Islas de Rosario

We got a week off from school for Semana Uribe, and spent a few days on Isla Grande in the Rosario Islands. With the help of a Peace Corps volunteer serving on the island, we were able to find an amazing eco-hotel, Arte y Adventura, and host! Carlos, our host, has lived on the island for over 20 years and made our time there feel so special! He introduced us to many locals who showed us around the island, helped us cook an amazing seafood lunch, and was always there giving us amazing advice. I can’t wait to go back to this special little place!

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Aloneness v. Loneliness

I closed myself off, because I like to think that I don’t need anybody. It was never an issue before. I was busy. I was constantly surrounded by family, friends, my peers. I had work, school, activities to keep me occupied. I was in a city – don’t be open, keep your guard up, don’t invite any interaction that might slow down your day. I craved even brief moments of solitude. Too occupied, to the point that I couldn’t breath and enjoy life I was so “overcommitted.” 

I feared boredom. I feared being stuck in a waiting room with a dead cellphone and absolutely nothing to entertain me. I feared having nothing to do, not being of use. Only now that I feel completely alone, do I realize how closed off all of that made me become.

Peace Corps will definitely teach you how to be alone. For that, I am grateful. I used to feel judged if I ate in a restaurant by myself, now I do it all the time. In my hometown, I never would’ve gone to an event alone, but in my community now I do it all the time. People will always look at me as an outsider, even though I prefer to be a wallflower. 

But recently, it’s gotten to a point where aloneness starts to creep into loneliness. I have friends here, I have people I could spend my time with. But I didn’t need to, I didn’t want to need to. I wanted others to need me. This feeling, I must admit, is new to me. And it’s not a completely sad feeling –  it’s just interesting, novel. 

A part of the boom-bust cycle that Peace Corps is. “The one year slump.” During my interview, I asked the former PCV if he experienced this and he said months 9-12 were the most difficult for him. I’m clocking in on Month 11 so not too shabby. And it’s not all sad, it’s hopeful. If I’m at the bottom now, I know I can get through the rest of my time here.

The New York Times has a column and podcast I absolutely adore called Modern Love. Their newest article seemed to drop at just the right time. In “My U-Turn From Isolation to Intimacy,” Michelle Fiordaloso writes about how only after her only son outgrows cuddling, she realizes how much her daily life is lacking in affection. From the title, you would think in the end she falls in love with someone to remedy her loneliness – but it’s not that at all. It’s a car crash that changes things – comforting the other driver, a hug from the mechanic. It’s these little instances of touch – whether physical or not – that can make oneself feel less isolated. A smile exchanged with a stranger, eye contact at the checkout counter, petting a dog. Fiordaloso concludes,

“I am not unseen and untouched. In fact, people seem to be noticing me more than ever, or maybe it is I who is looking up more, well aware of the risk of not seeing someone who’s right in front of me….

The kind of connection I have learned to cultivate since the accident is not something to tide me over until the real thing arrives. It is the real thing.”

This hit me so hard. I, too, have closed myself off interactions such as these, because I was too busy and didn’t need another distraction. While not all of that has completely fallen away (I do still have a job), a lot of it has and I’ve realized how conditioned I was to living that way. I like to think myself a kind person. An empathetic person. But part of that requires you to be aware and present to the people around you. How can I show kindness and affection to every person that crosses my path on a daily basis? To all of this I will try to be more open.

Kite Day in Manzanillo

These are from a few months ago, August/September is kite season in Cartagena! Students brought their kites to school and we spent the morning at the beach flying them. Windy conditions in Manzanillo make for perfect kite flying! Some students made amazingly creative homemade kites, a few are pictured below.

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Cooking with Limited Resources: Colombian Pueblo Recipes

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I’ve always had a bit of a passion for cooking. I wouldn’t say my tastes are necessarily refined, but I tried to follow the fancy Pinterest recipes to the best of my ability. I’ve only been at site for a few months now but cooking has already taken on a life of its own, as I’m often challenged to make delicious meals with very limited resources in my pueblo. As groceries start to diminish after a week or so, I start to think of really creative ways to cook with only a few fresh ingredients or what’s available at my tienda.

Veggie Hummus Wrap

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Ingredients: hummus, whole-wheat tortilla, assorted veggies (eggplant, bell pepper, avocado, zucchini, onion, etc)

  1. Use the roasted garlic hummus (listed below) and whatever veggies you can scrap together
  2. Sauté sliced eggplant and zucchini together with olive oil, salt and pepper, and Italian herbs for about five minutes until cooked through
  3. Spread hummus on tortilla with avocado, onion, and bell pepper slices followed by eggplant and zucchini.
  4. Fold up like a burrito and enjoy!

