Thursday, October 29, 2009

operacion de los pumas/dia de las brujas

our group cheer after working hard: "operacion de los pumas!!!" 
We kicked off "la operacion de los pumas" on Tuesday and it was great! It was a beautiful day and all of the kids were there. Before we went out, we talked to them about working as a team and being very careful. We were a little nervous because they can get kind of crazy when they're excited, but they were amazing! They picked up all the trash and the hill already looks a lot better. The pictures show how well they worked together:

We also gave them their halloween letters from the youth group at St. Andrew the Fisherman church (Edgewater, MD). They were SO excited. Brittany and I helped translate the letters for them and they loved them! They especially loved all of the halloween stickers that were all over the cards (thanks mom and youth group!). 

We have been celebrating 'dia de las brujas' (halloween) this week and it has been a lot of fun. They have been spoiled with candy from the US, and yesterday everyone made masks. We used plates, markers, and colorful pipe cleaners (thanks mrs. major!). We had a costume contest and Nelcy, with a great angel costume, won! Brittany was a super hero and I was a Colombian soccer player. Today we are going to play games and carve a pumpkin! Apparently they don't do that here, so it'll be fun for them to see one of our big traditions from the US.

Feliz dia de las brujas de los ninos de usme!!! Love and miss you all, Kate

Thursday, October 22, 2009

rain, rain, go away

As you can probably tell from the last blog, I had a great time with Sam! It was a lot of fun to be a tourist here for a few days, especially because I really hadn't been able to do that yet. It was so great to finally take some time to explore Bogota. The kids also loved all of the toys and candy from the US. Thanks again to everyone who sent treats to Colombia!

I'll keep you updated on things I might need for the Christmas season. Father Carlos and I are planning a clothes drive for Soacha for the internally displaced people who arrive there with only the clothes on their backs. They need jackets, pants, socks, sheets, etc... My grandmother (Toots!) is going to take the lead on this in her church. Let me know if you're interested and I'll have more information on that soon.

Father Carlos (Soacha) is in Quito until November, so I won't be able to work there for a few weeks. I'll start up again there on November 8th to talk about the health clinic that we are going to set up. The entire second floor is almost completely ready to go to house the clinic. It is really exciting to see this progress and I can't wait to get going in November.

Brittany and I have been patiently waiting for a clear day to start our project with the kids in Usme. The rain has been pouring down our past 4 or 5 times there. We have been using this time to go over key words in english (hill, dirt, shovel, etc..) and we even have a 'star chart' now. If they behave well, they get to put a star by their name. We just introduced it, and they all seem to understand, so we'll see how it goes.

We have also used these afternoons to go over our plans for the hill. The kids even came up with a name for the project: "la operacion de los pumas". We have huge trash bags and gloves ready for the kids. Phase one is trash pick-up because the hill is covered in trash. So, we have to clear it all out before we can start digging. Hopefully the rain will stop soon and we'll get started. Keep your fingers crossed!

Overall, I'm really enjoying Colombia. I just joined a gym with Brittany and Laura-Catherine and we're all pumped about the bodycombat and rumba classes that it offers. I'm even starting to become very comfortable with the transportation system here. Everything's going well and I'm really looking forward to all of the projects that I'm involved with here.

Thanks for all of the love and support!! Love, Kate

ps. The bishop just came in the office and gave me 4 lollipops. Two for me, one for Brittany and one for Laura Catherine. It pays to be the only one in the office right now ;)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sam visits Bogota!

Sam came to visit this past weekend and it was so much fun! Here is his recap of our adventures in Bogota:

When I boarded my plane for Bogota, I never could have imagined what I would experience over the next five days. I had anxiously been counting down the days until I would see Kate again, and with a busy week of midterms before I left, I never really thought about the places I would be going or the people I would be meeting. Needless to say, my first trip to Colombia was one that I will never forget.

