, make sure to include me when it hasn’t been passed to me in a while, or cheer extra loud when I kicked it well: “goooooollll!!!!” they’d yell and lift my arms in the air.
With my service coming to a close and my focus changing to post-Peace Corps plans, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my computer looking at different graduate programs, cities to live in, and online entrepreneurship classes. I’ve been trying to adjust myself to the idea of living a faster-paced lifestyle again, being highly focused in an academic program (and studying for the GMATs in the mean time), and how I can start preparing myself for the life of an entrepreneur.
Maybe this has contributed to my frustrations: unconsciously comparing the North American ideas of being productive to the Costeño culture of “cogela suave,” and maybe it’s taking a toll on the time left that I have.
The students agreed that they would make sure the rest started coming again (they work in teams and are responsible for each other), and I agreed to come in during the week to talk to the other teachers who haven’t been showing.
Tomorrow will be hot.
So will the next day, and the one following for that matter.
Tomorrow I’ll walk by my grey-haired neighbor and see that same crooked smile of his, then make my way to another class with my red bag hanging off my shoulder and the paper bumping into my head.
Tomorrow is also one less day I have left here: fewer moments I have to eat warm mango as the juice drips off my hands; fewer hours to spend drinking coffee with Elia in the park; fewer seconds to learn the traditional artisan work that my town is known for.
It’s days like this that make me realize how extraordinary service is. The days that I spend frustrated, upset, or annoyed and just can’t understand why people act the way they do make me also realize that this work isn’t about reaching work-related goals. It’s not about who doesn’t show up or who is disappointing me. That will always happen… if I let it.
It’s days like this that I see my old self (anxiety-ridden, cold, always wanting more or something different), and see how far I’ve grown from that.
It’s days like today that I recognize that sometimes you just have to let things go, and that sometimes it’s just about getting up and getting in the game (even if you’re not good at it).