 

Caramelized Onion and Yogurt Pasta

Ingredients: 1 small container of Greek yogurt, 1 large white onion, olive oil, salt and pepper, parmesan, pasta

  1. Slice onion and sauté on low heat in olive oil until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes – seasoning with salt throughout
  2. Cook pasta and reserve about ½ cup of pasta water
  3. Heat Greek yogurt over low heat and slowly add in pasta water a spoonful at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
  4. Pour sauce over pasta and top with caramelized onions and parmesan cheese.

 

Caprese Garlic Toast

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Ingredients: baguette, garlic, olive oil, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar, sugar

  1. Find a baguette somewhere
  2. Slice the bread and spread minced garlic, drizzle in olive oil, and sliced mozzarella on
  3. Put in the oven for 10-15 minutes at around 175 degrees Celsius
  4. Pour balsamic vinegar into a saucepan with a spoonful of sugar, bring to a boil then let simmer on low heat for 5-7 minutes
  5. Take bread out of the oven and place basil leaves on top followed by sliced tomatoes
  6. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and balsamic reduction

 

Carrot Mango Turmeric Tonic

Ingredients: 1 carrot peeled and chopped, 1 orange (peeled), 2 small mangos, 1 inch piece of ginger grated, 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric, 2 cups of coconut water or filtered water

  1. Combine ingredients in a blender and blend for 60-90 seconds until smooth.
  2. You can then put the mixture through a strainer or drink it with all the fibrous pulp

 

Quinoa Eggplant Parmesan (sautéed eggplant & bell pepper and eggplant mozzarella quesadillas are also great options with eggplant!)

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Ingredients: one small eggplant sliced into ¼ inch rounds, ½ cup flour, 1 egg, 1 cup cooked quinoa, parmesan cheese, 1 jar of marinara sauce, Italian herbs, garlic salt, pepper

  1. Place flour, egg, and cooked quinoa in 3 shallow bowls/plates.
  2. Season quinoa with herbs, garlic salt, and pepper
  3. With each eggplant round: cover in flour first, then egg wash and then pat quinoa around it
  4. Fry eggplant in a saucepan with olive oil on low heat for about 3-4 minutes per side.
  5. Remove eggplant and pat dry with paper towels
  6. Top with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese

 

Lemony Tuna Tomato & Capers Pasta

Ingredients: one can of tuna, 2 limes, 2 tomatoes, 1 white onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 3 spoonfuls of capers, pasta, olive oil, Italian herbs, salt and pepper

  1. Sauté garlic and sliced onions in olive oil for about 10-15 minutes
  2. Add diced tomatoes and seasonings and sauté for about 7 more minutes
  3. Add capers, lime juice, and tuna and sauté for 2 more minutes to heat
  4. Serve over pasta

 

‘Roasted’ Garlic Hummus

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Ingredients: 6 cloves of garlic, 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, 2 limes, ¼ cup of olive oil, ½ tablespoon cumin, ½ tablespoon paprika, salt and pepper to taste.

  1. Since many of us don’t have ovens, a quicker way to get ‘roasted garlic’ is just to sauté them until soft, about 5 minutes on low heat
  2. Combine ingredients in blender and slowly add water until you get the desired consistency. Add seasonings to taste.
  3. Spoon into a bowl and sprinkle with olive oil and paprika.

Zona Norte: Wealth and Poverty in Cartagena’s North

I’ve been thinking about how I would write this post for a while. There are so many interesting facets of my site but a big one is the rapid development in the area. Manzanillo, along with communities such as La Boquilla, Tierra Baja, etc; have historically been poor fishing communities made up of overwhelmingly Afro-Colombians. The community of Manzanillo has existed for over 200 years, my host family has lived here for generations yet a part of me wonders what the community will look like 10 years from now.

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Manzanillo is classified as Strata 1, the poorest level of 6 Stratas or classes in Colombia. But around Manzanillo, you’ll find pockets of wealthy gated communities. Resorts line the beach with more on the way and what is said to be the “best golf course in South America” is a few miles away. There is a Carulla, an upscale grocery store, about 2 miles away on the highway and I bike there often for groceries. The Carulla is a part of an outdoor strip mall, Las Ramblas, adjacent to a really swanky housing development called Barcelona de Indias. Save for a few occupied stores and offices in the mall, it is always completely deserted and I wonder how the few businesses there manage to not go broke. But really, they’re probably just waiting for the development of Serena del Mar, “La Ciudad Soñada / The Dreamed City.”

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I’ve noticed the large construction zone on the highway for Serena del Mar since I got here but it took a while to fully understand what it was. It will be a “city within the city (of Cartagena)” that will focus on “quality of live, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion.” There will be a hospital, the first satellite campus of the best university in Colombia (Universidad de Los Andes), private schools, a new large public high school, huge mansions but also very affordable housing and apartments with government subsidies available. It all sounds like a perfect utopia-like place but I can’t help but remain skeptical. Will this city be a model for harmonious, eco-friendly living regardless of class and racial divides? Or will it just become a microcosm of the issues that already glaringly exist?