On my first full day, Kate and I took the Transmilenio to the “Museo de Oro” stop. We toured La Candeleria, the area near the museum that’s full of vendors selling everything from jewelry to books and electronics. I took Spanish in high school, so I was able to offer greetings and carry on basic conversations, but I would often look at Kate with a puzzled look hoping that she would be able to jump in and save me. Her Spanish is amazing, and the locals always seem very impressed with how well she is able to speak and understand. Our tour through the museum was great and it was the first time I noticed how much a city of contrasts Bogota really is. Although the streets are generally dirty and have more litter than you would expect to find in the U.S., the insides of buildings are absolutely immaculate. I would have expected to see something like the Museo de Oro in Washington D.C. or NYC, but In Bogota it was certainly a surprise. That afternoon, I tried Bandeja Paisa, the same dish that Kate enjoyed while in Soacha.  I loved it and I told Kate that with the two different types of sausage, shredded pork, fried egg, rice, beans and pig’s foot, it’s absolutely a lineman’s dream. After walking around some more, we decided to buy Colombian futbol jerseys and found a local bar to watch their final World Cup qualifying match. Since Colombia had already been eliminated from the tournament, it was tamer than I expected. My first day in Colombia was eye-opening and I loved just being able to spend time with Kate in the country that I’ve heard so much about.


The next day I went to Mass with Kate and met Brittany as well as Oscar and Miriam. They’re all great people, and you can tell that Oscar and Miriam love their girls very much. Oscar refers to Brittany and Kate as “Mi hijas” (my daughters) and told me as well as everyone else that would listen that he was “Su papi” (their dad). He calls me “Tio Sam” (Uncle Sam) and was very happy that I’d come to visit. The pride that he and Miriam have in their country, church and home was very obvious, and told me many times that I am always welcome to stay with them. After Mass, Kate and I went to Monserrate, a large church on top of a mountain that overlooks the city. 
As you can tell from the pictures thick fog prevented us from seeing much, but we had a great time walking around on top of the mountain. It started to pour while we were up there and we waited out the worst part of the storm inside a café enjoying tea and café tinto (regular coffee). Next stop was Bogota Beer Company where we were hoping to just enjoy a Colombian microbrew, but were surprised to also find the Patriots vs. Broncos game on TV and a guy from New Hampshire visiting his Colombian girlfriend. This was Kate’s first time finding football in Colombia and I have a feeling that BBC will become a Sunday hangout for her.


On Monday we took a bus with Brittany to “La Catedral Sal” in the town of Zapaqueria. As you can tell from the pictures, it’s pretty amazing what they were able to construct so far underground. The guide spoke entirely in Spanish but I was able to understand parts and Kate and Brittany helped by translating. 

  We also went on a “Miner’s route” tour which basically included climbing through very dark and sometimes small tunnels. We joked how in the U.S. you would have had to sign about five waivers to go, but here it was just put a hard hat and flashlight on and you’re good to go.


We returned to Bogota at night and stopped at the Exito that Kate has now memorized to pick up food to make dinner at Miriam and Oscar’s.  When we arrived at their apartment, Oscar was outside trying to fix a water pipe that had burst. He wasn’t having much luck, and Miriam came out to help him. I tried giving a few ideas in Spanglish, but Miriam insisted on doing most of the work. Once it was fixed, Oscar praised me as if I had done everything…I think he was unwilling to say his wife was able to fix something he couldn’t. Brittany, Kate and I prepared dinner as Oscar flipped through different music stations while asking us what kind of music we liked. His favorites were dance, tropical and classic rock…rap was at the bottom of his list. Dinner was entertaining as Oscar talked in depth about the security of Colombia.


For my last day, we took a bus out to Usme to bring toys and candy to the kids. When we arrived, there was a haircut brigada going on downstairs where everyone in the community could come and get a free haircut or their nails done. The kids adore Kate and would run into her arms as soon as they saw her. They were all excited to meet me and couldn’t wait for the toys I had. As you can see from the pictures, the planes, cars and jump rope were a huge hit. 

At one point, one of the boys kept on asking Kate if he could run home just for a minute to drop off his plane…Kate was unsure why he wanted to so bad but finally let him. When it was time to leave, that same boy came up to me and handed me a small bag of milk as a thank you, and it was now clear why he had returned home. These kids have almost nothing and yet all he wanted to do was give me a gift to show his appreciation.

I couldn’t have asked for more from my trip to Bogota and it was great being able to see Kate and where she’ll be living/working for the next year. The people are great and Kate already seems like a local down there. I can’t wait to go back!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Universidad Nacional

Hola! I hope you are all doing well! Laura-Catherine and I picked up Brittany last Thursday and she has been living with Miriam and Oscar for over a week! It has been fun helping her get to know the missions and adjust to life here. Between the three of us, there is lots of work to do, and we are all motivated to make a difference here.

In order to help us communicate, and get things done, Brittany and I have started taking classes at the National University of Bogota. I placed into level 5, and my class only has 5 other people in it! There are girls from Germany, Brazil, and LA, a guy from Holland, and an older man from Iran. Isn't that awesome!?! Our Colombian professor is great and I'm really happy so far with the class. It is 5 days a week from 4-6pm until December 1. It's really intensive and hopefully I'll improve a lot over these next 2 months.

This week, we went to Bosa and Usme a few times. Brittany and I are really going to try to get started on that big hill in the backyard of Usme and turn it into a place where the kids can play. We have plans to make it a community project, and recruit the help of the families of the kids we work with. We are planning on talking to Father Jose Romero (priest at Usme) about it and starting very soon. It should be a tough, but really rewarding, project. Father Carlos (priest in Soacha) is on school vacation right now, so I'll pick up with that next week.

After class tonight, I am heading to the airport to pick up my boyfriend, Sam! We are going to spend the weekend doing touristy things here in Bogota (gold museum, candelaria, monserrate, etc...). Monday is a holiday here (yes!!) and we're going to a Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira. Tuesday, we are going to the mission in Usme. The kids are so excited because they know that Sam is bringing lots of toys, candy, projects, and games from the United States (thanks Mom, Toots, Mrs. Major, Darcy, Sara, and Sam!!). He's also bringing the cards from the kids in the St. Andrew the Fisherman Church (Edgewater, MD) youth group. They are very excited to hear from their 'penpals'! It should be a lot of fun and I'm really excited to show him my new city, and for him to meet everyone here!

No pictures this camera is in my backpack, which is locked in the office in Usme right now..long story. I will have pictures of my fun weekend and of my class next week!

Thanks again for all of the love and support!

LOVE, kate

Thursday, October 1, 2009


The last time I wrote, I was preparing for a weekend with Father Carlos Guevara (Episcopal priest in Soacha) and his family . On Friday, Father Carlos and I took a bus to his apartment and met his wife and 3 kids (Christian, Miguel, and Sofia). We arrived there at about 4pm and we spent the evening reading to Sofia (5) and Miguel (7), at the library . They are so cute! Saturday was an early morning. At 6am we woke up and ate breakfast. Then we all took a bus to Bogota, where we attended a 'human rights' class from 8-12. It was really interesting and I was able to start learning about the rights of Colombians.
Later that day, we went to a 'centro commercial' (mall) to let Sofia and Miguel explore the 'divercity'. It's basically a city for kids, where they have to manage their own money and get to try out different professions. There were even buses and traffic jams. Christian (their oldest child) and I were put in charge of the kids in the 'city'. We were given wristbands that had a built in GPS to find them if we ever lost each other. Luckily for us, it wasn't hard to find the two of them. Until about 830pm, we could find Miguel with the 'bomberos' (firemen) and Sofia in the 'safari' section. It was a great night, and then we had a 90 minute trip home by bus. It was a long day, but was so great to spend with a loving Colombian family. They invited me to spend Christmas with them, so I'll probably take them up on it. I am so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life here.