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When I bike to that Carulla, I feel like I have whiplash as the differences between Manzanillo and Barcelona are so apparent. There are wealthy, white Colombians living in houses with everything they could ever need – just getting their weekly groceries and then driving home at the end of a long day of work. The best international private schools in Cartagena are located in Zona Norte just a few minutes away. The communities of Manzanillo and Barcelona don’t ever really need to interact with each other, except for maybe the Manzanillera cashier in Carulla. The stark inequalities honestly reminds me of America. My hometown of Fresno, California is one of the poorest cities in the country but it’s easy to not see any of that if you have enough money. I went to school in Malibu and most people might envision celebrity mansions and beautiful beaches, which do exist, but also don’t know about the large homeless population or the many immigrants that take the bus 3 hours every day so they can get a job in one of those mansions.

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I found this map of the proposed city of Serena del Mar. It will take about 50 years to complete, although the university and hospital are expected to open in the next year or so. This “city” covers all of Manzanillo around where it says “Proyecto Constructora Epic,” except perhaps the small light island within its borders.  At first, I was confused by what would happen to Manzanillo: would the residents be displaced? Would they be offered new ones by Serena del Mar? After talking to the staff at the local Fundacion, I was able to understand a little bit better. Manzanillo will still remain and the people can keep their houses. Marinas being built on the beach should also provide many locals with jobs. While I still don’t get everything going into this development, I’m reassured that Manzanilleros and the Fundacion are being represented in this process.

Nevertheless, the rest of the planned development encompasses primarily beautiful green land. The photo below from my bike rides can’t do it justice how beautiful the natural landscape is here, but it will soon be gone. Development may also impact the large, beautiful mangrove “Cienaga de la Virgin” which many rely on for their livelihoods. Will wealthy white Colomians really want to live in this utopian city with the local Afro-Colombian population? And if they do live behind gated communities within this “city within a city” while others live in more humble homes – is that really promoting social equity?

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Of course it’s great that this organization is putting environmental sustainability and social inclusion but you can see why I’ll remain skeptical for the time being. I don’t have all the answers on this project but I thought it was a topic worth pondering. All I know is that if I come back to visit in 10 years, this area will be drastically different.

 

Cartagena

Taking advantage of this good internet I have and photo dumping some of my favorite photos of Cartagena from the past few months. This (maybe) makes up for the lack of blog posts (sorry) (very limited internet). Cartagena has quickly become one of my favorite cities and I think these photos show why. The city is full of centuries of history that I am only beginning to try to understand.
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Watching U.S. Shootings Unfold When You’re Abroad

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I remember clearly where I was on December 14, 2012. My first semester studying abroad in Buenos Aires had come to an end and I was spending the week volunteering at Adulam, a rehabilitation center and orphanage outside the city. I didn’t have internet access or data there so I was pretty out of the loop. But as I was leaving the family’s home, I noticed the headline on the tv: “27 Dead at an Elementary School in the U.S.” I talked with my host family about it, what must they think of us? That we let our children get massacred. I thought, this is when something finally changes in Congress. How can they continue to do nothing after this? And yet here we are, 4 years later, reliving the same cycle every week or so.

I haven’t felt too far away from friends and family while here in Colombia, but I did two weeks ago. I read on facebook that UCLA was on lockdown because of an active shooter but it was too early for any specifics. I immediately texted my brother, a freshman at UCLA, and the text didn’t go through. I panicked, felt completely helpless, I couldn’t call him from Colombia. My mom wasn’t responding on whatsapp. A million scenarios played through my head until my sister texted back that he was okay. Later, we learned it was a murder-suicide. Just that. Nothing to be alarmed about.

Colombian news coverage on the Orlando shooting has been extensive. I’m not sure if all U.S. massacres get this kind of airtime here or if it’s due to the fact that most of the victims were Latino. Once again, as my host family watches – they don’t comment on it to me this time – but I can’t help but wonder what they must think of us. Sorry to get political but I’m about to get political. How can we have politicians that just shrug their shoulders every week or so when this happens? That say gun control will in no way improve this situation… but there’s also nothing else they can do. We put you into office because we expect you to fix problems. And this is a BIG problem. And you are doing nothing. Well, you are accepting thousands, millions of dollars from the NRA. The NRA, that lobbied for people on terrorist watch-lists to still be able to buy guns and so that – you too! – can buy an AR-15 in less than 10 minutes!!! You’re sending your thoughts and prayers to these victims without taking action, without even recognizing all of the factors that contributed to this shooting: homophobia, lax gun laws, and terrorism. It’s the terrifying feeling that more of these shootings will inevitably occur and we just have to sit and watch as politicians do nothing.

I’ll just stop before I go too off the deep end in a rage filled rant and I’ll let this segment from Samantha Bee express what I and many Americans feel about what’s currently happening. “Love does not win unless we start loving each other enough to fix our f******* problems.”