We were up early the next morning to leave for the 'mass' (Episcopalians here say mass) in Soacha. We arrived around 830am and had to clean up the church. We swept, mopped, organized and cleaned off the seats, etc... By 1015, the church was ready to go and people started arriving. The first woman I met (in the blue jacket to my right in the picture below) was displaced from her town, and moved to Bogota a year ago (Sept 29 was 1 year!). She is a single mother of four and told me a little bit about her story. Basically, she and her kids would have been killed if they hadn't left. She showed up on the streets of Bogota with her 4 children, the clothes on their backs, and 20,000 COP (about 10 dollars). She was able to make it to Soacha and has started a new life there. The next lady that came in was also displaced, from a different area, but in almost the same fashion (lady in the picture below with the cane). Their stories are like so many others. Right now, there are about 4 million internally displaced people living in Colombia since 1985. That is second only to Sudan in the number of people displaced from their homes due to violence and war. And people keep showing up, every day. The church service in Soacha was great. It's not a big church, but everyone there was so welcoming and excited that I would be joining them. In the middle of the service, out of the blue, Father Carlos asked me to say something about myself (thanks for the heads up...not!). Afterwards, he welcomed me into the church and said 'this is your home' and a man in the back said, "and Colombia is your country" with a big smile on his face. It was so nice to be welcomed into such a loving community of people. They may not have much in the way of material possessions, but they have what I see reinforced in the amazing people I meet here each day: a wealth of spirit and huge hearts...I am learning so much from them.
After church, and a little bit of coffee, we walked around Soacha. And this is what we saw:

As you can see from these pictures, displaced people move in and build houses wherever they can find space. Houses are built on top of each other, with whatever they can find. As you move up the mountain, it gets worse. 'Houses' are made out of green tarp and cardboard, as you can see in the background of some of the pictures. It was a quiet walk, and I was able to take it all in. Towards the end of the walk, we started to talk about the troubles and problems the internally displaced people face. Most of them don't even know that they have any rights. They don't have identification, and therefore, they basically don't exist according to the government here. If they register, they do have rights to emergency medicine and health care.

I would love to help these families realize their rights and help them to register, but human rights activists have been facing tough times in these areas. Recently, I've come across many articles that acknowledge increasing concerns about humanitarian efforts in Colombia: article. I will definitely have to talk more with the Bishop and Father Carlos to find a way to help, without putting myself, and others, at risk. I do give so much credit to those who are addressing the issue and willing to risk persecution to help others. These scared, displaced families are alone, trying to find their way in a new place, and they need help. They need to know their rights and to be welcomed into their new community.

After our walk, we took a break and grabbed lunch at a cafeteria. We ate a typical meal from a city call Medellin. There was a ton of food; rice, beans, avocado, fried egg, arepa, chorizo, shredded pork, fried plantain, and best of all....a pig's hoof. mmm delicious.... haha

After a wonderful weekend, I took a bus back to the church apartment. I was pretty exhausted, and had a lot to think about. I spent Monday and Tuesday with Laura-Catherine, the bishop, miriam, and some priests in the area representing the Episcopal Church at a "Confelirec"conference for peace among all religions in Colombia. It was pretty interesting and we even got to see Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, speak to us (see picture above...he's on the left).

Wednesday, I went to the National University to take a placement exam, but everyone was leaving the school when I arrived. There were guards preventing anyone from entering and I soon figured out that there was a 'distubio', or disturbance, going on in the school. It was probably some kind of political protest (apparently this happens a lot at the university) and all classes were cancelled for the rest of the day. Sooo I have to figure out when I can take that placement test, because classes start next Monday!

Unfortunately, Brittany can't take the class with me because of registration issues. The good news is that we pick her up from the airport tonight! I'm really excited to show her around all of the missions and help her get comfortable living here.

I'm headed to Usme this afternoon to be with the kids and I'm going back on Saturday to teach English to teachers and other adults in the area. Sorry that this blog was so long, but hopefully the pictures kept it interesting!! I'll keep you all updated! Love, Kate

ps. Please keep the people in the Philippines and Indonesia in your prayers! We are thinking about you Melanie (fellow YASCer in Besao, Philippines)